What Does Tattoo Removal Feel Like? Pain and Sensations

Tattoo Removal Feel Like

Tattoos may seem like a great idea in the moment, but over time many people end up regretting their permanent body art for various reasons. According to research, around 25% of people with tattoos eventually want them removed. When the time comes to erase your tattoo, the biggest question on your mind is likely “what does tattoo removal feel like?”

The short answer is that tattoo removal involves moderate pain during treatments and stinging discomfort during the healing process. The level of pain and discomfort varies based on the tattoo removal method used. Understanding what to expect can help you prepare and make the best decision for your situation.

In this detailed guide, we will cover:

  • Overview of tattoo removal methods and how they work
  • Step-by-step sensations during laser tattoo removal
  • Pain levels and recovery time for other removal techniques
  • Tips to minimize discomfort during and after treatments
  • Whether tattoo removal is ultimately worth any pain

So if you’re wondering “What does tattoo removal feel like?”, read on for insights into the sensations and recovery process.

How Do the Main Tattoo Removal Techniques Work?

There are three primary methods for erasing unwanted tattoos, each with its mechanisms for breaking up the ink particles under your skin. Here is a quick look at how they work:

Laser Removal: This is the most common and effective tattoo removal method. A high-intensity laser beam is directed at the tattoo, targeting pigment particles and breaking them into tiny fragments. Your body’s immune system then gradually flushes out the shattered ink pieces throughout several treatments.

Surgical Excision: This technique involves cutting out the tattooed skin area and stitching the edges together. The tattoo is removed along with the top layers of skin. This leaves a permanent scar but completely erases the tattoo in one session.

Dermabrasion and Salabrasion: These abrasive methods sand down the skin’s surface to penetrate beneath the tattooed layers. Dermabrasion uses a rapidly rotating brush to abrade the skin, while salabrasion combines sanding with a salt solution sprayed onto the treated area. New skin grows back over time as the body pushes ink remnants to the surface.

Now let’s explore what does tattoo removal feel like with each method…

Overview of Tattoo Removal Methods

MethodHow It WorksPain LevelTreatments Needed
Laser RemovalLaser breaks up ink particles, body flushes fragments4-7 out of 106-12 treatments
Surgical ExcisionCutting out tattooed skin1-3 during removal, 5 during healing1 treatment
Dermabrasion/SalabrasionSanding top layers of skin6-9 during, 7-10 afterMultiple treatments

Laser Tattoo Removal Step-by-Step: Sensations and Pain Levels

Laser removal is the gold standard for erasing tattoos with minimal scarring. But many wonder: does laser tattoo removal hurt?

Here’s an in-depth look at the sensations you can expect from start to finish:

Before the Laser Procedure

Before laser removal, a numbing cream is applied to the tattoo about 30 minutes prior. This reduces the discomfort from the laser pulses. You may feel slight stinging or snapping as the laser handpiece pulses over the skin in short bursts. Each laser pulse makes a beeping noise. It can also emit a burning smell from vaporized ink and flesh.

During the Laser Tattoo Removal Procedure

During the procedure, most patients feel sharp prickling, snapping, or stinging pain as the laser zaps the tattooed skin repeatedly. The sensation is often described as rubber bands snapping against the skin. It ranges from mild to moderately painful. Areas like hands, feet, fingers, and ribs hurt more because the skin is thinner and has more nerves. Fleshier spots like arms, legs, and back are less uncomfortable to treat. The technician may offer breaks or apply cooling packs between laser pulses to soothe the area.

Immediately After Laser Tattoo Removal

Right after laser treatment, the skin reddens and swells around the tattoo site. You may feel a hot, mildly burning sensation for a few hours afterward. The area can bleed a little or ooze clear fluid, which is normal. Over the next few days, a scab or blister forms as new skin grows underneath the treated tattoo area.

Multiple Treatments Are Needed

Tattoo removal is a gradual process that takes multiple treatments over an extended period. Unlike getting the tattoo applied which generally only takes one session, removing it is done throughout 6 to 12 sessions typically. The reason it takes this many appointments spaced out every 6 to 8 weeks is because the ink has to be targeted and broken down bit by bit. Lasers break down the pigments in the ink each session until the body’s immune system can safely absorb and flush out the ink over time.

