Have you been thinking about removing an unwanted tattoo? You essentially have two options – using an at home removal product or getting professional laser treatment. But how do you determine which method will work best?

This guide examines the pros and cons of both tattoo removal methods to help you decide what is right for your situation.

How At Home Tattoo Removal Works

At home tattoo removal usually involves using a topical cream or solution to gradually fade ink over time. Here’s how it works:

  • Uses ingredients like TCA (trichloroacetic acid) that gently exfoliate the skin to lift ink particles
  • Can take 3-9 months of daily application to see results
  • Works best on newer, smaller, and simpler tattoos
  • Causes mild irritation like redness, swelling, tingling during use
  • Results are gradual lightening but may not be complete removal

Risks and Side Effects:

  • Skin irritation, burning or blistering if product is overused
  • Scarring is possible if the skin’s surface is damaged
  • Not as effective on larger, denser, or older tattoos

If you’re looking to remove an unwanted tattoo at home, you have several options beyond creams. Here’s an overview of common do-it-yourself methods and how they compare.

Tattoo Removal Pens

DIY tattoo removal pens use a natural salt solution to gently exfoliate and fade tattoos over time. Here’s how they work:

  • Apply to tattoo using pen tip 2-3 times per day
  • Causes mild tingling/burning sensation
  • Takes 3-9 months for lightening
  • Best for new, small, simple tattoos


  • Convenient, easy to use
  • Causes less irritation than other DIY methods
  • Affordable at around $25 per pen


Very gradual lightening over months

  • Only fades, doesn’t fully remove tattoo
  • Not effective for older/larger tattoos

Abrasive Solutions

Abrasive DIY solutions use chemicals like salicylic acid to scrub off top layers of skin and lift ink. Popular options include:

  • Tat B Gon: Gel contains salicylic acid
  • Wrecking Balm: Uses coconut oil, lemon juice, and rosemary oil


  • Readily available for purchase online
  • Least expensive option at $20-40


  • Can seriously irritate/burn skin
  • High risk of scarring if over-used
  • Only removes surface layers of ink

TCA Skin Peels

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels work by exfoliating the skin. Here’s how to use:

  • Lightly apply TCA solution to tattoo
  • Neutralize with baking soda after 2-5 min
  • Repeat weekly for 2-3 months


  • Higher chance of full removal than other DIY methods
  • TCA peels available for purchase online


  • High risk of burning/scarring if misused
  • Takes months and proper technique

Who It’s Best For:

  • People who want a non-invasive, budget-friendly option
  • Those looking for subtle, gradual fading over weeks/months
  • If you have a lower pain tolerance for procedures
  • For simple tattoos that are newer/already light


How Laser Tattoo Removal Works

Laser removal uses targeted pulses of high-intensity light to break up the tattoo ink so your body can absorb the particles. Here’s how it works:

  • Typically takes 6-12 sessions spaced 4-6 weeks apart
  • Visibly fades tattoos with each successive treatment
  • Best for older, larger, or intricate tattoo designs
  • Utilizes either Q-Switched or Pico lasers
  • Causes a hot, snapping sensation during procedure
  • Aims to fully remove tattoos for most people/ink colors

Who It’s Best For:

  • Those with large, dense, or intricate tattoo designs
  • People who want fast and dramatic lightening
  • If you have older and faded tattoos
  • For professional or discreetness reasons
  • When you need guaranteed removal of all traces

What To Consider When Choosing

When deciding between at home and laser tattoo removal methods, keep these key factors in mind:

  • Your pain tolerance level
  • Desired speed of your results
  • Whether you need total removal or just fading
  • Your tattoo’s location, size, age and colors
  • Your budget and access to professional providers
  • Your lifestyle and ability to follow aftercare
  • Any underlying skin conditions or sensitivities


Laser tattoo removal from woman

Side By Side Comparison


Factor At Home Removal Laser Removal
Cost $50 – $150 total $200 – $500 per session
Duration 3-9 months 6-12 sessions over months
Results Gradual fading, may not fully remove Complete removal possible for most tattoos
Pain Mild tingling, burning, peeling Intense pulsing pain during procedure
Downtime Minimal Temporary blistering, swelling, redness
Skin Risks Burns, scarring if overused Minimal if done properly
Ideal For Newer, smaller, simpler tattoos Older, larger, intricate tattoos


Getting the Best Results

Regardless of which option you choose, following aftercare is crucial. Always:

  • Carefully follow provided instructions
  • Watch for side effects like swelling, blistering
  • Keep the area clean and well moisturized
  • Use proper sun protection on treated skin
  • Consider cover up options if fading is inadequate

Explore Your Options

Hopefully this overview helps you understand the differences between at home and laser tattoo removal. For personalized advice and a treatment recommendation tailored to your specific tattoo, meet with a dermatology provider for a consultation. Together you can develop the ideal ink removal plan.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the risks of at-home tattoo removal creams?

The risks include skin irritation, burning, blistering, and scarring if the creams are overused or applied incorrectly. At-home creams can damage the skin surface, especially on larger/denser tattoos.

How much does professional laser tattoo removal cost?

Check out our pricing page for more information

How long does it take to see results with at-home creams?

It typically takes 2-3 months of consistent daily application before initial fading is noticeable. Max results take 6+ months for simpler tattoos.

Which hurts more: at-home creams or laser removal?

Laser removal is considerably more painful during the procedure. At-home creams cause milder irritation like tingling, redness, or swelling during use.

Can at-home creams fully remove a tattoo?

They can fade and lighten a tattoo over time but often cannot fully remove all traces, especially for larger and older tattoos.

Who is the ideal candidate for laser tattoo removal?

Lasers work best for people with larger, dense, intricate tattoos who want dramatic lightening in fewer sessions and guaranteed removal.

What kind of tattoos respond best to at-home creams?

Smaller, simpler tattoos that are newer/already faded are the best candidates for gradual removal using over-the-counter creams.

How long is recovery from laser tattoo removal?

Most side effects like swelling and redness resolve within 1-2 weeks. Blistering can take 2-4 weeks to fully heal after each laser session.

How do I prevent scarring with at-home cream use?

Use only as directed, start slowly, and discontinue immediately if irritation occurs to avoid damaging the skin’s surface.

Start the process with a free consult