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Leading dermatologist Dr. Joshua Fox discusses technologies, solutions for safe, effective tattoo removal (HealthNewsDigest.com)
New York, NY, April 2007 –Whether it’s an old flame’s name on the bicep or a prom-night red rose on the ankle, Americans are fond of using decorative tattoos as a form of expression. And, notwithstanding the advent of semi-permanent and temporary inks, men and women in the U.S. are choosing permanent tattoos more now than ever. According to a study in the September 2006 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly one in four Americans report being “tattooed” at least once. Yet, the same study reports that 17% of those with tattoos would like to have them removed.
“In our society, tattoos are equated with a youthful free- spiritedness we all value,” explains Joshua Fox, MD, founder of Advanced Dermatology and a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology. “And with higher quality inks and equipment being used by tattoo artists today, many people are intrigued by the more creative and artistic designs that are available.” But, after the painstaking process of choosing a design – and the often-painful process of having the tattoo applied – what prompts those with tattoos to seek solutions for removal? Dr. Fox explains, “Obviously, tattoos that include names of past love interests do not fade, even when the ‘old flame’ flickers out.” He adds, “On a more general basis, people who find tattoos adventurous in their teens and twenties often find that they send the wrong message about them as they move into a more mature stage of their lives, when marriage, family, children and work become the focal point.”
The good news is that laser treatments and equipment have kept pace with the rising interest in tattoo removal – which some anecdotal reports estimate is as high as 40-50%. While there are several lasers that may be used to remove decorative tattoos – the Q-switched ruby laser – is the most effective, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. “The Q-switched lasers are the gold standard in removing pigmented skin lesions, which is essentially how a tattoo is identified by the body, this includes short pulse Ruby, Alexandrite, 532 and 1064” Dr. Fox explains. “The ruby laser is effective at breaking down the melanosomes where the ink is stored in the skin into smaller fragments, which are then removed by the patient’s immune system,” he adds.
Five things to consider before you tattoo
While Q-switched ruby laser therapy is effective at removing permanent decorative tattoos safely and without scarring, Dr. Fox offers five caveats for those considering obtaining a tattoo:
1) There are possible health risks associated with tattooing, which is largely unregulated in the U.S. Bloodborne diseases are a key concern, as are infections. “Be sure to get references from the artist’s most recent clients, and discuss the safeguards that are in place at the studio to reduce or eliminate health risks,” Dr. Fox advises.
2) Tattoo removal is not a “same day” procedure, but rather a process that includes the laser treatment session, as well as healing time and any follow-up treatments that might be necessary. “Patients can expect the healing period to be similar to that of any wound, with possible scabbing, burning or itching at the site for one to two weeks after each treatment,” Dr. Fox explains.
3) The time- and cost-factors of tattoo removal can be a bit surprising to some patients, depending upon the number of sessions needed to remove the full tattoo. It usually takes 5-10 months, for a full tattoo removal, and the costs depending on the site can run into the thousands of dollars. “Tattoos that can take multiple sessions include those that cover the large area of the skin, are intricate in detail, and/or contain various color pigments,” Dr. Fox notes.
4) Some tattoos are more “removable” than others, based on the colors of inks used and the tone of the patient’s skin. Fair skin in general, responds better to laser tattoo removal than darker skin,” Dr. Fox points out. In addition, ink colors like yellow, lavender and orange are more difficult and time-consuming to remove, adding more treatments and expense to the tattoo removal.
5) New inks are becoming available that make tattoo removal even easier, because they encapsulate the dye in tiny bio-inendly beads that can be effectively broken down by the Q-switched laser in a single treatment. However, they remain intact like standard tattoo inks, without fading or bleeding, unless and until they are removed with a laser. “For those who are considering a permanent decorative tattoo, but want the option of a simpler, more cost-friendly removal, these new inks may be an ideal option,” Dr. Fox concludes.