Anyone with a tattoo has probably sensed remourse at one time or another, wishing that their ink artwork could be erased. Well, certainly not everyone has had that feeling. People have been receiving tattoos for thousands of years, and the practice will no doubt continue indefinitely. For as many reasons why people get tattoos, there are probably as many reasons why people want to have a tattoo removed. For Angelina Jolie, getting the tattoo “Billy Bob” on her left deltoid probably seemed like a perfectly rational idea at the time.
The Tattooing Process
If we examine how tattoos are applied, we can appreciate why they can be difficult, painful, and expensive to remove. Some “tats”, as they are sometimes called, resist even the most aggressive removal methods. Regardless of the technique, various pigments are traumatically forced into the dermal layer of the skin by jabbing a sharp, pigment-laden object into and consequently breaking the skin. As the wound heals, the pigment remains in the living skin layer. In modern, hygienic tattoo parlors, a motorized oscillating device with multiple needles closely spaced, prick the skin and deposit pigment 100 cycles per second. Receiving a tattoo using a modern tattooing machine deposits ink more permanently than tattooing by hand, using a single needle or piece of sharpened bone. Amateur tattoos are generally easier to remove than professionally applied ones.
Removal of Unwanted “Tats”
The lasers that are now used for tattoo removal direct their energy in specific wavelengths at specific dye colors. The treatments are less painful, and more successful and require less recovery time. Blue and black ink are the easiest colors to remove, Red, orange, and green are a bit more persistent. The laser causes the pigment molecule to split into multiple smaller fragments that will transit out of the skin. In some instances, other modalities are used to remove more resistant artwork. So many people are now turning to laser clinics and doctors to remove unwanted tattoos.
Cost and Duration of Treatment
Removal of ink artwork usually involves multiple visits to the clinician as the treatment must proceed in stages. Laser treatments on a particular area last several minutes each and need to be scheduled in sessions of 6-10 treatments separated by 3-4 weeks. There is usually discomfort associated with laser treatment, especially if the pigment is deeper and the tat is newer. The other “Ouch” that comes with tattoo removal is the cost, which can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on the size.
Ink Removal Process
In a typical tattoo removal session, the clinician will prepare the area to be treated by cleansing and then anesthetizing a small section by applying a topical gel or cream that penetrates the skin to reach and numb nerve endings. The client will be instructed to take an oral analgesic, such as Tylenol ahead of time to minimize the discomfort of the procedure. The laser light penetrates the skin and selectively fractures the pigment particles allowing the smaller fragments to be absorbed by the immune system. The wave length of the laser is tuned especially to affect particular pigment colors. Normal skin is unaffected by the laser beam.
What to Expect During and After Laser Therapy
During the treatment, clients usually sense a pinpoint stinging sensation at the point of laser focus. To finish, the area of treatment will be covered with antibiotic ointment and a sterile bandage. Care at home should include cleaning the area and replacing the bandage daily. Occasionally a client will experience complications, such as increased pigmentation of the skin, bleaching of the skin color, scarring, and infection. These results can be minimized with fastidious skin care and protecting the area from trauma and sunlight. After 3-4 weeks, allowing time for the immune system to clear the pigment fragments created by the last treatment, the client will return to repeat the process. Laser treatments do not always completely remove a tattoo and other modalities can be tried. Dermabrasion and surgical excision are often used as adjunctive treatment. Since tattoo removal is usually more painful and much more expensive that getting a tattoo, make sure that name you plan to have indelibly placed on your left pec is your one true love.