Tattoo Removal

The Problem
When you were younger, you thought tattoos were cool. Maybe you were looking for a way to rebel against your parents. Now you cringe every time you look in the mirror and see a huge eagle, or butterfly, or even a naked man proudly displayed on your skin. Worry no longer& there are ways to remove tattoos.

The Solution
Over the years, many different methods have been used for tattoo removal, each with differing levels of success. Dermabrasion, salabrasion, and Argon or CO2 lasers leave behind scars in place of the tattoo. Obviously, this is undesirable.

Plastic surgeons now use Q-Switched laser to remove tattoos with a minimum of scarring. The Nd:YAG laser is the newest member of the Q-Switched class of lasers. Lasers are devices that emit certain wavelengths of light. When the wavelengths emitted by light come in contact with the skin, they may pass through the skin or be absorbed or reflected by the skin. The Nd:YAG laser is designed to emit the wavelengths of light that most closely match the colors of ink most common to tattoos (especially blue and red).

When the light from the laser hits the skin, instead of passing through the skin, it will be absorbed by the ink and break the ink up. The ink is then removed by the body through its natural filtering systems. To increase its effectiveness, the Nd:YAG laser is designed to pass through the skin but to be absorbed by the inks common to tattoos. To minimize the damage to the skin, the Nd:YAG laser delivers the light in several short high intensity bursts.

The Procedure
The procedure, while somewhat uncomfortable, usually is not so painful that the patient requires anesthesia. Most tattoos require 3 to 6 treatments spaced 6 to 8 weeks apart for total removal. Green and yellow inks are the most difficult to remove. Dark blue and red are the easiest to remove. Although most tattoos respond well to this treatment, it is impossible to be able to predict if the procedure will be completely successful. Since there are over one hundred inks currently in use and the FDA does not regulate any of them, it is impossible to know which ink was used in the tattoo, making removal of the ink even more difficult to accomplish.

Some people will experience a small amount of bleeding with the treatments. If this occurs, the physician will dress the area and apply an ointment. The area should be kept clean and should continue to be treated with the ointment.

The Bottom Line
If you are thinking of getting a tattoo, think carefully about how you might feel about it in a few years. Do you really want to go through the trouble, discomfort, and uncertainty of laser treatment?

If you already have a tattoo and want to have it removed, you have to decide if the treatment is worth it. Can you live with the tattoo? If not, try the laser treatment. However, keep in mind that it isn't always 100% effective.

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