For as long as tattoos have existed, there have been primitive forms of tattoo removal. The most common method l today is laser removal, but before its invention, those who were regretfully inked relied on other questionable methods.
Early methods of tattoo removal included dermabrasion, TCA (an acid that removes the top layer of skin and reaches the layer where the ink resides), salabrasion (rubbing the skin with salt) and even the injection of lime, garlic, wine or pigeon excrement. Though methods of tattoo removal have become more advanced, removal is still a long and expensive process. Laser removal is a process in which tattoo ink is broken up and absorbed by the body through natural processes. The ink begins to fade, similar to how it would over time or from overexposure to the sun. The ink reacts to a certain spectrum of light depending on pigment, and darker pigments react more favorably to the treatment. Greens, yellows and fluorescent inks are more difficult to remove.
Laser removal is done in several sessions in order to avoid scarring. Depending on the size and color(s) in the tattoo, four to eight sessions are required for complete removal, and the removal sessions must be four to six weeks apart. Scarring also depends on the tattoo’s location. Thinner skin is prone to scarring, and thicker skin tends to heal more effectively.
Laser removal is currently the most common form of tattoo removal, but it is not 100 percent effective. The success of tattoo removal largely relies on each patient’s immune system. Generally, the healthier a person is, the better the results will be.
The pain involved in laser removal has been compared to that of a “slap” from an elastic band or hot oil on the skin, but the patient’s pain tolerance determines how uncomfortable the process can be.
Additionally, the results from laser removal can be less than satisfactory. Immediately after treatment, the skin may appear white and raised, and the patient may experience pinpoint bleeding. A crust will form over the entire tattoo, and will peel off approximately 14 days after treatment. For roughly half of those who undergo laser removal, changes in skin pigmentation may occur, and can last from six months to several years.
For those who choose to undergo the long process of laser tattoo removal, each session can cost anywhere from $200 to $1200, depending on the tattoo’s size.
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