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Do Tattoo Removal Creams Work?

There is a plethora of creams available online that claim to remove tattoos.  A couple have strong web presence and popularity.  Tattoo removal creams can be divided into two major categories: caustic and non-caustic.  The caustic category contains creams and solutions that are acids and function like heavy-duty chemical peels.   They work by burning the skin down to the level of the tattoo ink.  This can definitely work, but carries significant side-effects of scarring.

The non-caustic category of tattoo removal creams is purported to work by unverified mechanisms.  So-called “fading ingredients” are said to somehow specifically fade the tattoo ink yet leave the rest of the skin unaffected.  From a mechanistic standpoint, it’s not clear or conceivable how such a chemical would work.  Tattoo inks are composed from a wide variety of chemicals  within each individual ink brand and there are multiple brands to choose from for each color.  There cannot be one chemical that could react with all these different tattoo inks.  Furthermore, there are no published scientific studies in the medical literature to support such claims.

To date, the only FDA-approved treatment for tattoo removal is laser.  Other methods, such as glycolic acid or salabrasion may work, but the scarring they cause can far outweigh the original disadvantages of the tattoo.  Less aggressive tattoo fading creams have yet to show clinical effectiveness in peer-reviewed scientific journals.  A search of the Pubmed database for “tattoo removal cream” yields nothing related to what is advertised on the internet.  So until new research shows otherwise, only laser tattoo removal can reliably remove tattoos with minimal scarring.