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Getting rid of those tattoos of youth!

April 2012

Getting rid of those tattoos of youth! Tattoos can affect our age group in many ways. Sometimes we just want to understand the process for our grandchildren; but more common is an interest in the removal of tattoos. As we age, our skin becomes thinner and lines appear. Tattoos that looked great when we were younger can now look unsightly and even embarrassing.

It is easier to understand how to get rid of a tattoo if you know the basics of how they work. Tattoos are fairly straightforward; a tiny hole is made in your skin by a needle and then ink is injected. Numerous holes are “drilled” to form the required design. Usually the needle goes through the epidermis, the top layer of skin, and does down into the dermis, the second deeper layer. Here the cells are more stable and so the tattoo can remain for years.

Tattoos all used to be done by hand, and this could be a very risky business with the inexperienced as the depth the needle is inserted is crucial; not deep enough and the pattern will be ragged and blurred; too deep can cause bleeding, intense pain and numerous other problems. Today there are professional tattoo machines in the form of handheld instruments which control the penetration of the needle.

In the past, the removal of tattoos has been a tricky business, often involving freezing the skin and then scraping off the layers which contain the tattoo ink with a special rotary tool. Thank goodness things have progressed dramatically.

Today laser removal is probably the most popular method to remove tattoos. Small foreign bodies and particles in the skin are removed by normal human growth and healing processes. Tattoos remain more permanently because their pigment particles are larger and therefore too big to be removed by natural processes. In laser removal, the beam is directed carefully as the base of the tattoo. This heats up the dye particles and breaks them up into smaller pieces. Then the normal body system takes over and removes these tiny foreign bodies as part of their natural system.

However, it is not totally clearcut. The laser of course has to be carefully controlled and directed so that the right amount of laser penetrates the correct depth to target the ink. The timing and strength of the laser is also vital, with the beam hitting the target long enough to break it up but not too long to cause the surrounding skin to be burned.

Because of the nature of laser, dark ink absorbs laser wavelengths much more readily than lighter shades. This means black and dark tattoos are far easier to remove than lighter colours, and in some cases several treatments over a period of time will be required. The lasers can cause a tingling, and depending on pain thresholds, can be quite severe and therefore anaesthetic creams are sometimes applied before treatment. Usually an antibacterial cream will be applied after treatment to reduce any risk of infection.

Other treatments are also available, such as one using a micropigmentation pen. Here a special cream is injected to link with the ink of the tattoo. This cream is designed to be rejected by the body, so as it is pushed back up to the surface of the skin, it takes the ink with it.

There are other developments underway but nothing is as yet guaranteed and some removal processes result in scarring.

There are numerous skin clinics across the UK now that can advise on tattoo removal, but it doesn’t come cheaply!

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