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How to remove temporary tattoos safely (and painlessly)

No vigorous scrubbing necessary!

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 21, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
Makeup Remover can Often Remove Temporary Tattoos
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 21, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Tattoos are a big commitment—so when you’re not ready to get permanently inked, temporary tattoos can come in handy. Especially for events like concerts and music festivals, temporary tattoos are a fun way to switch up your look and try something new, without having to go under the needle. 

Many temporary tattoos will fade and wash off overtime, but if you want to remove yours faster, we hear you! The best way to remove a temporary tattoo depends on what kind it is—but there are generally ways you can wash them off safely, quickly, and painlessly. Let’s get into it!

How temporary tattoos are applied

To best understand how to remove temporary tattoos, it helps to know what they’re made of and how they’re applied to the skin. There are two main types of temporary tattoos: decals and henna.

Henna is a reddish-brown dye used to create designs on the skin, hair, and nails.¹ As a dye, it’s difficult to remove from the skin and can sometimes take a lot of scrubbing. There are also reports of scarring resulting from severe allergic reactions to a specific type of additive sometimes used to make henna inks darker. When a person has a skin reaction to a black henna temporary tattoo, it’s usually because the ink was made with p-phenylenediamine (PPD).²

Not all henna ink contains PPD, and there’s far less risk of reaction to red or brown henna dyes.³ Still, millions of people each year, particularly those who follow the Islamic or Hindu religions, have designs painted on their skin in all shades of henna, including black, with no issues.

Decals, on the other hand, are what many people probably picture when we hear the words “temporary tattoo.” They’re most often dye or pigment that’s attached to the surface of the skin with an adhesive (rather than dying the skin itself). So, they’re usually much easier to remove.

As with anything you put on your skin, there’s still a risk of reaction—some dyes and inks are known to be unsafe for use on the skin, and there’s no guarantee that your skin won’t reject the pigment in any given decal. 

There’s also the possibility of a reaction to the adhesive used to stick the decal to your skin. Still, decals are generally considered to be much safer than black henna, and they’re far easier to remove quickly if you do have a reaction.

How to remove temporary tattoos

When it comes to temporary tattoo removal, your options depend on the type of tattoo you have. Because henna actually dyes the top layer of skin, the only way to remove them is through washing, and it takes time. Some exfoliating products might help speed up the process, but it still may take anywhere from two to six weeks for the dye to completely break down.⁴ In the event of a reaction to PPD, some healthcare providers may be able to administer treatment to remove the ink quickly and potentially reduce scarring.⁵

Decal temporary tattoos are far easier to remove quickly since they don’t actually dye the skin. But they’re designed to be resistant to soap and water, so they last longer. Still, even without actively trying to remove them, they’ll usually start to crack and flake off on their own little by little.

But sometimes, you need them to come off right away—maybe you finally got that email for a job interview or you have a fancy event coming up. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of options for safely removing a decal tattoo quickly and virtually painlessly.

If you do experience any pain, it’s important to pay attention to it. Sometimes the adhesive will get caught on the little hairs on your skin, but it shouldn’t feel too terrible. If you experience more than a minimal amount of pain during the removal process, you might want to stop and consult a healthcare provider in case there’s a bigger issue.

In any case, unless you’re having a reaction, it’s probably best to just let your temporary tattoo fade over time. If you can’t wait, here are a few of the removal methods that you might want to try if you need to get that decal off quickly.

Oil-based products

Because decal tattoos are designed to be waterproof by using strong adhesives, oil-based cleansers are your best option for removing them quickly and painlessly, while also avoiding any potential dryness and skin irritation from over-scrubbing with a water-based cleanser. 

It’s the same concept as using oil-based cleansers to remove waterproof sunscreen.⁶ Just double-check to be sure you’re using non-comedogenic oils to avoid clogging your pores and triggering a breakout.

Chemical products

Many of the standard household chemicals you’ve probably got already can be used to break up and remove temporary tattoos, including hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and acetone-based nail polish remover. 

However, the overuse of these products can sometimes cause irritation and dry out the skin. They’re fine in a pinch—and only on occasion, preferably—but try to avoid them altogether if you can manage.

