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What Is Tattoo Removal?

Tattoo removal has been performed with various tools during the history of tattooing. While tattoos were once considered permanent, it is now possible to remove them with treatments, fully or partially. Before the development of laser tattoo removal methods, common techniques included dermabrasion, TCA (Trichloroacetic acid, an acid that removes the top layers of skin, reaching as deep as the layer in which the tattoo ink resides), salabrasion (scrubbing the skin with salt), cryosurgery and excision which is sometimes still used along with skin grafts for larger tattoos. Some early forms of tattoo removal included the injection or application of wine, lime, garlic or pigeon excrement. Tattoo removal by laser was performed with continuous-wave lasers initially, and later with Q-switched lasers, which became commercially available in the early 1990s. Today, “laser tattoo removal” usually refers to the non-invasive removal of tattoo pigments using Q-switched lasers. Typically, black and other darker-colored inks can be removed completely. Two alternative removal methods are in development. Dalhousie University PhD student Alec Falkenham has developed a cream which promises to remove tattoos safely and painlessly. US Stemcell Inc and ClearIt LLC are collaborating on a product called ERASER.

Laser Removal

Tattoo removal is most commonly performed using lasers that break down the ink particles in the tattoo. The broken-down ink is then absorbed by the body, mimicking the natural fading that time or sun exposure would create. All tattoo pigments have specific light absorption spectra. A tattoo laser must be capable of emitting adequate energy within the given absorption spectrum of the pigment to provide an effective treatment. Certain tattoo pigments, such as yellows, greens and fluorescent inks are more challenging to treat than darker blacks and blues, because they have absorption spectra that fall outside or on the edge of the emission spectra available in the tattoo removal laser. Recent pastel coloured inks contain high concentrations of titanium dioxide which is highly reflective. Consequently, such inks are difficult to remove since they reflect a significant amount of the incident light energy out of the skin.

Removal By Replacement

Some wearers decide to cover an unwanted tattoo with a new tattoo. This is commonly known as a cover-up. An artfully done cover-up may render the old tattoo completely invisible, though this will depend largely on the size, style, colors and techniques used on the old tattoo and the skill of the tattoo artist. Covering up a previous tattoo necessitates darker tones in the new tattoo to effectively hide the older, unwanted piece. Many tattoos are too bright to cover up and in those cases patients may receive laser tattoo removal to lighten the existing ink to make themselves better candidates for a cover up tattoo.


TESTIMONIALS

“This is my first tattoo. The artist was nice and made the experience pleasant…but the outcome is not what I wanted. It was supposed to be smaller and prettier. I tried to like it, but it just looks like a huge, weirdly shaped flower on my shoulder. I tried getting it fixed a week later. I really wanted to make it what I hoped for….instead I just grew to hate it more. People say it’s “not so bad,” but why would I want something so huge and mediocre on me forever?? I know I won’t stop feeling this anxiety until I get this faded enough to cover it up with a much prettier sunflower. I’m going to my first laser treatment consultation on Thursday to see how much it’ll be and what to expect.”

Mandy Strong