In nearly all cases, laser removal is the most efficient and safest option for removing an unwanted tattoo. In rare cases, however, a client may opt for saline tattoo removal instead. We address the pros and cons of saline removal here so you can make an informed decision.
What Is Saline Tattoo Removal?
Saline tattoo removal is a procedure that uses a saline solution to draw tattoo ink or pigment out of the skin. It can be used to lighten or fully remove tattoos, although it is not the most efficient method of removal.
What Saline Solution Is Used for Tattoo Removal?
Saline solution for tattoo removal is made of a mixture of salt and water. Other ingredients vary by brand; some products include additives like aloe vera as well.
What Is Saline Tattoo Removal Best Used For?
While laser is definitely the best method of removing tattoo ink, certain pigments used in cosmetic tattoos don’t respond well to laser treatment. The ingredients in these pigments can be very different from those used in conventional ink, and laser treatment could change the color of some rather than lightening them. Often a cosmetic tattoo artist will gain training in saline tattoo removal so they can easily remove unwanted permanent makeup tattoos.
Saline treatment also tends to work better for smaller tattoos than larger ones. Since the process creates an open wound, the treated skin is very vulnerable until it heals. A smaller tattoo is easier to keep clean and protected.
How deeply the ink was deposited also influences the effectiveness of saline tattoo removal. “Cosmetic tattoos are usually deposited into the dermis more superficially, where regular tattoos are slightly deeper,” says Amber Curtis, a highly-skilled Removery specialist. Even minor variations in ink depth can make a big difference.
Traditional Tattoo Edits
Saline removal is sometimes used for conventional tattoo edits, but we would strongly discourage that, due to the issue of migration. Even a skilled removal specialist cannot control exactly where the saline solution goes when they push it into the skin, since they’re dealing with a liquid. It’s hard to target a spot as precisely as a laser could. The solution and ink can therefore migrate to areas that the client didn’t intend to target. Furthermore, ink that was injected deeply can be drawn closer to the surface, making it more visible when previously it had been hard to see.
Eyebrow Tattoo Removal
Saline tattoo removal can effectively eliminate pigments used in brow tattoos. Sometimes people opt for eyebrow tattoo removal because they don’t like the shape or look of the brows. Eyebrow tattoos are often created using the technique of micropigmentation, which involves depositing tiny dots of pigment into the skin to create fuller brows. The same technique is often used for other permanent makeup as well.
The technique of microblading involves making tiny, shallow cuts into the skin—more like light scrapes, actually—and depositing ink or pigment into them to create the appearance of fine hairs. Microblading can be used to create fuller brows, or it can be used on the scalp to create the appearance of thicker hair. Saline removal may be a viable option depending on the depth and the type of pigment used.
How Does Saline Tattoo Removal Work?
This procedure has some similarities to both tattooing and microblading, since it involves puncturing the skin to deposit a liquid. The specialist is essentially tattooing the area with saline. Usually a tattoo machine is used for saline tattoo removal, although some cosmetic artists may use microblading pens. Tattoo ink has remained in liquid form after being deposited into the skin, and saline tattoo removal uses an osmosis effect to draw it out.
Through osmosis, saline removal persuades the cells to release the ink or pigment. Osmosis relies on the principle of equalization. When there is a semipermeable membrane that has a more highly concentrated solution on one side, water tends to move across the membrane toward that concentrated solution in an attempt to create equal conditions on each side. When saline is injected into the skin, water is pulled up from the cells of the dermis, and some of the pigment comes along for the ride. A scab forms on the open wound created by the saline injection, and the pigment becomes part of the scab. New cell growth begins below, and the scab eventually falls off.
Other than creating a temporary wound, the process has no harmful effects on the body. It affects only the specific area treated, unless severe infection occurs. Proper aftercare is essential to prevent that from happening.
This process is often repeated multiple times to achieve the desired results, while allowing time for the skin to heal in between.
Saline Tattoo Removal vs. Laser Tattoo Removal
Saline tattoo removal can take several sessions to lighten the tattoo substantially, and it often doesn’t result in complete removal. It’s impossible to predict how effective the process will be for any individual. When Amber was taking a class a few years ago, someone dropped a machine and it tattooed a small line of cosmetic ink on her neck. They immediately applied saline in an attempt to remove it, but it did absolutely nothing.
