BY KATE
AENLLE
Tattoos have been around for
millennia, with the oldest tattoos on record coming from more than 5,000 years
ago.
The stigma of having and
getting tattoos seems to have dissipated in the last decade or so, bringing
tattoos into mainstream culture. Over the years, a lot more of my friends
(myself included) have gotten at least one tattoo. Some people caution against
getting a tattoo because it’s permanent. However, with the advancement of
technology, tattoo removal is not only becoming more effective, but a lot more
accessible and affordable. So now, if you want to get rid of that questionable
tattoo from your teens, or perhaps you just want to get rid of an old tattoo to
make room for a new one, you actually have the option to do so.
But before you book your
appointment, you should probably know what you’re getting into.
How
exactly does tattoo removal work?

The basic definition of how
tattoo removal works, according to Dr. Omar Ibrahimi of the Connecticut Skin
Institute, is that a laser is used to break up tattoo ink particles. “Some
of the ink comes through the surface of the skin, and the ink that remains in
the skin is broken into smaller and smaller pieces, and with a series of
treatments the particles become broken up enough until they are no longer
visible,” he tells me.
A more technical explanation
of traditional laser tattoo removal, as NYC-based dermatoligist Dr. Jeremy
Brauer explains, is it “works by employing a theory known as selective
photothermolysis.” Photothermolysis states that when the appropriate
wavelength of light and pulse duration are used to target the tattoo, it will
heat the target to the point of destruction (a photothermal effect) with
minimal damage to surrounding skin. More recently, he tells me, “it has
been shown that picosecond pulse duration lasers remove tattoos by a
photomechanical effect as well, physically fracturing the tattoo particles.
These smaller particles are then removed by the body.”
There’s
more than one way to remove a tattoo

Laser tattoo removal is the
most popular method to remove a tattoo. Occasionally, tattoos can be surgically
removed. “Prior to the availability of lasers,” says Dr. Ibrahimi, “many
attempts at using chemical peels or dermabrasion were used but were associated
with very high rates of scarring and other unwanted side effects.”
Specific to laser tattoo
removal, however, Dr. Brauer says that several techniques or methods exist. These
include “combining treatment with lasers traditionally used for
resurfacing (treatment of fine lines, sun damage, scarring, etc.), repeating
treatment every 20 minutes (approximately the time required) after epidermal
whitening subsides during one office visit, and the use of a DeScribe PFD Patch
that allows for even more rapid resolution of that whitening (seconds to
minutes) and subsequent multiple passes in the same visit.”
When you go in for your tattoo
removal consultation, your doctor will be able to discuss the appropriate
options for removing your tattoo.
How
many sessions before a tattoo is completely removed?

Dr. Ibrahimi tells me that
traditionally, with a nanosecond laser, it would take between 10-20 treatments
for tattoo removal, and there is always a possibility that results could be
less than satisfactory. However, you should know that there are many factors
that can affect how a tattoo will respond to laser treatment. These factors can
include “the age of the tattoo, how it was placed (professional vs.
amateur), the body location, and ink color, to name a few,” says Dr.
Brauer. “In my practice we use the DeScribe PFD Patch along with laser
tattoo treatments, which can help decrease the number of treatments needed.”
“We are generally getting
tattoos removed in around six treatments,” says Dr. Ibrahimi, who uses
something called an Enlighten laser. “This has revolutionized my tattoo
removal practice.”
The
process differs depending on your tattoo

Consulting with a physician or
dermatalogist before you go in and have tattoos removed is necessary because
your procedure could differ from someone else’s. Just because you’ve heard from
a friend that their tattoo was completely erased after two sessions, that
doesn’t mean it will be the same way for you. In fact, how many sessions you’re
going to need to completely remove a tattoo can even depend on what color it
is. “Black tattoos used to be amongst the easiest colors to treat with
traditional tattoo removal lasers (nanosecond),” says Dr. Brauer.
“However, now with newer picosecond lasers, blue and green colored tattoos
have become amongst the easiest.”
He also says that it is very
important to minimize the risk of scarring and “unwanted change in
pigmentation,” so you need to make sure that the area you want to be
treated “has not been exposed to sun prior to treatment or subsequent to
treatment during healing.”
This
might sting a little

You’ve already gotten a tattoo
before, so this probably won’t be a big deal, but tattoo removal isn’t entirely
pain-free.
Tattoo removal is
uncomfortable, but Dr. Ibrahimi says that there are many methods to minimize
the pain. “Numbing cream and ice can lessen the pain of the laser,”
he says, “if the tattoo is small enough.”
You should also keep in mind
that the placement of your tattoo could determine how much pain and discomfort
you may feel. “We certainly have parts of the body that are more
sensitive,” says Dr. Brauer. So in cases where you may experience more pain,
“local anesthetic is used such that the treatment itself should be
painless.” It might be a relief to know that the treatments themselves may
not be painful, but you could experience some discomfort afterwards as well.
What
to expect once your tattoo is removed
After treatment, it is normal
to expect the area to be “red, swollen, and bruised,” says Dr.
Brauer. “One can also experience blistering and crusting.” He
strongly encourages the regular application of an ointment like Aquaphor and using
bandages until the treatment area is fully healed.
Now, if you want your
tattoo(s) removed for a cleaner cover up, or perhaps you’ve just changed your
mind and want something different, you’ll have to wait a while before getting
inked again. Many patients want to lighten their tattoo enough so they could
get a cover up, or the original tattoo did not come out the way they intended
and they want to get another shot at having it look the way they envisioned it,
according to Dr. Ibrahimi. “Generally speaking, once the skin heals from
the acute effects of laser, it is safe to re-tattoo,” he says. “This
typically take one to four weeks depending on the area of the body the tattoo
is located on.”
Tattoo
removal isn’t risk-free

Like most medical procedures,
tattoo removal isn’t without its own set of risks.
It is very important that you
seek out treatment with a board certified dermatologist or physician with
formal training in lasers before you get tattoo removal done. “Risks can
include, but are not limited to, scarring and unintended permanent change in
color — lightening or darkening of the skin,” says Dr. Brauer. “It is
extremely important that the appropriate laser wavelength and pulse durations
are selected, but also that the laser treatment is performed
appropriately.”
You could also be advised
against tattoo removal all together. “There are in fact medical conditions
and even certain medications or history of certain treatments that would
preclude one from treatment,” he says. “Safe treatment of individuals
of all skin types is possible, but appropriate laser, parameters, and technique
is required to minimize the greater risk of adverse events in those
individuals.”
Tattoo
removal is going to cost you

If you think that getting a tattoo
is no big deal because you can have it removed at any time, you’re not
incorrect. However, even with its growing popularity, tattoo removal still
hasn’t exactly reached bargain prices. Depending on a number of factors, tattoo
removal can cost you you between $200-$500 per treatment session. That’s a lot
of money to remove a tattoo that probably cost a mere fraction of the price. It
might still be a good idea to give your tattoo design some serious thought
before you get it.
Think
before you get un-inked

Just as you should with
getting a tattoo, it’s important to consider all of your options if you’re
thinking of getting a tattoo removed. Do your research and seek consultations
with different clinics and doctors before you go in for a procedure. Remember,
tattoo removal can be costly and time-consuming, so if you’re getting it done,
you should get it done safely and correctly.

SOURCE:
THELIST
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.