Like a diamond, a tattoo was once forever.
But thanks to modern technology, such as better lasers, and new, removable tattoo ink that is headed for the market, it is becoming much easier to remove that once permanent body art.
It is estimated 17 percent of people with tattoos are looking to get rid of them.
“What’s interesting about tattoos is that if you go back in history to the earliest mummy remains, those mummies have evidence of tattoos,” said Martin Schmieg, CEO of Freedom-2. “So even though tattoos go back 12,000 years in history, it’s only recently that the science of tattoos and how they go into the skin has been undertaken.”
The ink was engineered so that — no matter what color the tattoo — it will take just one laser treatment to remove it.
Despite advancements in laser tattoo removal, it still takes multiple treatments to remove tattoos completely. And, the more treatments, the higher risk of scarring, said Dr. Roy Geronemus, past president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.
“I would tell anybody thinking about getting a tattoo not to make an immediate decision,” said Geronemus, director of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. “Give it a month or two, think about it and realize that it’s permanent or will require a fair amount of work to remove.”
Currently, red and black are the easiest tattoo colors to have removed, and yellow is the most difficult, Geronemus said, adding that people with darker skin tones risk permanent discoloration through laser treatments.
“Fair skin works best,” he said. “People with darker skin and people who are Hispanic, Asian or black should speak with their doctors about the risks before getting laser surgery.”
Geronemus characterized Freedom-2’s work with removable ink as “exciting” and said people who want a tattoo may want to wait for the Freedom-2 product to hit the market.
Schmieg said the ink is undergoing some final testing and is awaiting an endorsement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It should be available to consumers late this year or early next year.
Schmieg said his company’s goal is also to manufacturer safer ink for tattoos.
“A lot of the tattoo inks on the market today have unsafe materials in them,” he said. “Our goal is to make a better, safe and more easily removable tattoo.”
But the ink may also cost consumers a little more to use.
“Certainly the price of our ink to tattoo artists will be a little more,” Schmieg said. “Whether they’ll pass the cost onto customers remains to be seen. But the price won’t be much higher. The average tattoo is about two square inches and probably costs about $250. With our ink that price might go up $25 or $30. But when you look at the benefit you’re getting with easier removal, it’s probably worth it.”
Geronemus said people should always make sure the ink used by tattoo establishments is specifically made for tattoos and that they should keep in mind that brightly colored inks sometimes cause allergic reactions.
Patients should also make sure they get tattoos from a reputable establishment that is clean and uses sterile needles, Geromemus said.
“One of the reasons tattoo parlors were shut down in the 60’s was because of a hepatitis B outbreak,” he said. “So the risk of complications from hepatitis, HIV, abscesses and other bacterial infections and significant illnesses is a very real phenomenon.”
Geronemus also offered the following tips to keep in mind:
— Don’t try to tattoo yourself. It’s dangerous and can lead to infections, serious health complications and even death.
— Don’t let an infection go. Considerable redness or soreness may signal an infection and should be treated immediately by a dermasurgeon.
— Think small. Smaller tattoos are usually less painful, faster, and easier to hide under clothes or remove.
— When Possible, Show Your Love In Another Way. Geronemus says most of the requests he gets for tattoo removals involve the name of someone who is no longer a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse.
— Remember, You Won’t Always Be Buff. A tattoo may look great on a flexed muscle or the hollow of a girl’s lower back with low-rise jeans. But, as we get older, our weight often redistributes so areas that were once lean and tone may become thicker and softer, which may stretch tattoos.