This is a good video report, which covers most of the things a consumer should know about tattoo removal by a medical laser. Join Neil Sadick, MD, as he performs laser tattoo removal and provides tips for what to expect from the procedure.
Laser Tattoo Removal
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It’s a popular trend among teenagers and those in their 20′s. We’re talking about tattoos, and more than a third of young people under 25 have at least one, according to the Harris Interactive Poll. But what happens when you no longer want that permanent art on your body?
With tattoos’ popularity (about 45 million Americans sport this permanent body art), there is a growing niche among doctors who perform tattoo removal surgery. Thanks to laser technology, the process is less painful than it used to be.
The laser pulverizes the ink particles and the body’s immune system “eats” these particles, takes them deeper into the skin and eventually removes them from the body.
The reality is, of course, a lot more complicated than the report referenced above, as 100,000 Americans get their tattoos removed each year. Pain and suffering, multiple (12-20) laser sessions, scabbing of the area, hypopigmentation (white lines and spots on the skin) are very common.
It is increasingly big business for Britain’s plastic surgeons who deal with the physical and psychological damage as tattoo patients struggle with the scarring and skin discoloration caused in the effort to remove the intricate designs – and the stress caused by repeated job rejections and the critical judgment of others.
In the past, tattoos were the preserve of sailors and servicemen. Now, most recently, with Peaches Geldof, Angelina Jolie, and David and Victoria Beckham displaying their inky adornments, and even Samantha Cameron, the wife of the Tory leader, flashing a discreet dolphin on her ankle, tattoos have become a must-have accessory.
‘There are three reasons for having a tattoo: first fashion, second to demonstrate you are tough enough to withstand the pain of the needles injecting the ink, and third to demonstrate attachment to a person or club. All three rarely last long, and as the time goes by people start searching for a way to get rid of their tattoo.
In recent years the advent of surgical lasers has led many private clinics to advertise ‘instant’ tattoo removal. Well, the reality is, nothing is instant when it comes to removing the ink, especially bright colors, from under your skin. The lasers break down the dots of ink in the deeper layers of the skin and convert them into particles small enough to be carried off and disposed of by the immune system. But it is a drawn-out, laborious and risky process.
People don’t realise that tattoos often go splodgy with age. The ink moves about and disperses, the colours become less vibrant. Even if you liked the design in the first place, you might not like it so much when it makes you look like an old sailor. It make take a dozen laser sessions with excruciatingly pain and post-op discomfort to reduce the intensity of a complex tattoo. Removing is the word for ads. The reality is, it is highly unusual to get complete clearance of the design with lasers, and it involves risk of being left with scars and skin damage that can be much uglier than the tattoo you’re trying to get rid of.
In extreme cases you might be looking at a skin graft with the risk of more scarring, because of having to take skin from somewhere else on your body.
There are a few good stories and comments on tattoo in the British Mail Online.
In the Western world, more than 10% of the population have at least 1 tattoo. If the tattoo is removed, the tattoo pigment particles in the skin can be selectively destroyed by means of selective photothermolysis by different types of medical aesthetic lasers. This treatment requires laser pulses of short durations (nanoseconds) and high intensities (fluenses).
Dr. Wolfgang Bäumler, Department of Dermatology, University of Regensburg in Germany reports on 12 patients who received treatments with improper treatment parameters. In all patients, his group diagnosed hypo- or hyperpigmentations and scar formation at the treatment site. In particular, the pulse duration of the light sources or lasers applied were considerably longer than those required by the principles of selective photothermolysis. The light intensities of those devices are normally not sufficient to destroy the pigment particles. Instead of destruction, the pigment particles in the skin are heated up and the heat is conducted to the adjacent tissue causing unspecific tissue injury.
Lasers and especially intense pulsed light sources with more than 1 millisecond pulses and low light intensities are clearly not suitable to be applied for laser tattoo removal.
For Julie Baird, the decision to get a tattoo of a fish on her ankle came just months after her high school graduation.
“When I got mine, I guess it was just kind of really on the front end of (tattoos) getting more and more popular,” said Mrs. Baird, of Ringgold, Ga. “And at the time, I think I probably wanted to kind of be different.”
Now, 13 years later, Mrs. Baird has changed her mind.
Coupled with her husband’s distaste for the tattoo and her desire to start a family, Mrs. Baird is having the tattoo removed through laser treatments at the Aesthetic Laser Medical Spa & Salon on Shallowford Road.
“It’s one of those things where I guess if it were just me, I probably wouldn’t have a problem with keeping it,” said Mrs. Baird. “But it’s kind of more — and I don’t want to say that I’m doing it for the people around me — but you don’t really realize how it affects maybe the people around you when you get one.”
Mrs. Baird’s case is not unusual. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, tattoo remorse is common.
Among a group of 18- to 50-year-olds surveyed in 2004, 24 percent reported having a tattoo and 17 percent of those considered getting their tattoo removed.
Aesthetician Dawn Valenzuela performs the tattoo removal laser treatments at Aesthetic Laser Medical Spa.
“(Business) is steady, but it’s not the busiest thing we do,” said Mrs. Valenzuela. “We get a steady number, and just here lately in the last six months, it has just increased. Like all of a sudden, people are wanting to get them off.”
During the tattoo removal process, a medical laser uses an intense beam of light to significantly lighten the tattoo.
“What’s going on is it is being drawn to that pigment. It picks up that color, and then when you laser it, it releases that dye into your bloodstream,” she said. “And then your body just breaks it down and gets rid of it.”
Having recently completed her second treatment, Mrs. Baird said she has seen a big difference in the fading of her tattoo.
“I’m anxious now to go back and get the third treatment because I have seen it fade a lot more after this second treatment,” she said.
REASONS FOR REMOVAL
Career: Because some employers have policies against visible tattoos in the workplace, Mrs. Valenzuela said, many clients come to her once they get a job.
Family: When Chatsworth, Ga., resident Sandy Epperson became a grandmother, she decided it was time to remove the tattoo she got on her shoulder eight years ago. “I decided that I didn’t need to look like the teenagers anymore, and I just want the grandmother look,” she said.
Cosmetic: Chattanooga resident Jan Webb said that the visibility of the blue and green cross she got tattooed on her chest nearly four years ago made it hard for her to wear certain clothes. “I just decided that maybe I had gotten it in the wrong place and maybe it was time to remove it,” she said.