At age 14, before he ever had looked at a naked woman, David Amos was sporting one on his upper arm. Created from thousands of pinpricks of blue, black and green indelible ink, the buxom bombshell was made to last forever.
Ditto for the eagle, snake twined around a dagger, sailing galleon and skull that festoon his arms. Unfortunately, Mr. Amos, now 34, tired of his tattoos long before their lifetime warranty expired.
"I was about 15 when I began hating them. Once the novelty wore off, I couldn't stand them," Mr. Amos said, his English accent intact after 11 years in the United States. The former London resident lives in West Hollywood and works as a bar manager. "It was a lot like buying a new shirt, except I can't get rid of these."
Until now. A 19-year search for a way to remove the ink-stained artwork led Mr. Amos to Gary Lask, an Encino, Calif., dermatologist. Using the latest in laser technology, Dr. Lask has been successful in erasing Mr. Amos' tattoos.
Forcing ink into the skin to make permanent designs is an ancient practice. The frozen body of a 5,300-year-old man found last summer in the Austrian Alps had tattoos on his legs. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tattoos were associated with sailors and women and men of ill repute. These days, skin art has become a hot trend for rebellious rock and film stars.
For Mr. Amos, however, the tattoos were nothing less than an embarrassment.
"Getting the tattoos was a horrible mistake," he said. He regrets the impulse that led him to hitchhike from his hometown outside of London to a tattoo parlor in a neighboring town two weekends in a row to get them. Each tattoo took about 30 minutes to apply.
Tattoos were accepted because a lot of men had them, Mr. Amos said. At the time, it never crossed his mind that they wouldn't come off. Now, it's a continual concern.
"I always dress to hide them. I wear long-sleeved shirts, avoid going to pool parties in certain company," he said. "I don't want people to prejudge me because of the tattoos."
Until the new lasers, the only ways to remove tattoos involved radical approaches such as skin grafts, dermabrasion or more primitive lasers that caused extensive scarring.
Dr. Lask, who has been treating Mr. Amos for five months, said thenew lasers cause little pain, are not dangerous and give the best results. He began removing tattoos six months ago.
"This is a technique that shoots out energy in a quick, rapid
pulse," he said. "The heat is absorbed by the pigment, which then shatters." As the pigment is destroyed, the tattoo fades, Dr. Lask said.
Currently, he sees about a dozen tattooed patients each week, including those returning for repeat treatments. Clients range in age from their 20s to middle-aged men and women. The same lasers are used to remove port-wine stains and other birth marks, as well as age spots.
"Most of my patients see their tattoos as a mistake," said Dr. Lask, who does not have a tattoo. "When you interview someone for a job and you see a tattoo on their hand or arm, you may think you don't want to hire them."
Mr. Amos receives weekly treatments that last about 30 minutes. The sting of the laser -- like the snapping of a rubber band against the skin -- isn't hard to endure, he said. The results are worth it.
"Sometimes at work my shirt will ride up my arm, and instead of seeing a black skull, you hardly notice anything," Mr. Amos said. He is optimistic about the results, saying he thinks the tattoos eventually will disappear.
Most tattoos require multiple treatments, Dr. Lask said. Blue and black are the easiest colors to remove.