Does Tattoo Removal Cream Work?

Tattoos are notoriously complicated and expensive to get rid of. So, if you’re considering removing your tattoo, you might have stumbled across tattoo removal cream while researching different options. But what is tattoo removal cream, and does it work?

Tattoo removal cream works by peeling the top layers of your skin. This can lighten your tattoo over time. Unfortunately, tattoo removal cream doesn’t penetrate the skin deep enough to remove a tattoo, and there are dangerous side effects from using it. Thus, tattoo removal cream is not advised.

What are the side effects of using tattoo removal cream, and how is it dangerous? We will discuss the ingredients found in tattoo removal cream, how manufacturers claim this cream works, and why it is dangerous to use. Furthermore, we will also discuss other ways to permanently remove a tattoo, to help you decide which method is best.   

How Does Tattoo Removal Cream Work?

Tattoo removal cream claims to remove your tattoo by peeling the skin’s top layers (epidermis). This supposedly breaks down the ink in your tattoo and causes the tattoo to fade. However, it’s important to note that most tattoo removal creams don’t claim to remove your tattoo altogether. Instead, they claim to lighten your tattoo, making it less visible.

How does tattoo removal cream lighten a tattoo? The lightening effects are primarily thanks to one ingredient – Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA). Medical professionals often use Trichloroacetic Acid to treat other skin conditions. However, regarding tattoo removal, the TCA does not penetrate the skin deep enough to obliterate a tattoo.

When getting a tattoo, the ink is released into the deeper layer of the skin, known as the dermis. This is where most of the ink resides that gives your tattoo its appearance. However, since Trichloroacetic Acid only goes as far as the superficial epidermis layer of the skin, it cannot reach the deeper layers to remove the tattoo.

Tattoo removal creams can lighten your tattoo to some extent, but the result isn’t always what you would hope for. The TCA in the tattoo removal cream will lighten any skin it encounters. Therefore, any skin aside from the tattoo that is exposed to tattoo removal cream will also be lightened. 

This means that you might discover the area surrounding your tattoo to lighten along with the tattoo. TCA cream targets the skin’s pigmentation. Therefore, the skin lightening effects will be more severe for people with a darker skin tone.

Suppose you are happy with lightening your tattoo to make it less visible. In that case, you might still consider using tattoo removal cream as it is significantly cheaper than the other permanent tattoo removal options. However, is tattoo removal cream safe to use?

Is Tattoo Removal Cream Safe To Use?

Most tattoo removal manufacturers disclose some possible side effects from the cream on their products. However, the manufacturers often understate how severe some of the side effects can be. The main concern in these tattoo removal creams is the addition of Trichloroacetic Acid.

TCA is a powerful product. The FDA approves it, and doctors use it to treat various skin conditions. But no tattoo removal cream is FDA-approved, and the quantities of TCA added to these creams are unregulated. Furthermore, most medical professionals say that using TCA without a doctor’s supervision is dangerous and ill-advised.

In addition, many tattoo removal creams also contain plant extracts known to cause certain reactions on the skin. This reaction will make you believe that the tattoo removal cream is working, but the plant extracts don’t help to lighten or remove a tattoo. Instead, they simply agitate your skin to make you believe the cream is effective.

What are the side effects of using tattoo removal cream? Manufacturers will often list the following possible side effects of using their tattoo removal cream:

  • Rashes
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Redness
  • Inflammation
  • Burning
  • Peeling of the skin
  • Scarring
  • Discoloration

Suppose these side effects aren’t bad enough to make you reconsider using tattoo removal cream. In that case, some more severe side effects can occur from the ingredients. These side effects are mainly a result of being allergic to one or more of the ingredients. Severe side effects from using tattoo removal cream include:

  • Hives
  • Extreme itching or burning
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe swelling
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Nausea and vomiting

These side effects mainly occur if you are allergic to one or more ingredients in the tattoo removal cream. Anaphylaxis is a potentially deadly allergic reaction. Although you might not be allergic to one ingredient in the tattoo removal cream, combining TCA with plant extracts can cause an allergic reaction.

