Once the dominion of sailors and Maori warriors, tattoos have now become mainstream in a big way. And many celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie and Adam Levine, have become walking billboards of body art.
But what happens when that dragon tattoo doesn’t seem as cool as it once did? Or when the love for who you got that “forever” tattoo for has flown the coop?
E! Fashion Police co-host Kelly Osbourne recently decided, in preparation for her upcoming wedding to fiancé Matthew Mosshart, to have some of her tattoos removed. As Kelly said on Instagram:
“I did the crime I am now doing the time! #NoPainNoGain!”
She actually posted a video along with the Tweet: “Not looking forward to this afternoon… I’m getting my first tattoo removal! Its going to burn like the snap of 1000 rubber bands!”
A tattoo is a puncture wound, made deep into the skin, that’s filled with ink. The ink is placed deep into the deeper layer of the skin called the dermis. The top skin layer, the epidermis, constantly changes cells and sheds throughout your life. The dermis cells are much more stable, producing a nearly permanent tattoo.
A common problem that may develop with tattoos is the desire to remove them. Removing tattoos and permanent makeup can be very difficult.
Although tattoos may be satisfactory at first, they sometimes fade. Also, if the tattooist injects the pigments too deeply into the skin, the pigments may migrate beyond the original sites, resulting in a blurred appearance.
Another cause of dissatisfaction is that the human body changes over time, and styles change with the season. The tattoo that seem stylish at the time may become dated and embarrassing later on.
According to a poll conducted in January 2012 by pollster Harris Interactive, 1 in 8 (14%) of the 21% of American adults who have tattoos regret getting one. And the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) reports that in 2011, its doctors performed nearly 100,000 tattoo removal procedures, up from the 86,000 performed in 2010.
There are three main methods of tattoo removal:
Dermabrasion uses a high-speed rotary device to gently and carefully “sand” the top surface of the skin down, allowing the tattoo ink to leach out of the skin. An anesthetic ointment that chills the skin is applied before the procedure to numb the skin.
Afterwards, petroleum jelly or antibiotic ointment is placed on the treated skin to prevent scabs and scars from forming. Dermabrasion may not be able to completely erase the tattoo.
Surgical Removal entails cutting out the skin which contains the tattoo. The edges are then stitched back together. Surgical tattoo removal is effective — but it leaves a scar and might be practical only for small tattoos.
There are also do-it-yourself tattoo removal ointments and creams that you can buy online. You should know however, that the FDA has not approved them, and is not aware of any clinical evidence that they work. In addition, tattoo removal ointments and creams may cause unexpected reactions, such as rashes, burning, scarring, or changes in skin pigmentation in the process.
Laser is the most common method of tattoo removal. “Laser” stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Pulsed lasers, which emit concentrated light energy in short bursts, or pulses, have been used to remove tattoos for more than 20 years.
How Does It Work?
With laser removal, pulses of high-intensity laser energy pass through the epidermis and are selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment. The laser breaks the pigment into smaller particles, which may be metabolized or excreted by the body, or transported to and stored in lymph nodes or other tissues.
The type of laser used to remove a tattoo depends on the tattoo’s pigment colors. Because every color of ink absorbs different wavelengths of light, multicolored tattoos may require the use of multiple lasers. Lighter colors such as green, red, and yellow are the hardest colors to remove, while blue and black are the easiest.
Does It Hurt?
That depends on a person’s pain threshold. Some people compare the sensation of laser removal to being spattered with drops of hot bacon grease or snapping a thin rubber band against the skin.
Generally speaking, just one laser treatment won’t do the trick. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the procedure requires multiple treatments (typically six to 10) depending on a tattoo’s size and colors, and requires a few weeks of healing time between procedures. Some side effects may include pinpoint bleeding, redness, or soreness, none of which should last for long. As with dermabrasion, the tattoo may not be able to be completely removed with laser treatment.
Laser devices are cleared for use by, or under the supervision of, a health care professional such as a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. The removal procedure requires using the correct type of laser, understanding the reaction of tissue to laser, and knowing how to treat the area after the procedure.
Tattoo removal is considered a cosmetic procedure and is therefore not covered by health insurance plans. Tattoo removal can be expensive depending on the size and colors used. The average cost of tattoo removal is $49.00 per square inch of the tattoo. The process usually requires more than one treatment, sometimes as many as 10 to 12.