People love lip tattoos! And it’s obvious why – getting your lips colored in with permanent makeup absolves you from applying and reapplying lip products, it gives your lips an illusion of more volume, and it won’t wash off no matter what you do.
But when a lip tattoo goes wrong, it can be a major source of frustration. Then you try to research options for lip tattoo removal, and you’re left not knowing what to do! There’s a lot of conflicting information available on whether it’s possible to remove a lip tattoo, and which is the best way to do it.
So we’re looking into options for removing unwanted pigment from the lips more thoroughly, with the hope of providing you with clear information on what you can do to get rid of your lip tattoo gone wrong.
What Are the Options for Lip Tattoo Removal?
For removal of any tattoo – both body art or permanent makeup – there are laser and non-laser removal options. Let’s see how each of these works for lip tattoo removal:
Laser lip tattoo removal works on the principle of breaking down the unwanted pigments, and enabling the body to extract them. The pigment is targeted by a laser beam which penetrates the skin, and its energy breaks down the molecules into smaller particles.
The so-called “scavenger cells” in the blood trap these particles, and they are extracted through the lymphatic system. A single removal session can only break down a certain amount of pigment, so it has to be repeated until all of it can be extracted.
There are several different laser technologies and not all of them work equally well for every pigment color and formula.
You can find out more about laser PMU removal in this guide.
Is It Safe?
If the right technology is used and if all the parameters are set perfectly for the particular case at hand, it’s usually safe. However, there’s the risk of scarring and hypopigmentation on darker skin tones.
A skilled technician will know how to perform the treatment in a safe way, but be careful who you trust – it’s a very specialized technique and not all techs have experience with removing PMU from the lips.
How Much Does It Cost?
The average cost of a pigment removal session with laser is around $215, but it can vary depending on the laser technology used, the complexity of the case, your location, the clinic you choose, etc. Each session is charged separately, but most clinics offer discounts on several sessions.
Most pigments used for lip PMU contain a certain amount of titanium dioxide – a type of white pigment often present in lighter formulas.
When titanium dioxide is touched by a laser beam, it often oxidizes and turns dark. It can look grayish, blueish, or even black. This color is removed with further treatments, but not until several weeks later, once the skin has healed from the previous session. This color change is essentially harmless, but it’s definitely not attractive.
This is why most clients refuse to get laser lip tattoo removal, and go for non-laser options instead, or get 1-2 sessions of laser, and then switch to non-laser options.
Image source: Instagram @laserawayink_tattoo_removal
Non-laser options engage a different approach: the pigments are extracted directly from the skin.
They work as a sort of tattoo-reversal: the skin over the unwanted pigments is opened up with a machine in the same way the ink was implemented into it. A special solution is administered into the open skin, which will lift the pigment. Lymph (and possibly some blood) are secreted by the body, and they raise the pigments to the surface of the skin, where a scab is formed.
Once the skin underneath the scab has healed, the scab will fall off and take the lifted pigments with it. Just like laser removal, it takes several sessions to remove the pigment completely.
The solutions used for lifting the pigment are various. The most widely used are salt-saline-based ones (saline removal), but there are also different blends of acids. Different removal techs use different systems.
Image source: Instagram @brows.thuy
Is It Safe?
Generally, yes, but opening the skin up always entails the risk of scarring. If the micro-injuries are too extensive, or if the skin is overworked, scars can form. There’s also the risk of infection, since the skin is broken, and a minor risk of allergic reaction to the products used which can be prevented with a patch test.
How Much Does It Cost?
An average cost of a non-laser lip tattoo removal session is around $250, but it can vary significantly depending on the type of solution used, location, how busy the tech is, etc. Sessions are charged separately, but most techs offer package deals.
NOTE – Be Prepared for Ugly Stages
Both laser and non-laser options entail ugly stages.
As we’ve mentioned, laser removal can cause pigment components to oxidize and turn dark at first, and then the darkened pigment can be removed, but you’ll have to live with the oxidized pigment for some time. Non-laser removal options entail scabbing, which can look quite prominent.
So Which Option Is Better?
Removing pigments from the lips is somewhat more complex than removing them from, say, brows. We have to distinguish between 2 cases of lip tattoo removal: removing pigments from the skin of the lips, and removing them from the facial skin around the lips.
These 2 types of skin have very different properties, and they can’t be treated in the same way. Let’s discuss each case:
If the Unwanted Pigment Is on the Actual Lip
This is problematic, because there isn’t one standardized way to remove a lip tattoo from the actual lips. There’s an ongoing debate about whether any removal option is safe here.
The skin of the lips is extremely thin and sensitive. Treating it with lasers can be very risky, as there’s risk of tissue damage. There’s also a risk of hypopigmentation. A specialized technique for removing lip tattoos with a laser is yet to be established.
The situation is the same with non-laser techniques. Some claim that established techniques like saline removal aren’t safe for the skin of the lips, so removal techs don’t want to risk it, and turn away such clients. But there have been cases where special solution blends have been used, and they worked well.
In any case, if you want lip blush from your actual lips you don’t like, perhaps it’s best not to risk it and just wait out until it fades, covering it up with lipstick. You can include regular lip scrubs into your routine which will exfoliate some of the pigmented cells and lighten the pigment over time (just don’t go too aggressive).
Image source: Instagram @boleynstudio
If the Pigment is Outside the Lip Border
Lip tattoos should never be applied outside of the vermilion border – the point where the skin of the lips transitions into facial skin. This is now more or less common knowledge, but in the past, clients would ask for pigments to be deposited around their actual lips, thinking it would be a good way to get a fuller pout.
It is not. The pigments deposited around the lips migrate and blur, they look very prominent and their color never matches the color of the lips.
So most clients who come in for lip tattoo removal actually want to get rid of permanent lip liner done outside of the vermilion border.
This is not a problem. Both laser and non-laser lip tattoo removal techniques work in this case.
The only thing you need to be aware of is that if you go for laser removal, you might have to live with a grayish-bluish outline for some time.
Image source: Instagram @allure.yyc
If you decide to commit to lip tattoo removal, know that it can take a lot of time, and that it can get pricey. You will probably need between 2-10 sessions, with several weeks between them, so the process can drag out for months. Plus, each of the sessions is charged separately, and while you might get discounts, the bills can pile up.
Still, if your lip tattoo is something that’s affecting your self-esteem, it’s worth the patience and the cash.
Cover image source: Freepik