In addition to possibly being allergic to the cream, you’ll experience discomfort, such as itching, swelling, and burning when using tattoo removal cream. Therefore, it isn’t recommended to use tattoo removal cream when considering having a tattoo removed.

Let’s summarize what we have discussed about tattoo removal so far and how this has led us to determine it isn’t a suitable option for tattoo removal.

  1. Tattoo removal cream isn’t effective enough to remove a tattoo. Instead, it peels away the top layers of the skin. This might lighten the tattoo. However, it can also lighten the surrounding skin.
  2. Trichloroacetic Acid is a potentially dangerous ingredient that should only be used under the supervision of a medical professional.
  3. The combination of ingredients in tattoo removal cream can cause several nasty side effects, including permanent scarring, discoloration, and anaphylaxis.

Thus, even though tattoo removal cream is a cheaper option for removing a tattoo, it is an ineffective and possibly dangerous one. So, what other tattoo removal options are there? We will discuss these methods in the following section to give you a clear idea of the options available for removing your tattoo.

Tattoo Removal Options

You’ve most likely already heard of laser therapy to remove a tattoo. However, there are other ways to remove tattoos, such as surgical removal and dermabrasion. Knowing how these tattoo removal methods work will help you clearly understand which method will be the most suitable to remove your tattoo.

All three of these methods are more expensive than tattoo removal creams. However, they also work better than tattoo removal creams and are generally safer. While there is some risk involved with each method, these tattoo removal therapies are performed by professionals who know the risks and will do everything possible to ensure you are safe.

So, what are the various tattoo removal options, and which option is most suitable for you?

1. Laser Tattoo Removal

The most popular tattoo removal method is laser removal. When you go for laser removal therapy, the therapist uses a Q-switch laser to break apart the ink particles in your tattoo. Q-switch lasers have an extremely short burst of energy, called a pulse.

This burst of energy heats the ink particles in your tattoo, and they explode. Once exploded, your body’s immune system removes the ink particles from your skin and to your lymph nodes. This, in turn, causes your tattoo to fade.

Q-switch lasers target the first ink particles they find. Therefore, the top layers of ink (in the epidermis) will fade first. Then, as you go for more treatments and the top layers of ink are gone, the Q-switch laser can target the deeper layers of the skin, eventually obliterating the tattoo.

Laser tattoo removal is the most effective way to remove a tattoo entirely without leaving a scar or causing skin discoloration. However, laser tattoo removal is also a slow and expensive process. You must wait six weeks between each treatment for your body to remove the exploded ink particles.

In addition, your skin requires time to recover from each session. For example, you might notice some scabbing or peeling after laser tattoo removal therapy. This results from the heat your skin is exposed to from the laser. Your skin, therefore, needs to heal completely before the next session.

This might make you wonder if laser therapy is safe for tattoo removal. Yes, laser therapy is safe for tattoo removal. Because the Q-switch laser produces such short pulses, it heats the ink particles without heating the surrounding skin cells. Therefore, your skin cells don’t sustain any damage from laser therapy.

The biggest drawback of laser tattoo removal therapy is the time and money it takes. You may require between five and ten sessions to remove the ink completely, depending on the size and color of your tattoo. A single tattoo removal session can cost between $200 and $500, meaning you can spend up to $5000 to remove the tattoo.

In addition, completely removing a tattoo can take more than a year since you must wait six weeks between each treatment. However, laser tattoo removal therapy is the most effective and safest way to remove a tattoo permanently.

2. Surgical Tattoo Removal

Given what we have just said about laser tattoo removal therapy, you might wonder why we have also decided to discuss other options. Depending on your tattoo’s size and location, you may consider surgical tattoo removal instead of laser tattoo removal therapy.

Surgical tattoo removal is cheaper than laser therapy. In addition, you can remove your tattoo in a single session. So what is surgical tattoo removal?

A medical professional will numb the area around your tattoo during a surgical tattoo removal session with a local anesthetic. If your tattoo is extremely big, they might choose to use general anesthesia. Then, the doctor removes the skin on which your tattoo is located. They will cut away all the layers of the skin to completely remove the tattoo.

