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Tattoo removal is something we hope you'll never have to consider. After all most of us would like to think that a tattoo is forever Ė thatís why we get them in the first place!
But what if your tattoo turns out to be a mistake? Thatís a thought that goes through everyoneís mind at some point, and the fact is, some tattoos do end up being a source of regret. In the United States about 17% of tattooed people regret their tattoo(s).
Here are some reasons why some people consider tattoo removal:
- Tastes change as we get older and wiser :-) Getting a tattoo at a young age is the most common reason for tattoo removal. Your life changes when you get older (marriage, children) and your once loved piece of ink can be a source of embarrassment
- Your tattoo is in a visible place on your body, it could be holding you back from getting a new job
- You have a tattoo that is connected in some way with an ex girl or boyfriend. The love is over and so is your love for the tattoo
- You don't like what your tattoo artist did, you're not happy with the quality of the tattoo design
- Bodies change as we get older. You may have put on some weight and your tattoo got stretched
Thatís why todayís improved tattoo removal techniques are good news for many people. That having been said, tattoo removal is still not quick, easy or cheap. In fact, it may turn out to be substantially more expensive and painful than it was to get the tattoo in the first place, so no one should make the decision to get a tattoo with the idea that it can be removed later on if you change your mind!
The good news, though, is that the end result of tattoo removal is pretty good these days. Tattoos can successfully be removed, though it takes a bit of research and effort. People with regrettable tattoos once had to endure surgery to get rid of a tattoo, but today there are far less invasive methods such as lasers and creams. A tattoo can be removed by a number of methods, some more successful than others. Let's have a look at all tattoo removal options available today.
Laser Tattoo Removal
Today, laser tattoo removal is the most popular way to remove a tattoo. The kind of lasers used are called Q-switched lasers. Lasers work by using short pulses of light to target the tattoo ink that is under the skin. This light is a highly concentrated type of light that can break apart the ink into very small pieces. These pieces are then small enough for the bodyís own immune system to attack and carry away. Once the body does this, the ink fragments are gone and so is the tattoo. One problem with this method is that this process can take time, money and it may take many treatments before it is successful.
It can take several treatments for the laser to target the deepest ink of the tattoo. A typical tattoo removal requires 8 to 12 treatments, with 6 to 8 weeks between treatments. The amount of treatments needed depends on:
- Skin type
- Tattoo location. Forearm, hand and ankle tattoos are the hardest to remove
- Amount of ink used
How successful the tattoo removal is depends on many factors, the patient's immune system being one of the more important. Laser tattoo removal requires the patient to be in good health, meaning that he/she needs to:
- Sleep enough
- Drink lots of water
- Eat healthy food
- Stop smoking
Laser tattoo removal is not recommended for people with serious health problems.
Lasers tattoo removal is a painful way to have a tattoo removed. Most patients get a strong anaesthetic cream or injection to suppress the pain.
With every treatment, there is damage done to the surface of the skin, leaving scars behind. Removal also leaves blisters behind as well as scabs over the places where the laser destroyed the tattoo ink. The more treatments you have done, the higher chance there is of permanent scarring.
This is less of a problem than it once was. The ever-evolving technology of lasers has made it safer than ever to have laser tattoo removal and less likely that it results in scarring, but there is still a chance of it occurring. Often, the chance of scarring depends in the size and colour of the tattoo as well as the thickness of the skin, thin skin scars more easily.
Darker colours are easier to remove and may require fewer treatments. Colours like yellow, green and fluorescent colours are the hardest tattoo colours to be removed. The type of tattoo ink that was used as well as how deep the artist injected the ink also play a part in how many sessions it requires to remove the tattoo.
Technique doesn't stand still however and new tattoo removal options are emerging. Recently a new brand of ink surfaced, called Infinitink, that enables tattoos to be removed 3 times faster that conventional tattoo ink. Currently only black colour ink is available, but other colours will follow.
Laser tattoo removal is expensive though. While getting a small tattoo generally costs $100 - $200, depending on the intricacy of the tattoo, removal of that same tattoo might cost you up to ten times that amount!
The Cost of Laser Tattoo Removal
How much does laser tattoo removal cost? There is no one price that can be put on tattoo removal. The size and colour of a tattoo, its placement and the overall skin tone of the person will determine how easy it is to get rid of a tattoo. In cases where itís harder, the cost will be more.
