The Cosmetologist removes the patient's tattoo with a neodymium laser

How Much Does Tattoo Removal Cost? [2020 Price Guide]

While no one wants a bad tattoo, they are no longer the life sentences they once were. Using laser technology over the course of several sessions—and depending on a range of other factors—tattoos can be effectively and permanently removed for prices ranging from $400 to $5,000 USD.  

A good rule of thumb within the US tattoo industry is that it costs approximately 10 times as much to remove a tattoo as it does to get the ink in the first place.  

Laser Tattoo Removal 

While there are a number of different methods that have been used to remove tattoos in the past, by far the most popular and effective is laser tattoo removal. In the hands of a professional, laser treatments can completely remove tattoos over time, leaving none of the scarring or permanent discoloration associated with other methods, such as surgical removal and dermabrasion.  

laser tattoo removal from leg

Laser removal method works by utilizing the high energy light beams of a laser and blasting the tattoo with these charged light particles. The laser penetrates beneath the epidermis, where it slowly breaks up the ink into tiny particles that are then absorbed by the body.  

When considering laser removal many people are also concerned about the level of pain caused by the procedure. While there is no doubt that pain is part of the process, the common misconception that it is excruciating is a bit overblown. Patients often report the sensation being akin to a strong rubber band repeatedly snapped on the same spot, or even bacon grease splatter. Local anesthesia is usually available as well.  

Factors Determining the Price of Laser Removal 

If the price of laser removal is determined by the number of sessions required, how do we figure out how many sessions will be needed? 

There are a range of factors that technicians use to determine a course of action, and to gain a rough idea about the number of treatments that will be required to eliminate unwanted tattoos. 

First, is the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale that is used to determine skin type (1-6) based on skin tone before sun exposure, hair and eye color.  

FITZpATRICK

The next determining factor is whether the ink is layered, meaning if it is a cover up of another tattoo. 

The location on the body is also important since skin reacts differently to the laser depending on exposure to the sun. 

Ink colors are also important when considering laser removal. Different colors react differently to the laser process: turquoise is notoriously difficult to remove because the wavelengths of the laser light can often “miss” these tones.  

The amount of ink applied is usually characterized by vividness in a piece; the denser the ink the more sessions required to break it up.  

Any existing scarring will also need to be taken into account, as this damaged skin can react differently to laser treatments. 

Finally, the size of the piece is an obvious determining factor. 

All of these different variables at play in the process of laser tattoo removal are unified in what is called the Kirby-Desai scale. While this metric was created in 2009, and laser technology has advanced in that time, it is still an incredible useful tool and regularly employed in laser removal clinics.  

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Laser Removal Prices USA 

Laser tattoo removal was once a specialty industry with only a handful of offices around the country, but now there are dozens of practitioners that operate in cities all across the United States. Many offices offer minimum price options as a way to give prospective clients an idea of how much the procedure will cost. 

One popular option is called an R20 method. The “R” stands for rapid, and “20” represents the 20 minute sessions, with 20 minutes of rest between each of the four sessions. Clinical studies have shown that one R20 procedure can reduce black ink tattoos up to 70% from their initial levels. Many people prefer this rapid procedure and the fact that four sessions are completed in one day, as opposed to visits spaced out over the course of weeks.  

Many clinics offer this procedure with a single session costing around $150 (note that each R20 procedure involves 4 sessions.) This process will likely only be able to clear small tattoos in a single R20 procedure, and the other factors on the Kirby-Desai scale will undoubtedly affect the final price. 

International Prices 

Laser removal in Australia is about half the price (although fluctuations in currency conversion can change this) as in the United States, with single sessions ranging from $90 AUD ($53.50 USD) to $250 AUD ($148.05 USD) with multiple sessions often being required to fully clear a piece. Laser removal in the United Kingdom tends to be slightly higher than in the United States (once again see currency fluctuations) with a single session for a medium sized tattoo costing about £200.  

As with any laser removal procedure these prices are guidelines and the different factors determining the total number of sessions required must be taken into account.  

Laser Tattoo Removal On Shirtless Man's Back

Tattoo Remorse 

Tattoos have held an outsider allure thanks in large part to the different subcultures that have adopted them, but deeper than that is the idea of absolute permanence. There are countless stories of regret in the world of tattoos. According to a 2015 Harris Poll, of the 45 million-plus Americans that have tattoos, 23% report some level of regret over their decision. 

The most common tattoos cited for causing remorse are names of other people (almost always a former partner). Other people decide to get tattoos in times of youthful rebellion, only realizing later that ink they were sure they would love for the rest of their life is not as attractive 20 years down the road. Still others received tattoos as gang affiliations, both on the streets and in prison. They wish to leave their previous life behind but cannot do so effectively thanks to their ink and the lifestyle it symbolizes.  

There are numerous different reasons to remove tattoos—just about as many reasons as there are to get tattoos in the first place—and now, thanks to advances in modern technology no one needs to live their life with ink that they regret. 

Nothing is Forever: Steps to tattoo removal 

So how do you know if laser removal is for you? The first step is to find a clinic in your area and make contact with their office. They will either schedule an appointment or you can send photos that will help them to formulate a game plan that is specific you and your ink. It is important to follow laser removal specialist’s directions regarding preparation and post-treatment care, as skin condition—both before and after—are important in order to ensure an effective procedure.  

As we can see, tattoos are no longer the permanent reminders to past mistakes that they once were. Thanks to the continued development of laser removal technology, no one has to live with ugly tattoos that commemorate memories that are better forgotten. While laser tattoo removal isn’t cheap, it is permanent, so once the tattoo is gone, it is gone for good. 

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