Getting a tattoo is one of the more permanent decisions you can make in your life. At least, that's what we're told when we're growing up, probably because our parents are hoping we won't ink ourselves up while we're technically under their legal care. But the truth comes out when you're older: For a mini fortune, you actually can reverse that unfortunate prom night mistake and pretend it never happened. But how does ink removal actually work? Where does the ink go when you get a tattoo removed?
As it turns out, you're not shedding ink off of your skin the same way a sunburn peels off. The ink doesn't come "off" at all, technically. It actually sort of goes in. Instead of "shedding" the ink, you're actually absorbing it into your body. Eventually, it comes out the same way everything comes out: via your poop.
Although it sounds kind of dangerous, pooping the ink of your tattoo out of your system is the only way to get that tattoo of a dinosaur on a skateboard off of your bicep. It's also totally safe, surprisingly enough. Here's how it works:
Laser tattoo removal is the most popular way to get rid of unwanted tattoos, mostly because the other option is surgical.
The laser removal process can take multiple sessions, because each tattoo ink color is different and requires its own laser for removal.
At its heart, a tattoo is comprised of minerals. Each ink color comes from the mineral or metal it's made of, and therefore requires a different chemical reaction to break it down into particles that your body can safely absorb.
The heat of the laser breaks the ink particles down, and your body's white blood cells come to take the "intruders" away via the lymphatic system. In that way, you are absorbing, breaking down, and pooping out the words or image you once held so dear. It's a fitting end for a precious symbol gone awry.
But it's not just poop that can carry out the minerals that once made up your tattoo.
It can be pee or sweat, too. Basically, in any way that you are expelling waste from your body, your tattoo particles will be exiting through these channels.
What's more, in the same way that different ink colors are broken down into different types of particles, the process by which your tattoo leaves your body will actually depend upon the colors in the tattoo, which is kind of cool.
Dr. Hooman Khorasani, chief of the Dermatologic & Cosmetic Surgery Division at Mount Sinai Medical Center, explained how colors affect tattoo removal in an interview with BuzzFeed:
So basically, how your body gets rid of the ink is going to depend on what color it is. The details after that become a lot more complex. But basically, the ink will get metabolized through either your sweat glands, kidney, or liver, which means you’re literally sweating, peeing, or pooping out your tattoo’s ink particles.
Before you get stoked about sweating out purple, keep this in mind: It's super unlikely you'll see any pigment at all.
By the time the ink leaves the body, it will have been broken down into a much more basic and colorless chemical form. Otherwise, your sweat, poop, and pee would constantly be changing colors based upon your daily diet.
So, your tattoo isn't as permanent as you thought it was, which is both a good and a bad thing. But before you go inking up an entire limb, consider this: Just one laser tattoo removal session can cost anywhere from $200 to $500, and you'll need to go through several sessions to get rid of even the most basic tattoo. Indecision will cost you — literally.
Perhaps this can be your new litmus test for deciding whether you really want that tattoo or not. Can you see yourself eventually wanting to absorb, break down, and poop out the tattoo design you're currently considering?
If not, you might want to just pass on it altogether.