Tattoo removal regulations

Claudia Meyer

Tattoos often are inked in a moment of weakness when a person is young or intoxicated. While many people put a lot of thought into their tattoos and the lifelong ramifications of the body art, others are more spontaneous and may regret the move later in life.

Tattoo removal is a booming business for cosmetic surgeons, who typically use lasers to remove body art. Regulations that govern tattoo application and removal vary from state to state.


Many states require a medical certificate that proves laser training to use laser tattoo-removal equipment. Check with your secretary of state to find out what credentials are required in your state. Other states classify lasers in different categories, based on whether or not the laser breaks through the skin. No license is needed in most states to use the latest laser technology that doesn't break the skin.


Physicians do not need a license to remove a tattoo, so look for a cosmetic surgeon who has experience in erasing inked art. Doctors who use lasers for other procedures such as hair removal and skin disorders will be more practised in the craft and better qualified to remove a tattoo.


Many of the manufacturers of lasers for tattoo removal offer training to those purchasing their equipment. Organizations such as the Laser Training Institute train nurses, doctors and cosmetic specialists in the use of medical lasers. They offer online courses and bring classes in-house to facilities that want to offer laser services. The Institute provides a certification that is recognised by most states, and they meet the National Council on Laser Excellence (NCLE) and Board of Laser Safety (BLS) Laser Certification for professional continuing education (CEU) points. The Laser Training Institute is a non-profit organisation that does not sell equipment.


New technology, such as that offered by the National Laser Institute, uses light to target the ink directly without breaking through any layer of the epidermis. The skin is not broken and leaves no scarring. Recovery is quick and painless with this new light laser treatment.


Other treatments that are legally protected by the Food and Drug Administration include creams that fade the colour in the skin and those that create scabs that will eventually wear the tattoo down. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is a cream that has been used for facial peels and to remove calluses and moles. It causes inflammation that wears away the top layers of the skin, eventually wearing away the colour. Laser tattoo removal takes at least six treatments to totally remove a tattoo, and TCA can take can take up to a year, with applications done every six weeks.