Tattoo removal cost can be calculated by first determining how many sessions are needed to remove a tattoo.

Kirby-Desai Scale was created by doctors to help doctors, laser technicians, and estheticians estimate the amount of laser tattoo removal sessions needed to remove a tattoo regardless of size, color, or shape.

By using this model at home, you will have an 80% accuracy determining the number of laser sessions it will take to remove your tattoo. The size of the tattoo also affects the tattoo removal cost, which will further discus later in this post.

When you determine the number of sessions and the size of the tattoo, you can ask tattoo removal service providers how much they charge per square inch for laser tattoo removal. Using this formula will give you an estimate of how much it will cost to remove a tattoo.

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Using the Kirby-Desai Scale

We will use the Kirby-Desai Scale to determine the cost of laser tattoo removal. The scale consists of several factors and each will contain a chart with “Points in the Kirby-Desai Scale” in the right column.  To determine the amount of sessions needed to remove your tattoo find the number value that best corresponds to you and your tattoo. Total your points to equal your estimated amount of sessions! Understanding the amount of tattoo removal treatments will help determine your laser tattoo removal cost.

Helpful Tip: Click to expand the pictures for easier reading.

1. Skin Type

Tattoo ink must penetrate the secondary layer of the skin call the the “dermis” to successfully become a permanent tattoo. Tattoo removal requires a laser to penetrate the same area while leaving the top skin layer without significant damage.

Laser tattoo removal can be effective on both light and dark colored skin types. Successful laser tattoo removal outcomes can be achieved on darker skin types although the rate of adverse effects, specifically hypopigmentation, is understandably higher.

The decreased effect of laser tattoo removal in patients with higher Fitzpatrick skin types occurs because the laser operators use lower laser settings and wait longer between treatment sessions to hopefully minimize unwanted side effects.

The lighter the skin the less tattoo removal sessions needed.

Tattoo Removal Costs by Skin Type


2. Location

The success of laser tattoo removal will depend where the tattoo is located on your body. The head and neck maintain the largest amount of blood and lymph nodes and have a large vascular supply. The likelihood of success is greater in these areas.

The upper and lower back also have the second largest amount blood vessels and lymphatic supply. Arms and legs have more lymphatic supply than the fingers and toes.

The Kirby-Desai scale adjusts depending on where the tattoo is located on your body.

Having a tattoo located on your upper body will will result in less tattoo removal sessions. This results to lower laser tattoo removal costs.

Tattoo Removal Price by Location


3. Colors

Tattoo artists use a variety of compounds to create tattoo pigment, with an inability to specifically identify the exact makeup of the ink. As such, professional and amateur tattoos differ in their physical and chemical composition of ink. Amateur tattoos tend to use carbon particles compiled from cigarette ash, pencil particles, graphite, or inks, such as India ink. Professional artists use organic dyes mixed with metallic elements and pigments to achieve a desired color.

Colors most often used by tattoo artists are black, red, blue, green, yellow, and orange. Black pigment granules in tattoos vary in size and are typically composed of carbon- and iron-containing granules. Colors other than black have been noted to be up to twice the size of the black pigment.

These differences in pigment size and composition lead to the difference in amount of treatments needed for tattoo removal. More treatments means increased laser tattoo removal costs.

Black pigments are the easiest to remove due to their relative small size, lack of metallic elements, and ability to absorb every wavelength of light. Red pigments are also considered easily removable in comparison to other colors, such as green and yellow based on their composition as well. Red pigments are known to contain a mixture of metallic and carbon elements with a smaller percentage of titanium dioxide, leading to its ease in removal. Other colors, such as green, yellow, and orange are more difficult to remove and warrant a higher amount of points on the Kirby-Desai scale, resulting in higher tattoo removal costs.

Tattoo Removal Cost by Ink Colors


4. Amount of ink

The amount of ink within a tattoo is another factor that affects laser tattoo removal costs. The difference in the amount of ink depends on the type of tattoo the patient has—professional or amateur. Amateur tattoos are usually placed unevenly and tend to contain less ink than professional artists. Thus, amateur tattoos tend to respond quicker to laser treatment. Professional tattoos on the other hand tend to lie deeper in the skin and have a greater density of pigment.

In the Kirby-Desai scale, the amount of ink is divided into four categories: amateur (letters, words, or small symbols), minimal (one color, simple design), moderate (one color, complex design), and significant (multicolored, complex design), with each category receiving from 1 to 4 points, respectively.

The more the complex the tattoo, the more it will cost to remove a tattoo.

Tattoo Removal Cost by Amount of Ink


5. Scarring and tissue change

Tattoo placement can sometimes lead to complications. Tattoo placement may result in increased collagen deposition in the skin, with potential for scar formation.

Related: 16 ways to prevent tattoo removal scarring.

Scarring from tattoos is likely in patients with darker skin pigments.  If you have scarring from a tattoo you will probably require more laser treatments, resulting in higher tattoo removal costs.

Tattoo Removal Cost by scarring of Tissue


6. Cover-ups

Patients sometimes seek to “remove” an undesirable tattoo by layering or covering it up with another tattoo.

The new tattoo is usually larger than the tattoo it is replacing, incorporating and hiding the previous tattoo in new contours and colors. Since tattoo ink is translucent, layering or covering up a previous tattoo necessitates darker tones in the new tattoo to effectively hide the older one. Since the new layered tattoo is larger and darker, it will require more treatments for tattoo removal. As such, layering is given 2 points in the Kirby-Desai scale resulting in more sessions and increased tattoo removal costs.

Tattoo Removal Cost when having a cover-up


Total your Kirby-Desai points and this cumulative number is an estimate of amount sessions are needed to remove your tattoo. The average tattoo removal is between 8-12 sessions. Your results may vary higher or lower.


7. Size

Determining the size is important in estimating the cost of tattoo removal.

Tattoo removal clinics usually charge by the square inch. This rate depends on a number of factors such as region where you live and the experience of the laser technician.  For example a Board Certified Dermatologist in California will charge you more per square inch than a Certified Laser Specialist in Nebraska. The price per square inch is can be anywhere between $49 – $300+.

Measure the width and length of the tattoo (3 inches by 5 inches) and multiple them together to get the square inches (15 square inches).

Example: A tattoo that is 15 square inches that is estimated to have 8 sessions using the Kirby-Desai Scale could cost $5,880 assuming $49/square inch

The larger the tattoo the higher the tattoo removal cost.


8. Type of Laser

Q-Switched lasers are the most common laser for tattoo removal. The Kirby-Desai Scale was developed using a Q-Switched laser.  There is a new laser in the market; PicoSure is a revolutionizing laser tattoo removal technology.

Related: Why PicoSure Laser is the Best Laser for Tattoo Removal

PicoSure laser tattoo removal sessions can be significantly more money, but they can remove tattoos quicker with less discomfort.

The type of laser used will have an impact on your tattoo removal cost.

Related: R20 Tattoo Removal

Tattoo Removal Cost


Written by Eric Zabinski
Information gathered from: US NLM
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