Laser vs. Dermabrasion Tattoo Removal

Remove Tattoo Atlanta, GA

Tattooing is a timeless art form that’s become trendier in recent years with tattoos now frequently turning up in court rooms to board rooms, on artists, professionals and everyone in between.

But not everybody likes tattoos. And after a few years, many people don’t like their own tattoos. Fortunately, many options exist for removing a tattoo that’s outlived its appeal, but how can patients decide which one is right for them1? Let’s examine two of the most popular methods – laser tattoo removal and dermabrasion tattoo removal.

Before we get to options for removing a tattoo, we’ll discuss getting a tattoo and exactly how it’s done, because it impacts how we remove tattoos.

How Tattooing Works

Tattoo artists use an electrically powered machine with several fine needles at the tip. Ink is fed into the needles, which puncture the skin up to 3,000 times a minute, depositing color into the dermis, where it is remains permanently.

Or at least it used to. While it’s not technically possible to “untattoo” inked skin, there are now numerous ways to get down into the dermis and remove ink deposits. One method is called dermabrasion tattoo removal.

Dermabrasion Tattoo Removal: How It Works

Dermabrasion is abrading of the skin or in this case very deep exfoliation. Using a high-speed brush (or wheel) the skin is in essence sanded down to reach and remove the ink stained skin. Like most tattoo removal methods this is a process, and it would require multiple treatments. Since tattoo ink is located about a millimeter below the skin, the top layer of skin must be removed as well as the dermis layer containing the ink2.

This type of tattoo removal is not without its risks. For one, the procedure is not precise, and the brush can easily abrade extra skin. After dermabrasion treatment, the skin will look and feel very raw, and because the skin is open, it’s more sensitive to infections.

Because dermabrasion is so aggressive and it requires multiple treatments, many people experience scarring as a result. Finally, dermabrasion is not designed for large tattoos or any with complex colors and shades. Overall, this procedure may work for small tattoos, but is very limited when it comes to bigger pieces.

Laser Tattoo Removal: How It Works

Laser tattoo removal offers a bloodless, low-risk, effective way of removing larger, more complex tattoos3. A typical laser tattoo removal session begins with numbing the area slightly before applying one of several types of lasers to the tattooed area. Lasers use intense light to pass through the skin; the light is selectively absorbed by tattoo pigment, causing it to fragment into small particles that are then harmlessly absorbed by the patient’s body.

Tattoos treated by laser tattoo removal will initially develop a frost that lasts about 20 minutes or so. Over the following weeks, the ink will begin to fade. Like all tattoo removal procedures, laser tattoo removal does require a series of treatments, usually done at 8-10 week intervals.

Gradually, with the right number of treatments, laser tattoo removal will cause the old tattoo to fade. Most of the time, people will experience a near complete fading of the tattoo in as few as five sessions. In other cases, there may only remain a small shadow of tinting where the tattoo was – all with minimal pain and scarring.

1. Malca, N (2017). Dealing with tattoos in plastic surgery. Annales de Chirurgie Plastique Esthetique. 2017; 62: Pages e15-e21.
2. Peris, Z. (2002). Removal of traumatic and decorative tattoos by dermabrasion. Acta Dermatovnerologic Croatica. 2002; 10(1): Pages 15-19.
3. Naga, LI (2017). Laser Tattoo Removal: An Update. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2017; 18(1): Pages 59-65.
About the Author

Shayna Flash, PA-C, MPH

Shayna Flash is a licensed Physician Assistant and Senior Cosmetic Laser Practitioner certified by the Georgia Composite Medical Board. With more than 14 years of laser experience, Shayna administers treatment for laser hair removal, tattoo removal, vein treatments and skin rejuvenation procedures. She also currently sits on the Georgia Composite Medical Board’s Cosmetic Laser Services Advisory Committee that develops rules, regulations, and application materials for both Senior and Assistant practitioner levels of licensure.



Laser tattoo removal is not bloodless. After the laser to my ankle tattoo, blood ran down puddling in my shoe

Lindsay Spires

You can experience pin point bleeding with laser tattoo removal, which is normal, however you should not experience bleeding to the point it is running down your ankle. It could be that the setting the facility you are visiting is a bit too aggressive. Did you call your office to let them know that you were experiencing bleeding? If that happened at our office we certainly would want to know so that we could make note in the chart so that we could adjust setting for the next session.



I’ve been getting laser for 2 years now on my entire left arm. It was done in colour by a professional. After roughly 15-20 treatments it’s just not doing anything anymore, what alternative method can I take? I’m an athlete so my health is always at top level. I also plan to re-cover the tattoo in future.

Lindsay Spires

Tattoo removal isn’t an exact science and there are a lot of variables that can effect how well a tattoo responds. Do you happen to know what device they are using for your laser tattoo removal treatments? Since you mentioned your tattoo has color are they also treating you with color hand pieces? Colored hand pieces are necessary to address individual colors. How much fading have you seen? Once we know these things we might be able to better guide you. Thanks for reading our blog.



I’m suffering from a chronic skin disease, lichen amyloidosis, and my doctor recommended Dermasion for it, Can you please explain dermabrasion can heel my skin better or Lazor treatment is bettre

Lindsay Spires

In order to better help you we would need more information on the extent of your condition. We understand that often UVB phototherapy can be used to help this condition, but lasers are very different from UVB phototherapy. This condition is not our area of expertise. You may want to get a second opinion from another dermatologist for confirmation on the best treatment plan for you. I’m sorry we couldn’t be of more help. Best of luck to you.


I’ve had two sessions on a script tattoo not bigger than half an inch, 4 inches long on my forearm with a Qswitch laser but it has shown very little fading. What seems to be the problem? The one on my wrist is responding better. Thank you in advance.

Lindsay Spires

There are so many things to consider when it comes to tattoos and how they respond with laser treatments. Since you said the one on your wrist was responding better there could be a few things for you to consider. Were both tattoos done by the same tattoo artist? The one on your forearm my have more ink in it, it could be made of a different ink (many of the foreign made inks have metals in them to keep the color more vibrant). It could also be the location on your body too, tattoos on extremities tend to take a little longer than those on the trunk of the body (related to circulation).
Is this tattoo all black or does it have color in it? Also, do you happen to know if they are using the same setting on both tattoos?
I know this isn’t a clear answer, but as I said there are many factors with tattoos.

12 Questions You Should Know to Ask a Skin Specialist

[…] Dermabrasion is an invasive method of tattoo removal that involves the surgical resurfacing of the outer skin layers using a rotating device. The goal is to remove up to the skin’s middle layer of the tattoo. While it can be an outpatient procedure, it’s painful and carries the risk of infection, bleeding, and even scarring. […]


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