Tattoo Removal... Is It For You?
Tattoos are extremely popular in today’s society. They create a permanent reminder of important people or events in one’s life. However, as time passes, and you change your mind, it might be just as important to erase that reminder. Almost 20 percent of Americans who have tattoos, wish they didn’t.
Here is some important information on tattoo removal:
First of all, total removal of all tattoos may not be possible. Tattoo “reduction” is the best that can be done for some tattoos, leaving a very light tinge of color or a whitish shadow. The colors that respond the best to the laser treatments are black, brown and dark blue. Purple and red are harder to remove, with blue, green and yellow being the most resistant to the laser removal.
Tattoos done by amateurs are easier to remove than professional tattoos because the ink is not placed as deep. Professional tattoo artists also frequently mix multiple colors to make their pigments and these may be more difficult to remove.
The tattoo was created by injecting tiny amounts of ink into the deep layer of the skin (the dermis). In order to remove it, a laser will be needed to send light waves deep through the pigment to literally burst it open. The body’s own lymphatic system then can carry away these very small particles of ink and dispose of them.
The closer a tattoo is to the heart, the easier it will be to remove. Tattoos on the chest, neck, upper arms, shoulders and upper back or abdomen respond faster than those on the legs, ankles, or hands.
Most individuals need from nine to fourteen treatments to reach a point where they are satisfied with the removal or lightening of their tattoo. The treatments should be space eight weeks apart, to allow for the body’s lymphatic system to do its job of disposing of the dye particles.
Treatment by a laser to remove a tattoo feels like being snapped with a hot rubber band multiple times. The most sensitive areas are those that are closer to the bone, such as fingers, toes and the face. The good news is that lasers have improved tremendously and now work within seconds to treat an area of several inches. Topical numbing creams can be used, but 95% of patients choose to simply follow the usual protocol of applying ice just before and after the laser treatment.
Individuals who are prone to “healing problems”, such as poorly controlled Diabetics, should be very cautious about having tattoo removal and should notify the therapist so that the strength of the laser can be reduced to avoid problems.
Aftercare instructions should be followed carefully to avoid scarring. Avoid “heating” the body for two days after the treatment. This means: avoid hot showers, baths, aggressive exercise, etc. which will cause the treated area to experience a “burning” type of pain.
Apply the prescribed “cooling cream” four times a day for several days. Completely avoid sun exposure to the area for an entire year while the treatments are being conducted, by covering the area with clothing, a bandage, etc. The risk of scarring is small, but sun expose can cause “hypo-pigmentation” which is a whitish scar or “halo” around the treated area.
Dark-skinned individuals can undergo tattoo removal, but must be treated less aggressively to avoid the hypo-pigmented scarring described above.
Pin-point bleeding occurs occasionally, which is not alarming and frequently an expected part of the process. Blistering seems to only occur when colors that are difficult to remove are treated. If blisters occur, notify your therapist for advice, especially if there is swelling, redness or pus around the treated area.
Finally, the cost of tattoo removal will depend on the size of the tattoo and the colors used in the tattoo. If your tattoo is smaller than a business card, each session will normally cost approximately $99 (2015). Prices increase as the size of the tattoo increases. Each tattoo will require several treatments to remove and the entire process may take several months.
By: Cynthia Glass MD, Board Certified Plastic Surgeon - Coccolare Spa & Medi Spa (Lafayette, LA)