No one knows when the practice of tattooing the skin began, but Egyptian mummies dating back to 1300 B.C. have shown evidence of blue tattoo marks. Tattooing is accomplished by injecting colored pigment into small deep holes made in the skin. Regardless of who injects the pigment a tattoo artist or an untrained person the marks or designs are relatively permanent. For various personal reasons, people turn to physicians to have tattoos removed.
Fortunately, there are several methods for tattoo removal which have proven successful. In most cases, however, some scarring or color variations remain. The conspicuousness of these blemishes depends upon several factors including size, location, the individual’s healing pro-cess, how the tattoo was applied, and length of time it has been on the skin. A tattoo performed by a more experienced tattoo artist, for example, may be easier to remove since the pigment is evenly injected in the same level of the skin. A tattoo that has been on the skin for a considerable length of time may be more difficult to remove than a new one.
Methods of Tattoo Removal
Today, lasers are the most common method of tattoo removal. They work by targeting the ink with pulses of highly concentrated light that break the ink into tiny fragments, which are then cleared away the your own immune system. However, this isn’t all done with just one treatment. The more treatments you have, the more the laser can penetrate to destroy the ink. But, the more treatments you have, the more damage you do to your skin, causing painful blisters and scabs that can eventually lead to scarring. Experts in removal therapy say that technology has advanced to the point where scarring is minimal, sometimes non-existent, but this can vary depending on the situation.
On top of being physically painful (it has been described as feeling like being splattered with hot grease), laser removal can be painful to your wallet as well. Depending on your tattoo, you may need anywhere from 1-10 sessions, A large, professional tattoo in color could cost thousands of dollars to remove, and the effectiveness of the removal still isn’t guaranteed.
Another popular method of tattoo removal especially when the dyed area is small is by excision. The advantage of this method is that the entire tattoo can be removed. With larger tattoos, however, it may be necessary to excise in stages, removing the center of it initially and the sides at a later date.
Excision involves an injection of a local anesthetic to numb the area after which the tattoo is removed surgically. The edges are then brought together and sutured. With this procedure, there is minimal bleeding which is easily controlled with electrocardiogram. In some cases involving large tattoos, a skin graft taken from another part of the body may be necessary.
Another method of tattoo removal is called dermabrasion in which a small portion of the tattoo is sprayed with a solution that freezes the area. The tattoo is then “sanded” with a rotary abrasive instrument causing the skin to peel. Because some bleeding is likely to occur, a dressing is immediately applied to the area.
Salabrasion, a procedure which is centuries old, is a method still sometimes used today to remove tattoos. As with the other methods, a local anesthetic is used on and around the tattooed area after which a solution of ordinary tap water dipped in table salt is applied. An abrading apparatus such as the one used with dermabrasion, or an even simpler device such as a wooden block wrapped in gauze, is used to vigorously abrade the area. When the area becomes deep red in color, a dressing is applied.
Other Medical Methods:
There are other methods of tattoo removal, but most of them are so painful and ineffective that laser removal replaced them as soon as it became available. These other methods include dermabrasion, which would actually “sand” away the top layer of skin through abrasive friction. Another method is excision, where the tattoo would be cut away and the skin sewn back together. These methods have proved to cause much damage to the skin and result in severe scarring, and are only used today in extreme cases where laser surgery is not an option.