Erasing the Past: Tattoo Removal
Are you looking to get a tattoo removed?
Before you do, READ THIS ARTICLE…
Tattoo removal has always been a difficult and painful process, and far from perfect. Modern techniques are better, but still don’t work perfectly.
The modern techniques use lasers to break down the inks beneath the skin, allowing them to be dispersed into the body. Before lasers were developed to the level this was possible, only more destructive methods were available. Most of these involved removing layers of skin, town to the point the tattoo inks were removed with them.
They included dermabrasion, removal with acids, cryosurgery, or simply cutting them out. For larger tattoos, this could require skin grafts, clearly a far more painful and risky procedure than tattooing itself.
Tattoo removal lasers, on the other hand, are non-invasive…
They target the absorption spectra of particular pigments, which heats them and disrupts their physical structure. Because they’re dependent on light absorption, black and other dark colors are the ones most easily removed.
On the other hand, brighter colors, in particular bright yellows, greens, and fluorescents, are difficult to remove with lasers, and true removal of these colors can require one of the more archaic methods. Alas, even though lasers are non-invasive, this does not mean they are harmless. They can cause scarring, still, and a topical anesthetic is usually applied, as they can be painful, too. The temperatures produced during laser tattoo removal can cause burns to the skin.
What laser treatments, do, essentially, is accelerate the process that would normally occur over time with sun exposure. Tattoo colors are created with suspended pigment particles in the skin. These particles are too large for the body to absorb, which is why they stay in place beneath the skin. The lasers target these particles directly, breaking them into smaller pieces that the body can then absorb. Sunlight has a similar effect, but it’s much slower.
Unfortunately, speeding up the process requires hitting the skin with enough energy to be harmful.
How many visits are needed?
It will take several visits to actually remove a tattoo, and each must be spaced at least four weeks apart to allow for healing and avoid permanent harm. As treatments progress, the spacing between them may become even longer for safety, and to give the pigments time to disperse to see where more treatments are actually needed. Tattoos on bony, thinner-skinned areas, such ankles, will often take longer, in part because the laser operators have to be more careful in those areas.
Success will depend on several factors, some under the patient’s control, some not…
Adequate hydration and overall health, particularly immune health, are important. Natural skin pigmentation also affects success, since natural pigments can absorb some of the energy intended for the tattoo pigments. Side effects are possible, too, based on some of the same controllable factors. In particular, scarring is rare, and usually occurs when there has been improper aftercare. Less predictable are side effects such as skin discoloration, where the skin gets darker or lighter permanently after tattoo removal. Skin getting permanently lighter is more likely with darker-skinned individuals.
Another possible consideration, even with tattoos that appear to be removed perfectly, is the fact that the intended mechanism of tattoo removal, allowing the body to absorb the pigment particles, could be risky. Some pigments are made from particles of known toxic metals, such as lead. Laboratory experiments have shown that it is possible that exposing the pigments to the laser energy in an organic context could cause the formation of further toxic compounds, although this has never been shown to actually occur in a living person.
What does it cost?
The average cost of removing a tattoo is around $800. You’ll need to be prepared to buy aftercare products, like antibiotic cream. You need to be prepared, with some pigments, for them to get worse before they get better. Tattooed lip and eyeliners, for instance, can get darker after treatment, although this will eventually go away through treatment. It is a difficult, somewhat painful procedure with some risk of side effects. That said, it is far superior to the alternatives. It is superior to the methods of the past, in terms of both effectiveness and risks, although it does have some limitations which might cause you to use the other alternatives if you are truly determined to get rid of them. In any case, it’s certainly better than the dubious tattoo removal creams out on the market.
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