Ancient Tattoo Removal Techniques You Should Know If You Regret Your Ink

Ancient Tattoo Removal Techniques You Should Know If You Regret Your Ink

By: Gabriel Gallardo -

Ah, tattoo fails, it’s hard not to love them. It doesn’t matter whether they’re misspelled words, crappy drawings, or ridiculous images that make us question the sanity of the person that immortalized them on their skin; they’re all freaking funny. Fortunately, there seems to be an infinite amount of lousy tattoo artists, drunk tattoo customers, or just people with weird taste out there, who maintain our never-ending supply of internet hilarity. But one man’s funny post is another’s permanent source of shame. Sure, they make us chuckle, but to the person who has to carry a “No regert” on their forearm or a former lover’s name on their lower back, it’s no joke.


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The tattoo industry has grown considerably in recent years, and with it so too has the tattoo removal industry. It’s only logical: the more tattoos people get, the more some will grow to regret them. It’s estimated that 40% of adults ages 26 to 40 in the United States have at least one tattoo. That’s a lot, and the internet serves as evidence that at least a few are not happy with their inky creations. Tattoo removal nowadays is mostly done with lasers that burn the ink, breaking it apart so white cells are able to consume them. It’s a long, expensive, and painful process that nobody wants to go through. But when you compare it to some of the techniques used in the past, you realize how much progress we’ve truly made in some of the weirdest practices of human society. 


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In ancient Rome, for example, a physician, Aëtius of Amida, had his personal recipe for erasing tattoos. It consisted of using a pin to prick the skin until it bled and proceed to apply one of two substances, which contained ingredients such as lime, peppers, and honey. It was supposed to rid people of tattoos in 20 days. Not bad, Dr. Aëtius, not bad at all. The whole cutting your body isn’t very appealing, though. Other records show that burning off the tainted skin was a common “surgical” process of removal, even if it left behind ugly scars on the area where the tattoos used to be. It’s all a matter of priorities; which one do you prefer: a tramp stamp spelling “I love you mom” or a horrifying scar left by a white hot iron? Yeah, definitely the scar. 


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In the 1920s things didn’t get much better. Some people would have surgeries performed to remove the tattooed skin. You can imagine the horrifying scars left behind, not very different to those who burned them off in the centuries of yore. It was so invasive that, later on, they started injecting hot needles as a less aggressive alternative. Unfortunately it didn’t improve things that much, and it was still very painful and not very effective. So what comes next after burning tattoos off with hot irons or cutting them off? Well, acid, of course. Physicians started fiddling around with their chemistry sets and came up with the idea to burn the skin without using fire, the microwave equivalent of a tattoo removal technique. It worked better than the others, but it’s still dangerous and painful.


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Laser doesn’t sound too bad now, right? Well, it isn’t great either. To this day, the process isn’t 100% effective and it’s said to hurt even more than getting the tattoo in the first place, plus it normally costs more than US$1,500… So yeah, it still sucks. Then, what’s the best tattoo removal technique in history? Not getting a tattoo! Or at least, for God's sake, really think it through. That’s not very sexy advice, but come on: fire, knives, acid, and lasers are four words you don’t ever want to hear in the same sentence, and that's the best we've come up with. Not an encouraging thought.


Now that you know how to remove them, check out how not to end up with a crappy tattoo and some secrets of the trade.