Finally, the doctor will put stitches in your skin and give you some home care instructions to prevent infection and minimize the scarring. The cost of surgical tattoo removal depends on your doctor and the size and location of your tattoo. However, you can expect to pay around $800 to surgically remove your tattoo.

While this is significantly cheaper than laser removal therapy and can be done in a single session, there are some drawbacks to surgically removing your tattoo.

The most significant disadvantage of surgical tattoo removal is that the procedure leaves a scar. Since the doctor removes a part of your skin and stitches the remaining skin together, there will undoubtedly be a scar. Therefore, if your tattoo is in a visible place, you will now be left with a scar in that area.

In addition, if you are removing a large tattoo, the doctor might need to do a skin graft to cover the area where they removed the tattoo. This requires taking skin from somewhere else on your body and grafting it on the missing area. This will be more expensive and lead to more scarring.

Another disadvantage of surgical tattoo removal is the risk of infection. Your doctor will try to minimize the risk of infection. However, there is always a chance that your wound will become infected. This can lead to excessive scarring and is potentially life-threatening.

Therefore, we wouldn’t recommend surgical tattoo removal to anyone. However, suppose you require your tattoo to be removed quickly and have a small tattoo in a less noticeable area. In that case, this might be an option worth considering.

3. Dermabrasion Tattoo Removal

The final alternative to laser tattoo removal therapy is dermabrasion. However, this option is worse than surgical removal in some cases. With dermabrasion tattoo removal, your doctor will also dumb the tattoo area with a local anesthetic. Then, they use a tool that looks like a sander to remove the layers of the skin in a particular area.

The dermabrasion tattoo scrapes off the tattooed skin, similar to how a sander scrapes off layers of wood. Again, you must take care to prevent infection after having a dermabrasion session as the skin is raw and exposed.

The cost of a dermabrasion session mostly depends on the size of your tattoo. You can expect to pay around $100 for a small tattoo and as much as $5000 for a large tattoo. Therefore, depending on the size of your tattoo, dermabrasion isn’t necessarily cheaper than laser tattoo removal therapy.

In addition, you may also require more than one dermabrasion session to remove a tattoo completely. You also risk getting an infection in the wound, and the wound can feel raw and sensitive for more than a week after the dermabrasion procedure. Dermabrasion can also cause scarring.

Therefore, we don’t recommend dermabrasion as a tattoo removal option to anyone with a large tattoo in an exposed area. If you want to remove a bigger tattoo, your best option is laser tattoo removal. It is safer and won’t leave a scar.


As you can now see, tattoo removal creams aren’t effective at removing tattoos completely. They can lighten a tattoo to some extent, but they can also cause scarring and various allergic reactions, making them a lousy tattoo removal option.

Although expensive, laser removal therapy is the safest and most effective way to completely remove a tattoo. Other options to consider for a smaller tattoo include surgical removal and dermabrasion. However, these methods will also leave a scar.

Some of my favorite designs, tattoo books, and aftercare products, selected for you

working on tattoo at my studio
Working at the studio on one of my projects

Thank you for reading my article, I hope that you have found it helpful. If you would have trouble finding ideas for your tattoo, wonder what is meaning of design that you have found or what to buy for aftercare, to make sure that your tattoo will be healing quickly and easily, here are some of my favorite products in one place, hope that this will also help.

Design and tattoo ideas

For some ideas you can have a look at those 3 books with hundreds of designs that I use with my clients, they are available on Amazon for Kindle or in classic, paper version (links below):

Tattoo meaning

If you would like to read more about the meaning of different tattoo styles and designs before you will decide what you would like to have, I can recommend a book that was really useful for me when I was starting my tattoo adventure – it’s “Conscious Ink: The Hidden Meaning of Tattoos” by Lisa Barretta (through the link you can find it on Amazon for around $10).

Tattoo aftercare

The skin at the tattoo site often dries out. To prevent it and speed up healing for my clients, I usually recommend one of those tattoo aftercare balms (you can find them on Amazon):


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