The decision to beautify your body through the expression of tattoo body art was clearly one that you didn’t take lightly. You were no doubt made well-aware of the permanence of the procedure. It is something that becomes a part of you and becomes representative of who you are.
But life happens. Things have changed and the tattoo no longer represents who you are today. Are you stuck with it? The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reports that 24% of individuals between the ages of 18 and 50 have tattoos, but that 17% of them have actually contemplated having their tattoo removed.
Can a tattoo be removed? The answer is that it depends. Due to the permanent nature of a tattoo, the success rate of tattoo removal is dependent upon a variety of factors: your natural skin color, the size of the tattoo, the pigments used in the tattoo itself, and the technique employed to remove the tattoo, just to name a few.
Fortunately, tattoo removal technology has evolved and become more sophisticated, less intrusive, and safer than the foregone days of yesteryear. The de-inking process leverages the latest, state-of-the-art advancements in laser technology.
What NOT To Do
Dermabrasion – When you “sand” down your skin to the point where the tattoo is completely removed, it will take some time for the underlying layers of skin to heal, plus you run the risk of residual scars of a permanent nature.
Salabrasion – A salty solution is applied to your skin, in conjunction with heat, such that the tattooed layer of skin is scraped away. However, scars are likely to remain, once the skin heals.
Surgery – The layer of skin that contains the tattoo is surgically removed, and the surrounding skin tissue is stitched together to close the gap. Unfortunately, this method is also very likely to leave a scar as well.
Scarification – An acidic solution is applied to the tattoo, such that the tattooed layer of skin can literally be “lifted” off of the body, similar to how a chemical peel removes the top layer of skin during any other type of cosmetic skin enhancement.
Cryosurgery – This is an extreme form of tattoo removal. It involves the application of liquid nitrogen to the tattooed area of the skin, which has the net effect of producing “freeze burns”. This destroys the tattooed layer of skin. This technique is also used in other dermatological procedures, such as for the removal of wart or the healing of lesions on the skin.
In each of the tattoo removal techniques described above, scarring is an inevitable side-effect. Ironically, in effect, you are merely swapping out the original tattoo design with a scar “design” that will forever remain behind, as a remnant. Your skin will never be able to be restored to its original pristine state, prior to the tattoo having been applied.
None of any of the aforementioned procedures of tattoo removal are recommended, because they are fraught with risk. You are literally destroying a layer of skin, such that the subcutaneous skin layer to produce new skin in the tattooed pigment is destroyed, with the expectation that it will regrow with your original, genetic skin color. Plus, there is no guarantee of a 100% success rate, as the regenerated skin may still retain some of the tattooed pigmentation.
“You coudl throw kerosene on it and light a match — that’d be the same thing,” says Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, M.D. Frank is the founder of 5th Avenue Dermatology Surgery and Laser Center, based out of New York City.
So What Is The Safest And Most Effective Way To Remove A Tattoo?
Laser technology is your best bet. Quality-switched lasers (or Q-switched, for short) are a popular tool which has gained widespread adoption over the past decade or so.
The way it works is that a concentrated laser beam traverses the tattoo, and is able to detect contrast in your skin tone, between your normal skin and the tattoo ink. The laser beam is emitted in pulses with sufficient energy to safely and begninly break off the skin molecules such that may be reabsorbed by the surrounding skin tissue.
While laser treatment has become the new de facto standard for tattoo removal, there is no guarantee that the procedure will always be 100% effective and will always be foolproof. Unfortunately, there is no such procedure that exists today that can provide a 100% guarantee.
How Effective Is Laser Treatment?
The effectiveness of laser treatment can vary from one person to the next, and is dependent upon a myriad of factors. For example, the more stark the contrast in color between that of the individual’s genetic skin color and the color of the tattoo ink, the easier it will be to remove the tattoo color. Case in point, the removal of black tattoo ink on a person with a fair skin complexion, would be relatively easier to remove, whereas colors of a more fluorescent nature (such as purples or greens) would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to remove completely without a trace.
Frank actually advises patients not to have their tattoos removed, if they fall into one of the latter categories of difficult-to-remove colors. As an alternative, he suggests that a tattoo could be faded just enough so that you could transpose another brand-new tattoo over it, such that it blends in with the faded remnants of the previous, underlying tattoo.
Size matters when it comes to tattoo removal.
It is easier to remove a smaller tattoo from your body than to remove a larger tattoo, for the simple fact that it is easier for the ink to be broken down if it is a smaller tattoo.
One more thing to take into consideration when it comes to tattoo removals is that it may not always necessarily be an “all or nothing” procedure, which is taken care of during a single session. It could very well take a series of several sessions of laser treatment to fully produce the desired results of permanent tattoo removal, perhaps on the order of anywhere between 5 to as many as 12 sessions. Furthermore, you would inevitably have to wait for some time in between each session, for each stage of the treatment to take effect, before you can come back for the next one… perhaps a minimum of one month between treatments, according to Frank. Therefore, the prospect of laser tattoo removal could be a six to twelve month endeavor.
One case study is very telling, about the often arduous and costly, decision to have a tattoo removed. Tricia R., aged twenty-four, had gotten a tattoo on her lower back when she was nineteen years old. She went to see a plastic surgeon for a consultation to have the tattoo removed. The doctor estimated that it would take at least twenty laser treatment session to have it completed removed, and would cost at least two grand.
Laser removal is not a pain-free procedure, and immediately after the procedure, it can look as though your skin has been burned. And that is not all. The patient is also required to apply ointment-based antibiotic treatments to the affected area on a regular basis, as prescribed by the doctor, in between sessions, in order to prevent infections from occurring. It may even be required to cover the affected area with a bandage for some time after the procedure, not only to protect it from getting irritated, but also to protected from sunburn.
As far as cost is concerned, laser tattoo removal certainly isn’t cheap. Frank charges $350 per session. The financial setback that is incurred by removing a tattoo can be far greater than the original cost of getting the tattoo done in the first place.
Tattoo Camouflaging – An Inexpensive Alternative To Tattoo Removal
If you can’t afford the financial costs of having your tattoo removed, or you are uncomfortable with going through the medical procedure, recovery period, and subsequent after-care involved, then a simple alternative might simply be to mask the tattoo by camouflaging it, particularly if your tattoo is on a part of your body that is generally visible to the public when you go out.
Make-up kits designed specifically for tattoo concealment are available, from companies such as Tattoo Camo, Tattoo Cosmetics, and Dermablend.
Many over-the-counter tattoo-concealment creams are available, such Tat B, Tat B Gone, and Tattoo-Off, to name a few.
Tat B Gone claims that if you apply their cream regularly, the tattoo can fade away permanently in anywhere between three to nine months. In terms of cost, a six-month supply of Tat B Gone can cost about $270.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) advises against the use of do-it-yourself products, due to the fact they contain chemicals that are in fact irritants that are designed to break down the cellular structure of skin skills, and their continued use may yield adverse skin reactions, only to be mitigated by the body’s natural healing ability.
When in doubt, if you are left with discoloration or scarring, you can always attempt to cover it up by getting another tattoo over it, carefully crafted to overlay the previous one. Ironically, this is the one method that is most likely to yield the most effective results.
To quote Frank, “If there were other methods that worked, says Frank, “I wouldn’t need a $150,000 laser!”