Regretting a tattoo you got at 18 isn’t by any means uncommon. You’re grown up and your tastes and ideas have changed, so why not your body art?
If that’s true for you, then you’ve probably read about different tattoo removal methods and are looking for the one that best suits you. They come at various price points, number of sessions needed, as well as durations of healing and downtime after the removal method.
Of the options on the market today, tattoo removal creams sound like a miracle solution. They don’t require a huge upfront investment, are relatively easy to use, and promise results that echo those of more invasive procedures, like laser or dermabrasion.
Well, we’re here to tell you all about tattoo removal creams, how well they work, and the possible side effects you might face with them.
This is based on scientific opinions from dermatologists and anecdotal evidence from people with tattoos who opted for a tattoo removal cream as their removal method of choice. So, let’s get started!
What is a tattoo removal cream and how does it work?
A tattoo removal cream is a chemical preparation that claims to either peel off or bleach the top layer of the skin to remove tattoo ink. Some of these creams also claim to encourage a type of white blood cells, called macrophages, to carry away the ink from the tattoo site to be disposed of by your kidneys as urine.
The main active chemical ingredient in these creams is usually a type of acid. The most common ones are glycolic acid and trichloroacetic acid (TCA), the latter of which is used by dermatologists in a clinical setting for chemical peels.
That said, most of the creams on the market include other botanical and chemical ingredients that are claimed to increase the product's effectiveness. These ingredients are supposed to elicit a reaction from the skin that aids in dissolving the ink into smaller particles.
The way most of these products work is by rubbing them in a circular motion on the tattoo site for about a minute every day. Once the peeling or bleaching effect takes place, you’re supposed to see lightening of the tattoo ink and the tattoo is supposed to start fading.
Will it leave a scar?
Most of the time, tattoo removal creams that utilize trichloroacetic acid will cause scarring. That’s because they peel the epidermis, which is the top layer of the skin.
However, this depends on multiple factors, like the color of the skin, the size and intensity of the tattoo, as well as the duration of use.
Unfortunately, since tattoo removal creams aren’t FDA-approved, the concentration of the active ingredient used isn’t monitored. That means some tattoo removal creams will contain higher concentrations of TCA, causing acid burns to the skin that can sometimes cause a permanent scar.
How does a cream compare to other types of tattoo removal?
Other tattoo removal methods, like excision, laser, or dermabrasion, are usually done by a professional in a clinical setting. That means they’re monitored more closely with a list of expected results and side effects.
- Excision means surgically removing the skin that has the tattoo, which works best for smaller tattoos and is a “one-and-done” procedure. It might cause some scarring.
- Laser tattoo removal works by heating up the ink in the dermis layer so the particles break up into smaller pieces that the body disposes of. It might cause swelling, blistering, or bleeding, and the number of sessions depends on skin color and tattoo intensity.
- Dermabrasion is a procedure where a circular device with many small needles “sands off” the area with the tattoo that should heal with no pigmentation. It might cause scarring or textural changes to the skin.
Does it hurt when applied?
Creams can cause momentary irritation that leaves a stinging or burning sensation when applied. If the skin peels off, there’s more pain to be expected.
How fast does it work?
Tattoo removal creams work pretty slowly, some even tell you to wait at least 6 months before any results show. However, this all depends on the size and color of the tattoo.
3 Best tattoo removal creams
Wrecking Balm Tattoo Fade System
This system from Wrecking Balm contains multiple products: a vibrating brush, the remover gel, a cream to soothe after, a waterproof concealer, and batteries.
The way to use it is to place the exfoliating suffusion gel on the vibrating brush to sand away the top layer of the skin, then use the hydravescent cream to soothe the area, and the concealer if you need to cover up the tattoo.
Just beware if you have a tree nut allergy as this product contains walnut shells.
Tattoo Destroyer Natural Fading Cream
The Tattoo Destroyer removal cream is a lot simpler to use than the previous tattoo removal system. It claims to fade tattoos with no blistering or peeling and doesn’t require an abrasive brush for application.
All you have to do is to apply the cream on the tattooed area in a circular motion for about a minute and just leave it on until the next application. Some users claim to have seen results when applying the cream to freshly washed skin as it aids product absorption.
The product has the tagline “2 weeks” on it, but it’s written on the product container that you need to use it for at least 6 months to see results.
Inked Up Tattoo Removal Cream
The Inked Up tattoo removal cream is similar to the Tattoo Destroyer in that it doesn’t require abrasive motion. However, it comes in a bottle, so expect the consistency to be thinner.
This tattoo removal cream also needs to be massaged into the tattooed skin and applied daily. Some users say they’ve seen results after months of application, and that the smaller the tattoo is, the better chance you have at removing it.