Tattoo Removal: Can You Undo Your Tattoo?
While my own ink isn’t something I recklessly committed to after a night of drunken carousing or in the over-heated throes of a summer fling, it has increasingly through the years become something that I’m less and less jazzed about. Regret is probably too strong a word — in fact, I don’t think about it that often as it’s strategically placed somewhere I can’t see without enlisting the help of a mirror — but when I’m pining over the low-back of an award-season dress or shopping for a vacation bikini I often think, “Hmm… I wonder what would happen if I attempted to undo my tattoo?”
According to a 2012 Harris Poll, I’m not alone. Nearly 20% of Americans are sporting some sort of body ink, and judging from the generous uptick in revenue for tattoo removal — a whopping 440% — many of those people will consider having the tattoo removed.
Much like your pesky criminal record, (we kid, we kid!), permanently tattooing ink onto your skin is a difficult decision to take back. No, you’re not doomed to forever wear the name of your ex or an iconic image of Marilyn Monroe (we’re talking to you, Megan Fox). Tattoo removal has been around for long time. But tattoo removal has never been, and still isn’t, the simple swipe of an eraser that you’d like it to be. That being said… it’s getting better – way better.
In the not-so-distant past, having a tattoo removed was often a painful and invasive procedure. Surgical removal of the inked area and/or sanding away at the skin through dermabrasion and salabrasion (using a salt solution) are both painful methods that have been used in the past to undo ink, as is chemical scarification (the body-modification technique of replacing the tattoo with a scar), and cryosurgery (freeze burning the tattoo into oblivion). But the scarring and pain involved in these methods were often deterrents to having them done.
As tattoo removal evolved, lasers took over, but even these weren’t foolproof. The Q-switched lasers that were once considered the gold-standard in tattoo removal were often painful and time consuming, requiring between 10 and 12 treatments; even then they often left behind a ghostly trace of tattoo called a recalcitrant tattoo. You’ve likely seen them, the hauntings of tattoos past whose green and purple hues refuse to be erased. Go ahead and Google it right now. *Gasp! The horror!
Which brings us to the here and now, and the latest laser to hit the tattoo removal market: the pico laser, which uses ultra-short pulses of light energy to eradicate the pigment in your tattoo. How short is “ultra-short” you ask?
“It’s trillionths of a second,” explained Dr. Barry DiBernardo, a New Jersey based plastic surgeon, who uses PicoSure®, the first picosecond laser FDA-cleared to remove tattoos and pigmented lesions. “A pico is to a second, what a second is to 31,000 years. It’s a whole new class of laser because it doesn’t use heat at all. Instead pico lasers use light.” Using light energy dramatically reduces the risk of recalcitrant tattoos, scarring and requires fewer treatments (think 3-4, 20-40 minute sessions) than lasers of the past to get optimal results.
So you see the ink-stained regrets of an errant romance or a swarthy life-on-the-high-seas career as a pirate aren’t forever, no matter what your tattoo artist said. Consult with a board-certified plastic surgeon to answer your questions and help you decide if tattoo removal is right for you.
If only your criminal record were so easy to undo, right? (We kid, we kid!)