Tattoos sometimes cause regret, but there are methods for successful removal. If you have a tattoo that no longer inspires delight, there is hope for restoration of your skin. Although tattoos seemed to be a hot trend in the early years of this century, workplace dress codes are becoming more conservative and personal taste may simply have changed. Most people who decide to remove their tattoos do so because of issues with employment. At least one in five Americans with a tattoo regret their decision to get “inked.” Some tattooed individuals may even develop an allergic reaction or an infection at the tattoo site. Other people may have had accidental or traumatic placement of pigment into the skin as a result of trauma, including car accidents or getting jabbed with a pen or pencil. With the use of lasers, tattoos can be successfully moved in several in-office sessions. Other techniques include dermabrasion and surgical removal of the tattoo. Do-it-yourself remedies are usually unsuccessful.
Laser tattoo removal works by breaking up the pigment in the tattoo with focused laser energy. The particles that result are absorbed by the body and eliminated. Most ink in a tattoo is located in the dermis of the skin, which is a deeper layer. Use of a laser that penetrates the epidermis safely can rid you of your tattoo in several brief sessions. The number of treatments will depend upon the age, quality of ink, color, and technique used to create your tattoo. Because ink responds best to a laser beam at the opposite end of the laser spectrum, it’s important to have availability of different wavelengths for laser treatment. Q-switched lasers release energy in a powerful pulse and are often used for removal of tattoos. When the pigment in a tattoo absorbs energy from a laser, it breaks apart. The body then responds by flushing the ink away through the immune response system. There may be some redness and swelling in the area, but it is a short-lived response that is necessary to allow the body to remove the pigment. When a tattoo is formed, there are generally several layers of ink, stacked on top of each other. With each session, the laser will break up more pigment, producing fading. Tattoos with shading are more easily removed, since there is not much ink density in the shaded areas. There is now a newer picosecond laser (Picosure, Cynosure) that removes tattoos with considerably less treatments.
Dermabrasion is a less frequently used technique, although it can help with tattoo removal. During dermabrasion for tattoo removal, the area is usually chilled until it is numb and then, using the dermabrasion machine, the area of the tattoo is “sanded” down to deeper levels that allow the ink to leach out of the skin. However, results are usually less predictable and less satisfying than laser treatment.
Tattoo removal is an outpatient procedure. Your doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb the area of treatment.. You can expect to feel a stinging sensation with tattoo removal, but most patients agree that it is less painful than getting the tattoo. Scarring, infection, or skin discoloration are possible if you decide to have a tattoo removed.