Tattoos were once considered permanent but it’s now possible to remove tattoos either fully or partially with various treatments. Some of these treatments are safe and reliable while other methods can be dangerous and ineffective.
This article will provide some of the common ways of removing tattoos, both using lasers and other methods that include home tattoo removal treatments. Each of these treatments come with risks and costs.
Common Reasons why People Decide to Remove a Tattoo
A poll conducted in January 2012 by Harris Interactive reported that 14% or 1 in 7 of the 21% of American adults who had a tattoo regret getting one. Of the respondents 20% stated that they were “too young when I got the tattoo”, 19% stated that “it’s permanent and I’m marked for life”, 18% said that they “no longer liked it”.
The most regrets came from those who got a tattoo when they were young and in their late teens or early twenties with half reporting that they suffered embarrassment. Common reasons why people change their mind can be a change of job, problems with clothes, or a significant life event causing someone to regret having the tattoo.
Also the type of tattoo can be an important factor as to why some people want a tattoo removed.
Gang tattoos can make it harder for an individual to find a job or tattoos signifying a relationship with a spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend can be a problem if the relationship comes to an end.
How Do Typical Laser Tattoo Removal Work?
Older laser removal methods involved continuous-wave lasers that used a high energy beam that ablated the target area, destroying surrounding tissue structures as well as tattoo ink. However this treatment tended to be more painful and likely to cause scarring.
The Gold standard of laser tattoo removal is Q switched Nd-YAG lasers as these lasers are more flexible and can target different colours of tattoo ink depending on the light absorption spectra of the tattoo pigments. The laser breaks down the tattoo pigment so that they can be absorbed by the body. It is one of the least invasive and safest way of removing tattoos, but the procedure can be costly and involve multiple sittings of usually 4-5 for complete clearance of the tattoo. While it is possible to see immediate results, in most cases the fading occurs gradually over the 7–8 week healing period between treatments. Q-switched lasers are reported by the National Institutes of Health to result in scarring only rarely. Areas with thin skin will be more likely to scar than thicker-skinned areas.
The success of even Q switched lasers depend on a number of factors, including the ink color, skin color and the depth at which the ink was applied. Dark colored ink, particularly black tattoo ink can be removed completely using Q-switched lasers while the lighter color such as green and yellow are still very difficult to remove.
Tattoo laser treatment can be expensive so not everyone can afford it which is why some have turned to procedures that can be performed by themselves and there are many websites offering various tattoo removal methods.
However are these safe?
Home Tattoo Removal
When it comes to Home tattoo removal or DIY tattoo removal there aren’t many options available that are safe or effective. You may have read some home tattoo removal methods online but these are rarely effective or can lead to infection or scarring. However, for small tattoos that aren’t too deep you can purchase.
Home tattoo removal or DIY tattoo removal usually involves microdermabrasion rather than dermabrasion. Microdermabrasion is less invasive than and so can be performed without local anaesthesia at home.
Tattoo Removal Using Dermabrasion
A more cost-effective non-laser tattoo removal procedure is dermabrasion. Dermabrasion is an exfoliating technique that uses instruments that remove the outer layers of skin. Dermabrasion is not recommended if you suffer from burn scars, suffer from bleeding disorders or keloidal scars. It should be performed by someone trained and under local anaesthesia and for best results may involve more than one session.
[Figure showing tattoo on the back of a patient after 3 sessions of dermabrasion]
Dermabrasion stimulate the production and growth of new skin tissue. The healing process after dermabrasion usually takes about two weeks after the procedure, but some redness may persist up to three months You may experience a temporary burning sensation, redness including swelling and itching after the procedure. You can expect some bruising and swelling following the treatment, and some bleeding and weeping from the wounds. You will experience quite a lot of pain and the area is left feeling numb or with a tingling sensation. You should take great care to avoid infection which can occur after the top layers of the skin have been removed.
In a study conducted by J Muhammad, male patients with decorative skin tattoos who underwent layered dermabrasion, the success rate was remarkable with high satisfaction rate by all patients with post-operative hypertrophic scarring rate less than 9%.
Unfortunately, sometimes permanent scaring can sometimes occur, and if you have a darker skin color you may experience discolouration of the skin. However, Dermabrasion if done with adequate postoperative scar skin care treatment can result in complete removal of the tattoo with minimal scaring of the skin.
With the mechanical or salabrasion method of tattoo removal, the incidence of scarring, pigmentary alteration (hyper- and hypopigmentation), and ink retention are extremely high