If there’s no alternative, make sure to wash and moisturize the area afterward. Some skincare products that contain stronger ingredients like salicylic acid may also help remove temporary tattoos, but again, too much salicylic acid can lead to irritation. As many chemicals you may put on your skin carry a risk of reaction, it’s best to do a patch test for any product you’re not already familiar with.

Exfoliation

Using a gentle exfoliating body scrub can also help break up the adhesive and the dyes or pigments in the decal. Your scrub might even have some added moisturizers or other beneficial skincare ingredients, which may help reduce possible irritation. 

Still, don’t overdo it—it may take a couple of sessions, and too much exfoliation can irritate your skin even more than the adhesive. You’ll also want to moisturize the area well after using an exfoliating scrub.

Adhesive tape

Sometimes, this can be the quickest way to remove a temporary decal, especially if it has already started to crack and flake off on its own. Even then, it may take more than one peel to get it all off, especially for bigger decals. It’ll also probably pull on those fine hairs, so be prepared for a little extra “ouch” on this one—like ripping off a bandage.

Be careful with the kind of tape you’re using. Many heavy-duty tapes aren’t intended for skin contact, and the adhesives they use could be too strong and cause irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin. If you’re going to go this route, try using clear scotch tape or medical tape that’s safe for skin contact.

Makeup remover

If you have a little time to spare, a makeup remover should also be able to remove your decal with little difficulty. Curology’s Micellar Makeup Remover is a gel-water concentrate that breaks down waterproof elements without clogging pores. 

A cold cream or cream-based makeup remover can also do the trick. Completely cover the tattoo with the cream and let it sit for an hour or so. If your skin absorbs the cream, that’s fine—it’s supposed to. After the hour has passed, the decal should wipe off with minimal effort.

Curology's Micellar Makeup Remover is Formulated to Break up Waterproof Elements like Decal Adhesives

Personalized skincare for your concerns

Temporary tattoos are an easy and fun way to see if getting real ink is something you want to do. They’re also a generally safe and entertaining way for people of all ages to express themselves or even just to let loose and act a little silly sometimes. 

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They’re generally harmless, and decals are pretty easy to remove in a hurry if needed. Some removal methods might be better for your skin type than others. As for henna, you’re pretty much just going to have to wait it out.

Curology's Team of Dermatology Providers is Ready to Help You on your Skincare Journey

No matter how you prefer to express yourself with temporary tattoos, it’s important to take good care of your skin! If you want to take the guesswork out of your skincare routine, Curology’s here to help. Sign up for a 30-day trial* at Curology today for a consultation with a licensed dermatology provider and take the first step on your personalized skincare journey.

FAQs

Can temporary tattoos hurt you?

Aside from any potential reactions to adhesives or contaminated inks, there are no known real dangers to temporary tattoos. Most reactions are from potentially toxic ingredients in dyes or inks, and are most typical of black henna tattoos. 

However, if you do start to notice redness, irritation, or blistering around the tattoo site, you should seek treatment from a medical provider immediately to avoid any potential scarring.

What happens if you leave a temporary tattoo on for too long?

Nothing, really! Decals generally flake off on their own before too long, and a henna tattoo will typically fade and wash away within a few weeks without any special attention. You may notice a bit of light coloration on your skin where a decal was, but eventually, your skin cells will replace themselves.

Can makeup wipes remove temporary tattoos?

It depends on what cleansing ingredients your wipes are made with, but the chances are that, yes, makeup wipes will probably be somewhat helpful in removing decals. Henna, on the other hand, probably won’t be affected too much by them.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. de Groot, A.C. Side-effects of henna and semi-permanent 'black henna' tattoos: a full review. Contact Dermatitis. (2013, June 19).

  2. Kluger, N., et al. Temporary henna tattoos: Sometimes serious side effects. Presse Med. (2008, March 7).

  3. de Groot, A.C. Side-effects of henna and semi-permanent 'black henna' tattoos: a full review. Contact Dermatitis. Ibid.

  4. Breuner, C.C., et al. Adolescent and Young Adult Tattooing, Piercing, and Scarification. Pediatrics. (2017, October 1).

  5. Ferrari, D.M., et al. Efficient removal of black henna tattoos. Pediatric Dermatology. (2020, September 14).

  6. Chen, W., et al. The optimal cleansing method for the removal of sunscreen:Water, cleanser or cleansing oil? J Cosmet Dermatol. (2019, June 3).

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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