TATTOO REGRETS- More and more people are seeking tattoo removal. In the span of my professional life, the tattoo has gone from a typically small, black ink memento of a man’s service in the military, to large, multi-color art pieces on the bare midriff of 40 something moms. Tattoos have become so common that it is now considered radical, and non-conformist to be in your late 20s and not have a tattoo!
Many people get tattoos thinking about how the stain will enhance their image, whatever that image may be. Perhaps it is playfulness, perhaps faithfulness, perhaps anger, or perhaps devotion to a particular person. No matter what the image or mood that prompts getting any particular tattoo, it should be remembered that tattoos are mostly permanent, and time makes them look worse not better. More to the point, your playful mood will one day pass, your anger will abate, and the love of your life may betray you, but the stain remains.
Surveys conducted in Scotland, and in the US* in the past 5 to 8 years show that approximately 20% of people regret getting the tat within the first year of getting it. It becomes a source of embarrassment to them as their life has changed. Their self-image, which seemed so permanent when they were 19 years old is now a folly. “What was I thinking!”
CAN TATTOOs BE REMOVED?
The quick answer is yes and no. To understand what I mean, we need to understand what a tattoo is, and what your body does to tattoos over time.
Tattoos are created by depositing ink in the dermis, or the lowest layer of the skin. The ink itself is a suspension of pigment granules. The permanence of the tattoo is the result of the fact that those ink granules are large, and pretty much stay where they are placed….sort of.
I served in the Navy for 24 years, and I got to see a great variety of tattoos; some new and some ancient. A tattoo on a young sailor who has just home from his first deployment, looks bright and crisp, with clean edges. A tattoo on a retired Master Chief looks very blurry and dull. The reason for this is that your immune system works to get rid of the ink from the very first moment it is placed there. White blood cells attack the pigment granules, and munch off pieces of it, and carry it off to be excreted from the body. The problem is that the pigment granules are large, and difficult for the white blood cell to bite off pieces. Nonetheless, the process goes on day by day, and over the years the tattoo is getting duller and blurrier.
The main method of tattoo removal makes use of this process of the immune system to speed the removal of the ink. The laser is the primary tool of tattoo removal, and it works by turning big pigment granules into tiny pigment granules. By making the granules tiny, it makes the white blood cell very efficient at munching away the ink.
In order for the traditional laser to work, it has to produce the correct color of light, and deliver it in a very specific way. The ink has a particular color because it absorbs light of a particular wavelength (color). If you hit the tattoo with that color of light at very high energy levels over a very short interval of time, the pigment granule rapidly heats and explodes into very tiny, and “edible” pieces. What this means to you is that you don’t just need a laser to remove your tattoo, you need a particular kind of laser.
BREAKTHROUGH TECHNOLOGY- PICOSECOND PULSES!
This year, new technology has entered the market. It is a laser system that delivers the laser light in picosecond pulses. These are pulses that are 1000 times shorter. Now when the laser energy hits the pigment granule, the pulse is so brief that the pigment doesn’t even have a chance to heat up. It shatters mechanically into pieces that are many times smaller and are therefore absorbed much faster and with fewer treatments. Here is a link to an article in JAMA Dermatology that gives details: link
Since there is little to no heating, there is no scarring to trap unabsorbed pigment! Watch this video:
No tattoo will be removed by a single treatment. You should expect to be treated at 4 week intervals, typically 3 or 4 times. Treating more frequently does not improve the result.
WHAT TO ASK
1)What kind of lasers do you have? 2) Is it long pulse (no good),Q-switched (better), or PicoSure (best)? 3) What is the cost per treatment?
If you want to find out more, click the link: Tattoo Removal
*Armstrong ML, et al., Motivation for contemporary tattoo removal: a shift in identity. Arch Dermatol. 2008 Jul;144(7):879–84.