Most tattoos cannot be fully eliminated with just one laser removal treatment alone. There is too much pigment embedded deep in the layers of skin that requires repeat targeting. With each successive session, there is less and less ink for the laser to pinpoint. This means that generally, each following appointment is slightly less painful and easier to tolerate. The process is gradual rather than removing all the ink at once which would be more traumatic for the skin.

Though it is time-consuming and a commitment to complete a full treatment plan, laser tattoo removal spaced out over multiple sessions is the safest and most effective method for fully breaking down and erasing stubborn tattoo ink.

Surgical Excision Tattoo Removal: Pain and Recovery

For surgical tattoo removal, the heavily tattooed skin area is cut out and the edges stitched together. What does this type of removal feel like? You will be completely numb during the procedure due to a local anesthetic injection around the tattoo site. No pain is felt while the skin is excised.

Mild to moderate stinging and soreness are common during the healing process as the incision mends back together. While this method removes a tattoo with minimal treatments, it leaves permanent scarring since the skin has been removed.

Dermabrasion and Salabrasion: Discomfort During and After Treatment

Dermabrasion and salabrasion use sanding techniques to abrade off layers of tattooed skin. Here’s an overview of the pain sensations: A local anesthetic is administered first to numb the tattoo before abrasion begins. During the procedure, you may feel an uncomfortable scraping sensation as the abrasive brush sands away the top skin layers.

There is often significant stinging pain during the healing process as new skin regenerates. Temporary scabs will form over the treated area before new pink skin grows back. Multiple treatments are usually needed for full tattoo removal.

How Much Does Tattoo Removal Hurt? Pain Levels for Each Method

On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely painful, here are typical pain levels associated with common tattoo removal techniques:

  • Laser tattoo removal: 4 to 7 out of 10 pain during the procedure.
  • Surgical excision: 1 to 3 out of 10 during removal since you are numb. 5 out of 10 during healing.
  • Dermabrasion tattoo removal: 6 to 9 out of 10 pain during treatment, 7 to 10 out of 10 pain during healing.

Pain thresholds vary individually, but most patients tolerate laser removal discomfort well enough to see the process through to full ink removal.

7 Tips to Minimize Discomfort During Tattoo Removal Treatments

While some discomfort is unavoidable, here are some ways to help manage the pain of tattoo removal:

  • Apply a strong topical anesthetic cream like lidocaine to the area before laser sessions. This will numb the skin’s surface.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen an hour before treatments.
  • During the procedure, ask your clinician for cooling air or an ice pack on the treated area between laser passes.
  • After each laser session, use ice packs wrapped in cloth to soothe burning or stinging skin.
  • Keep the treated area moisturized as it heals to reduce tight, painful scabbing.
  • Ask your provider about using a tattoo removal numbing cream between sessions to minimize lingering pain.
  • Consider spacing out treatments further apart to allow more healing time if the pain is too intense.

Is Tattoo Removal Worth the Pain and Discomfort?

There’s no sugarcoating it – tattoo removal involves some degree of pain. It takes time, dedication, and sitting through some uncomfortable sessions.

However, removing the tattoo you regret ultimately comes down to a personal choice. Many find that finally being free of unwanted body art outweighs the pain they experience in the process.

The key is setting proper expectations. Tattoo removal takes patience as the ink fades gradually over multiple treatments. It often requires some gritting of your teeth through the laser pulses or abrasion discomfort. Work closely with an experienced dermatology provider to minimize and manage any pain on your journey to being tattoo-free.

In the end, only you can decide if erasing unwanted body art is worth the discomfort and recovery process. But for many seeking closure from past mistakes, the answer is a resounding yes.

Pro Tip: Avoid Infection During Healing

To prevent painful infection during the tattoo removal healing process: Gently cleanse the treated area daily using mild antibacterial soap and water. Avoid harsh scrubbing. Keep the area moisturized with a thin layer of antibiotic ointment.

Avoid swimming or activities that cause excessive sweating until the skin is healed. Watch for signs of infection like worsening pain, swelling, oozing, redness, and fever. See your provider promptly if you suspect an infection is developing.


We hope this guide gave you honest insights into what tattoo removal feels like. While laser treatments involve some painful sensations, most patients agree it’s worth it to permanently erase their regretted ink. With proper precautions and care, you can minimize discomfort and achieve the removal results you want.

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