Meanwhile, the leading laser technology like Removery’s equipment makes complete removal possible in most cases. Here are some other key points to consider when comparing these two techniques.
- Laser removal requires at least six weeks of recovery time between treatments. With saline removal, the skin must heal for 8 to 10 weeks between sessions.
- With both tattoo removal methods, clients must follow aftercare instructions carefully to avoid experiencing complications. Because saline tattoo removal creates an open wound, it carries more risk of infection and scarring.
- Both saline and laser removal are typically less uncomfortable than having a tattoo applied, though the area will probably feel tender afterward as it heals.
- Laser has a higher price tag than saline tattoo removal, because it’s usually more effective. For example, while eyebrow removal may cost $70–$100 with saline removal, the cost may increase to $150–$400 with laser removal. (Keep in mind that with eyebrows, the hair must be shaved off prior to laser removal, which can sometimes lead people to try saline removal instead.)
- With saline removal, darker inks tend to take longer to remove than lighter hues, whereas with laser removal, darker shades are often the easiest to remove—especially black!
“The most efficient way to remove a tattoo is going to be a laser,” says Amber.
In short, laser works best in most cases, but there are certain situations (primarily involving cosmetic removal) where saline removal could be a better option.
How Many Sessions Does Saline Tattoo Removal Take?
Laser removal takes on average 10 to 12 sessions for complete removal. Saline requires a similar number on average, but it varies greatly. “With saline, it’s a huge guessing game,” says Amber.
What affects the number of sessions needed? For either procedure, it first depends on your removal goal. If you want to remove the tattoo completely, the number of sessions will probably be substantially higher. For example, complete removal might take 11 saline tattoo removal sessions as opposed to 5 or 6 for partial fading. The exact number will depend on how your body responds to the treatment.
The number of sessions needed also depends on the color of the ink being removed. As mentioned, darker shades often take longer than lighter ones with saline removal, whereas with laser, it’s the reverse.
Risks and Side Effects of Saline Tattoo Removal
Saline removal does not cause hypo or hyperpigmentation on certain skin types, but scarring does pose a risk. “You have to be careful about scarring, which is something that lasers do not do, because they don’t break open the skin,” says Amber. Scars are typically permanent if they occur.
Infection also poses a concern, since you’re dealing with an open wound. Keeping the area clean and following aftercare guidelines exactly is crucial.
Can I Perform Saline Tattoo Removal at Home?
Never attempt saline tattoo removal at home–or any type of home tattoo removal, for that matter. Always have a professional do it. Any type of DIY tattoo removal runs a high risk of incurring permanent skin damage, while usually doing little to remove the tattoo.
“Do your research,” says Amber. “You need to find somebody professional that knows what they’re doing. Ask questions; have consultations. Take a look at people’s before-and-afters for their results.” Photos don’t lie! Saline tattoo removal before and after photos will show you the quality of the results you’ll get.
What Is the Healing and Aftercare Process?
Here’s what the saline tattoo removal healing process timeline looks like:
The day of your treatment: The area feels tender and might feel like it’s been burned. It may look very red and swollen.
First several days: The area will scab over.
One week later: The area remains scabbed over.
Two weeks later: The scab has probably fallen off. The skin still looks pink or discolored and appears fragile, as it’s still healing.
One month later: The skin is looking more normal by now.
Two months later: The area has completely healed (hopefully!) and is ready for the next session.
Follow the guidelines of your removal specialist exactly to speed the recovery process. Standard tattoo removal aftercare guidelines for saline removal include the following:
- Don’t cover the area (unless you work in a place with a higher risk of infection, like a hospital).
- Leave the area alone while healing. Don’t wash or pick at it. Avoid lotions and soaps.
- Keep the area out of the sun.
- Avoid activities that cause sweating, as well as immersing the area in water, until the scab has completely fallen off.
- Allow the scab to fall off on its own!
- Apply vitamin E oil as directed by your specialist after the scab falls off.
Speak with a Removery Specialist about Your Tattoo
If you’re unsure which treatment method is best for you, we can help. Book an appointment with a Removery specialist, who will help you determine whether laser is right for you.