Surgical Excision for Unwanted Tattoos

Surgical excision – also called surgical removal – is a more invasive option for tattoo removal.

Some small tattoos might be good candidates for surgical removal, while others are considered too large to remove with a scalpel. The dermatologic surgeon removes the tattoo using a scalpel and closes the wound with stitches. This technique proves highly effective in removing some tattoos and allows the surgeon to remove the inked areas with great precision.


  • Highly effective for smaller tattoos
  • Offers improved precision

Side effects are generally minor, but may include:

  • Skin discoloration
  • Infection
  • Lack of complete pigment removal
  • Some scarring
  • A raised or thickened scar may appear three to six months after the tattoo is removed

Before the procedure, the doctor will most likely review the patient’s medical history and conduct a physical exam. This is the time for the patient and doctor to discuss expectations, potential risks and outcomes of the procedure. 
A dermatologic surgeon will give patients a set of pre-operative instructions. Avoiding sun exposure several weeks before surgery is critical. Prior to surgery, it is also important to refrain from taking any blood-thinning medications that contain ibuprofen or aspirin. A local anesthetic will be injected to numb the treatment area before surgery begins. Be sure to ask your doctor about any questions you have regarding the pre-operative instructions.

A patient’s skin may feel sunburned and tight. Doctors may prescribe a moisturizing cream or lotion and direct patients to avoid the sun. When outside, it is important to wear a sunscreen with an SPF factor of 30 or higher to avoid excessive scarring. The application of cold packs and taking prescribed pain medications or antibiotics will assist in continued recovery.