Guide to Treatment of Tattoo Complications and Tattoo Removal

Curr Probl Dermatol. 2017;52:132-138. doi: 10.1159/000452966. Epub 2017 Mar 10.


Clinicians in the fields of general medicine, dermatology, and plastic surgery are in their work now and then confronted with tattoo complications. Recognizing the rather few important diagnostic groups and urgencies, the medical 'decision tree' of treatment becomes quite simple. Acute conditions are dominated by bacterial infections needing antibiotic treatment. Systemic infection is a matter of urgency and requires intravenous treatment in a hospital without delay to prevent septic shock. Inflammatory reactions are a real challenge. Chronic allergic reactions in red tattoos are mostly nonresponsive to topical corticoid and best treated with dermatome shaving with complete removal of the hapten concentrated in the outer dermis. Laser treatment of allergic reactions can boost the allergy with worsening and a potential risk of anaphylaxis and is thus not recommended in tattoo allergy. Chronic papulonodular reactions in black tattoos with pigment agglomeration can respond to local corticoid or be treated with dermatome shaving or lasers depending on availability. It is important to recognize sarcoidosis, which is strongly associated with reactions in black tattoos. Tattoo complications also include many rare but specific entities, which require individual treatment depending on the case and the disease mechanism. Removal of tattoos in individuals regretting their tattoo is performed using Q-switched nanosecond lasers and the recently introduced picosecond lasers. In view of the various tattoo pigments with different absorption spectra and the limited number of laser wavelengths, it is difficult to predict treatment outcome, and it is recommended to pretreat small test spots. Black and red colors are removed best, while other colors are difficult. Removal of large tattoos, especially when multicolored, is hardly achievable and not recommended. Clients often have unrealistic expectations, and informed consent and dialogue between the client and the laser surgeon before and during a treatment course is important since the client shall know the risk that removal can be unsuccessful, with complications and even disfiguring leading to regret at the end.

MeSH terms

  • Color
  • Cosmetic Techniques
  • Decision Trees
  • Dermatitis / etiology
  • Dermatitis / therapy
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / etiology
  • Hypersensitivity / therapy
  • Ink
  • Laser Therapy
  • Skin Diseases / etiology
  • Skin Diseases / therapy
  • Skin Diseases, Bacterial / etiology
  • Skin Diseases, Bacterial / therapy
  • Tattooing / adverse effects*