Getting laser removal generally costs at least about $150 per session and can be as high as $800 or more per session. A small, dark tattoo that is not too deeply placed may take only one or two sessions for complete removal, but most require several sessions to see a dramatic difference. For complete removal, there may be as many as 10 sessions required.
Tattoo removal may take time and it may prove expensive in the long run, but the results are worth it to anyone who doesnít want to live with an unwanted tattoo.
Tattoo Removal Creams
Some people try a tattoo removal cream like Tat B Gone and Wrecking Balm because of the pain and expense of lasers. However, many have found that these creams are less than completely effective. There is some controversy over whether they work at all, and if they do, to what degree they work.
There is little scientific evidence that a tattoo removal cream will remove a tattoo, but there are some reports online that it may work to lighten a tattoo by fading the colour of the ink. I don't have any personal experience with tattoo removal creams though.
The difficulty inherent in removing tattoos is related to tattooing technique. When you get a tattoo, the ink is deposited in the dermis, the lower layer of skin. Thatís why it canít be rubbed off, and why the ink-laden skin is not shed and renewed. In case of tattoo removal that deep layer of skin needs to be accessed and that is very difficult to achieve with do it yourself tattoo removal methods.
Other Tattoo Removal Methods
Besides creams and laser tattoo removal there are some other (usually older) removal methods. I'll tell you in advance: forget about homemade tattoo removal, that the only method that really works is laser removal.
- Chemical Peel: chemical peel is originally a body treatment technique used to rejuvenate the skin. It reduces wrinkles, dry skin, acne, redness and such. Some claim it also works for removing tattoos, but this is not the case. Chemical peel is not an efficient tattoo removal technique
- Bleach: stories go round on the internet about people who have used bleach for tattoo removal. Don't do this, bleach is a dangerous product and doesn't remove tattoos
- Dermabrasion: this is a technique in which the top layer of the epidermis of the skin is removed by sanding. This technique is used to remove shallow scars or dark spots on the skin. It is very painful though and it takes months before your skin is healed. Dermabrasion doesn't remove tattoos very well
- Salabrasion: tattoo removal with salt. This technique is similar to dermabrasion, only salt is used instead of sand. Not recommended
- Saline Tattooing: saline is a fancy name for salted water. Some tattoo artists claim they can remove or lighten a tattoo by tattooing saline into the old tattoo
- IPL: short for Intense Pulsed Light, is used for hair removal and skin rejuvenation. IPL works in the same way as laser removal. I don't know if it is effective though, I don't have any experience with it
- Surgical Excision: with this technique a tattoo is surgically removed, then the edges are brought together and sutured. This technique is still used sometimes on large tattoos (in which case the skin of another part of your body is used)
The problem with all of these non-laser methods is that they tend to cause scarring. For people really determined to get rid of a tattoo, this might be acceptable Ė but for many, it was a catch-22. If the object is unblemished skin, a scar really isnít any better than a tattoo.
Cover Up Tattoos
If you're not happy with your tattoo design and you're not too fancy about tattoo removal, you can choose for a cover up tattoo.
Well-done cover up tattoos make the old tattoo completely invisible, like you can see on the before and after image on the left. The success rate depends on the techniques used, size and colours of the old tattoo.
Sometimes laser removal machines are used to lighten up the old tattoo. The colours of the new tattoo have to be darker than those of the old tattoo to successfully hide the unwanted design.
Here's another great example of a cover up tattoo:
The Clean Slate Program
The Clean Slate Program offers free (or affordably priced) tattoo removal for youth who are involved in street gangs and want to quiet the gang lifestyle.
There are Clean Slate Programs in many cities and states such as Houston (Texas), San Jose, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, Troy, Albany, New Jersey, Florida, NJ, Portland, Chicago, Florida, Los Angeles, Oregon and Seattle.
Tattoo Removal Clinics
Visiting a tattoo removal clinic may be an option if there is one in your area. These are medical clinics that specialize in the latest laser techniques to get rid of a tattoo. These clinics generally have nurses and laser technicians to handle tattoo removal. At a tattoo removal clinic, there may be several options other than a laser as well, including cover-up tattoo services and fading of a tattoo. A basic consultation at a clinic will let you know all of your options.
Ask your doctor for a plastic surgeon or cosmetic dermatologist that is a specialist in tattoo removal.
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