Gone in a flash

As tattoos have gotten more popular, so has tattoo removal_which can be painful, expensive and not always successful, Now comes removable ink, whcih can be erased with one laser treatment

December 15, 2006|by Shari Roan | by Shari Roan,Los Angeles Times

You once adored Janie, but Laura is your honey now. That dragon circling your arm wowed your college buddies, but the executives in the office aren't nearly as impressed.

Just as the number of Americans sporting tattoos has soared in the past decade, so has membership in another group: people who want their bodywork removed. Only then do they come to know the truth -- that laser tattoo removal is painful, expensive and may not do the job completely.

Soon there may be a solution to the phenomenon of tattoo regret -- removable tattoo ink. A company founded by doctors says it will begin selling such ink early next year. The ink is applied just as with any tattoo, and will remain in place as long as desired.

But if the owner later decides that the artwork has to go, it can be removed fully and safely with a single laser treatment.

The founders of the company making the removable ink, New York-based Freedom-2 LLC, say their goal is to help those who have come to regret permanently decorating their bodies. But backers say the technology will not only simplify tattoo removal, it will create an expanded market for body art -- since consumers can now be assured that the tattoo will come off easily and without exorbitant cost.

"I think it will open a floodgate for people who want tattoos," says Dr. Bruce Saal, a Los Gatos, Calif., dermatologist who specializes in laser tattoo removal and has invested in the company. "People will say, `I want to do something a little wild. Now that I know it's not a lifelong commitment, I'll do it.'"

But others wonder whether tattoo artists and their customers will spurn the new ink if it doesn't meet their artistic needs.

Almost one-quarter of American adults have at least one tattoo, according to a study of 500 Americans published in September in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Of those, 17 percent were considering removal, the survey found, but none had taken that step.

Many doctors who perform laser tattoo removal, however, say that as many as half of all people with tattoos eventually want them off.

"A very high majority of people would desire to have them removed if there was a simple and easy way," Saal says.

An expensive regret

Most conventional tattoos can be removed, but the process is often expensive, painful and time-consuming. Even a simple, small, one-color tattoo can require several laser treatments at a cost of about $1,000. Removals of large, multicolored tattoos can require more than a dozen laser treatments and cost $5,000 or more. And no, laser tattoo removal is not covered by medical insurance.

Multiple treatments are needed to avoid skin damage from the laser. During conventional tattoo removal, brief pulses of energy are aimed at the tattoo, heating skin cells and breaking up the ink particles. Then the body's natural ability to remove foreign particles clears away the ink fragments. The top layer of skin, however, often bleeds slightly and forms scabs. Because of the inflammation produced by the laser, only a small area of skin can be treated at one time.

There are other complications, too. Doctors often don't know which type of ink was used, at what depth the ink was applied and other factors that could help make removal easier, Saal says. (He is a member of Freedom-2's scientific advisory board.) Scarring can occur if multiple treatments are needed, and some tattoos can't be completely removed.

Some people who have gotten tattoos in recent years may have assumed that laser tattoo removal would deftly deal with any regrets, says Dr. Tina Alster, director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, D.C., and who is not associated with Freedom-2.

But, she adds, they are often stunned to learn of the cost and time involved. "They thought it would be as easy to take off as to put on -- in just one session," she says. "But now with this new dye and polymer, we will be able to remove it in one session."

Freedom-2's ink is removable because it is encapsulated in tiny beads made of polymethylmethacrylate, a synthetic material commonly used in surgical glue and in many types of artificial joints. The fact that the ink is encased in the tiny spheres doesn't affect the application of the tattoo or its appearance, says Martin Schmieg, chief executive of Freedom-2.

"Our inks look and feel and give a result equal to the current tattoos," he says.

Because of the way the beads are constructed, they fall apart when laser energy is applied, Schmieg says. Unpublished tests on humans and animals show that only one laser treatment is typically needed to fully remove a Freedom-2 tattoo and that most Q-switched lasers that doctors use for tattoo removal can be used for the job. A one-time laser treatment to remove a tattoo should cost less than $1,000, Schmieg predicts.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.