Got ink? You’re not alone. Almost half of Americans age 18 to 35, and one in three between 36 and 50, sport at least one tattoo, according to a Harris Poll.

But some of us come to regret our choice and end up considering tattoo removal. In fact, a full one in four tattooed Americans ultimately experiences tattoo remorse, fueling a growing industry of medical treatments and dubious do-it-yourself tattoo removal products. Here's what really works. 

See a Doctor for Tattoo Removal

If you’d like to get a tattoo removed, your best bet is outpatient laser tattoo removal, performed by a physician who specializes in laser surgery to eliminate the body ink. To find a doctor who is experienced in tattoo removal, check the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery or the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

How Laser Removal Works

Laser tattoo removal works by deploying pulses of high-intensity light that break up the ink beneath your skin. Often, multiple sessions are necessary over a period of several weeks so that skin can heal and your body can eliminate tiny ink particles.

In the past, laser procedures were most effective for removing red or black tattoo inks. But newer laser technologies are also helpful for removing other colors of inks, according to researchers.

A Few Cautions About Lasers
Although laser tattoo removal is more effective than it was years ago, there are still some problems with it. In one recent study of 397 people, the success rate for laser tattoo removal was 47 percent after 10 sessions and 75 percent after 15 sessions. The procedure worked less well on large tattoos and on those located on legs or feet. It also didn't work as well in removing tattoos on smokers.

What's more, laser therapy to remove tattoos can be uncomfortable. You may feel pain or develop blisters or crusty spots on your skin immediately after a laser treatment. Four to six weeks later, you may notice temporary lightening or darkening of your skin; those discolorations may last longer if you have dark skin or have a tan at the time of your treatment. In some cases, scarring, which can be permanent, may develop three to six months later.

Laser treatments to remove tattoos, which generally are not covered by health insurance because they’re considered cosmetic procedures, may cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on a tattoo’s size, location, age, and ink colors.

Tattoo Removal Treatments to Skip

Still, lasers are considered safer and more effective than other tattoo-erasing techniques such as dermabrasion, which involves removing the top layers of skin, and surgical excision, which cuts out the tattoo (though this may work well for small tattoos).

Skip tattoo parlors that offer removal services and don’t do it yourself, the Food and Drug Administration warns. Home tattoo removal kits often contain strong acids that can harm your skin.