Tattoo Removal: The Ultimate Guide
Regretting a permanent reminder of an old flame? Tired of the tattoo you got on an alcohol-induced whim in college? You are not alone. According to a 2006 survey in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 24 percent of 18- to 50-year-olds have tattoos and 17 percent of those people have considered having it removed. Tattoos have become a mainstay of personal expression in today’s culture and the industry of tattooing is growing. For some, their life view has changed and the expression printed in permanent ink on their calf does not fit with their current beliefs. For others, a change in careers has put the tattoo their forearm on the chopping block. These days, removing a tattoo is almost as popular as getting one.
If you are interested in covering a tattoo for a period of time like while visiting your in-laws or going to work at a conservative company, consider using tattoo cosmetics to temporarily hide your ink. You can camouflage a tattoo with makeup like Tattoo Camo. This makeup is a two part fix. The camouflage paste hides the tattoo and the sealer keeps the makeup from smudging or bleeding onto clothing. If you choose to use makeup, be sure to buy a remover designed to dissolve both the paste and the sealer without damaging the pigment of the tattoo. Several companies offer tattoo makeup which use a similar system as Tattoo Camo. Using paste and pencils, these products cover the tattoo with a thick concealer and then seal the makeup to the skin with another product. Other companies that offer tattoo makeup include Dermablend, Ben Nye, Mehron and Blood Mary. Reviews of tattoo makeup vary between users. Check out the latest reviews online before you buy, know the company’s return policy and keep your receipt.
Laser surgery is your best bet for removal, but can be costly. If you cannot afford laser surgery, an alternative is to use a removal cream at home. Tat B Gone and Tattoo-OFF both offer creams that can be ordered online. These creams fade tattoos over time. The process typically takes several months to complete. The cost of the cream is around $75 per month of use. The average user will spend around $400.
Reviews of tattoo removal creams vary. Some creams contain chemicals that are harsh on the skin and can cause other skin problems or infection to occur. Creams must be used consistently and according to the manufacturer’s directions. Most of the time, creams are required to be applied several times per day. Users must dedicate themselves to use the product regularly to see results. Before purchasing a removal cream, be sure to check the company’s product guarantee and return policy.
Natural solutions are made from a mixture of ingredients you can purchase at your local grocery store and pharmacy. The results vary widely from person to person. These solutions take a long time to work and must be used habitually. In general, natural solutions need to be applied to the skin several times per day. Some folks choose to use this method to see if it will work before springing for the cost of laser surgery. Here are a couple of natural solutions to try:
• Make a mix of one part Vitamin E oil, one part aloe vera gel and one part apricot scrub. Apply the mixture to the tattoo and rub it into the skin with a gentle circular motion. Let the mixture sit on the skin for 10 minutes and rinse with cold water. Repeat three to four times per day.
• Make a mix of one part Vitamin E oil and one part aloe vera gel. Apply to skin in a circular motion using a Q-tip. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. Next, make a paste of equal parts turmeric and yogurt. Apply to the skin and let it dry. Once the mixture is dry, leave it on the skin for 10 minutes. Rinse the mixture off using cold water and a wet washcloth. Use this method one time per day.
• Mix one part sanding powder and one part aloe vera gel. Apply the mixture to the tattoo. Use a pumice stone to rub the mixture into the skin in a circular motion. Rub the skin gently for several minutes. Repeat two to three times per day.
People who use either of these solutions must take care to keep the area sanitary by washing with soap and water. There is a risk of skin infection and irritation with both of these options. It is important to keep the area clean and disinfected while using a natural solution. The best time to use a natural solution is when you have just gotten out of a hot shower and the pores of the skin are open. Results vary widely from person to person. If you do not see results after four weeks, you can safely conclude that the solution is not working.
Laser Surgery for tattoo removal
Laser surgery is the preferred and most successful method of removal. This procedure offers patients a bloodless, low risk option. Most dermatological surgeons state that full tattoo removal is impossible. However, most tattoos can be faded to a point close to invisible using laser surgery. When searching for a laser surgeon, be aware that most will not guarantee complete removal.
