What Are the Main Ingredients of Tattoo Removal Creams?

BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

The impulse to get a tattoo may fade, but tattoos themselves last forever. Laser procedures are the only FDA-approved tattoo-removal option, but each session may cost $400, as of 2013. In addition, the process typically requires many sessions over many months. Tattoo-removal creams don't carry the FDA's stamp of approval, but they do come at a fraction of the cost, which accounts for much of their appeal. Learn about the ingredients in these creams, sold online and at drugstores, so you can decide how best to remove your tattoo.

Know Your TCA

Trichloroacetic acid, or TCA, is the most common active ingredient in tattoo-removal creams. TCA encourages skin cells to turnover, resulting in peeling skin. New skin eventually replaces the peeled skin, which potentially lightens the tattoo over time. TattooHealth.org notes that TCA often successfully lightens tattoos, especially when used as a pre-treatment in conjunction with laser removal. However, this acidic chemical may cause skin irritation, inflammation, pain, blistering or discoloration.

Get Familiar with Hydroquinone

While TCA-based creams work by helping your body shed skin cells, creams that contain hydroquinone gradually fade the skin's pigmentation by reducing the production of melanin. Often used in topical ointments to ease the appearance of liver and age spots or freckles, hydroquinone also lends itself to tattoo-removal creams as an anti-pigmentation agent. Like TCA, hydroquinone may cause harmful side effects, however, such as itching, swelling, blistering, stinging or redness.

Investigate Other Chemicals

Some tattoo-removal creams contain chromabright, which acts as a skin-brightening agent that inhibits melanin production. Some products also contain astringents such as salicylic acid and skin lighteners suc has stearic acid, as well as inactive ingredients, including water, glycerine and fragrances. Read and follow any directions or warnings provided by the manufacturer of a tattoo-removal cream and consult your dermatologist before you begin use.

Natural Alternatives

Some tattoo-removal creams turn to gentler all natural ingredients in place of chemical peels and lighteners. These ingredients include astringents such as cymbopogon shoenathus, commonly known as lemongrass, and natural lightening agents such as white licorice, kojic acid, ascorbic acid and arbutin. Other natural ingredients found include moisturizers like green tea extract, lemon extract and aloe, as well as antioxidant-rich elements such as sage leaf. Like their chemical-based cousins, however, these products do not come with FDA approval.