Written for Scars1 by Michelle Alford
Once a sign of rebellion, tattoos have become a common sight. According to a 2006 survey, more than 1 in every 3 Americans between the ages of 18 and 40 has gotten at least one tattoo. However, tattoo remorse is also on the rise. Recent studies show that 17 to 20 percent of people with tattoos regret getting inked, an increase from 13 percent in 2003. The good news for those wanting to erase their past is that advances in technology have ensured that tattoos are not as permanent as they once were.
Tattoo removal used to be a significantly more arduous task, which would likely replace your inked skin with a permanent scar. Until more recently, the primary methods of tattoo removal were dermabrasion, excision, and acid. Because tattoo ink settles in the dermis, the second layer of skin below the epidermis, these processes may require destroying a significant amount of skin in order to remove the tattoo.
- For Dermabrasion, physicians use abrasive equipment to sand away the top layers of your skin. When the wound heals and the skin grows back, the tattoo will no longer be there. Like any significant wound, there’s a danger of the area becoming infected or not healing correctly. This can cause scars or skin discoloration.
- Excision is the traditional surgical method of removing tattoos. The inked skin is completely cut off of the body and then sewn and allowed to heal. This works best for smaller tattoos. Larger tattoos require skin grafts to replace the removed skin. Skin is taken from another part of a body or grown in a lab from sample skin cells and sewn over the wound. This may leave a noticeable scar or a patch of discolored skin.
- Trichloroacetic and Glycolic Acids can be used to peel away skin and fade tattoos. By causing a controlled inflammation, the acid helps break up the tattoo ink and decrease its appearance. Multiple sessions are required to successfully fade tattoos. It may cause hypo pigmentation or hyper pigmentation in people with dark skin, resulting in discoloration.
Unlike these methods, laser tattoo removal is unlikely to leave scars or discolor the skin. It is widely considered the most popular method of tattoo removal, but it’s also the most expensive. A tattoo that cost less than a hundred dollars could cost thousands to remove. Pulses of light from a laser break up the ink, allowing the body’s immune system to destroy and naturally excrete the smaller pieces. Different colors of ink react differently to the lasers so are easier or harder to remove; most colors can be erased with little difficulty, but green is still almost impossible to completely eradicate.
As the popularity of tattoos has increased, so has research into new and improved methods of removing tattoos. Tattoos no longer have to be permanent—and neither do the marks of removing them.
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Photo: Renee Boyce