Tattoos come in all shapes, sizes and colors. The degree of success for a removal of a tattoo depends on factors ranging from the size, color and location of the tattoo to how quickly a person’s skin heals. Other factors to consider are how long the tattoo has been on the body and how the tattoo was applied. Newer tattoos are often more difficult to remove than older ones. Experienced tattoo artists typically tattoo pigment consistently and to an even layer in the skin which makes them easier to remove. Blue and black are the easiest colors to remove from the skin. Yellow and green are the hardest. Lasers function similar to sunlight. They are attracted to darker pigments. Since yellow and green are lighter colors and closer in color to the pigment of skin, lasers have a difficult time differentiating these pigments from a person’s natural color.
Over the last decade, lasers have become the favored method for removal. For most people, several procedures are required before the tattoo fades. The number of procedures one will need depends upon the size, scope and age of the tattoo. Lasers emit pulses of light. The type of lasers used in removal employ a technique called Q-switching, which refers to the type and duration of pulse the laser gives off. The light emitted from the laser moves through the skin to the layer where the pigment resides. The pulses break the pigment of the tattoo into smaller pieces. Once the pieces of pigment are small enough, they are absorbed by the immune system by scavenger cells. Typically, the procedure is not long and only takes a few minutes. Patients take three week breaks in between treatments to allow the immune system to work on removing the tattoo. Lasers are designed to target only the pigment of the tattoo. In general, lasers will not harm the natural pigmentation of the skin.
Laser surgery can be mildly painful. The pain has been described to feel like hot bacon grease hitting the skin or having a rubber band repeatedly snapped on the area during treatment. Doctors recommend that patients concerned with the pain of laser surgery take non-aspirin pain relievers such as Tylenol to relieve discomfort. Non-aspirin pain relievers should be taken an hour before treatment. Aspirin and anti-inflammatory agents are not recommended because they can cause noticeable bruising after the procedure. Some patients use an anesthetic cream prescribed by their doctor before the procedure. Other patients receive an injection of anesthetic into the tattoo before the removal procedure begins. Many people opt not to use pain relievers or anesthetics.
After the visit, the doctor will apply antiseptic cream and dressing to lessen the risk of infection. Patients can shower the same day, but the area should be washed lightly by hand and never scrubbed with a washcloth. During the entire removal process, it is important to keep the treated area clean to prevent infection. The area may sting similar to sunburn and be red in color for several weeks.
Most laser surgery procedures are successful. Risks include infection, lack of complete removal of the pigment and a small chance of scarring. The risk of infection is significantly reduced by the way the patient cares for the affected area. Some people experience a lack of pigmentation in the skin while others experience an abundance of pigmentation. Only 5% of people experience scarring or adverse pigmentation of the treated area.
Having a tattoo removed using laser surgery is typically more expensive than having a tattoo applied. The cost of laser surgery depends on the size and location of the tattoo as well as the number of treatments needed to remove it. The price can range from several hundreds of dollars into the thousands. If you are considering using laser surgery, make sure the person you work with is a medical doctor specializing in laser surgery. Ask to see before and after pictures from the procedures the doctor has done in the past. Be sure you understand the doctor’s expectation of success in removing the tattoo. Ask the doctor to give you an approximate cost and for the number of procedures he or she thinks will be necessary. Discuss any existing medical conditions you have with during your consultation to make sure you are a candidate for laser surgery. People with skin issues such as rosacea or eczema may not be a fit for laser surgery.
In the recent past, various medical procedures were used to remove tattoos. These procedures include:
• Dermabrasion. Dermabrasion is a procedure where the skin is sanded to remove layers.
• Cryosurgery. Cryosurgery is a process where layers of skin are frozen and then removed.
• Excision. Excision is the process of surgically removing the skin with a scalpel. Depending upon the size of the tattoo, stitches and/or a skin graft may be necessary to heal the wound created by excision.
Though some of these methods are still practiced, laser surgery has become more popular than all of these medical procedures because it involves less risk of infection and scarring. Laser surgery does not cause bleeding and is considered less painful. If you are considering using a medical doctor to remove your tattoo, consult with a laser surgeon rather than someone specializing in the outdated treatments listed above.