Sunday, 20 July 2014

You sure about that tattoo?

Thinking about getting a tattoo? First you've got to know how you're going to get rid of it.

I was horrified to see a close friend of mine sporting a brand new velvet-red heart-with-piercing-arrow tattoo on her left ankle. The next day, I was aghast to hear my karaoke buddy voice her intention of getting a tattoo in the shape of a butterfly on the small of her back.

Whilst I’m mostly an open-minded individual (or so I'd like to think), I am really against people getting tattoos done. This is because I’ve been in the aesthetic medicine industry long enough to see so, so many people regret getting their tattoos done in the first place.

Getting Ink

There are many reasons why my patients sought my services to erase their tattoos.

People with tattoos are sometimes thought of as being of loose character, wild or indisciplined. Tattoos are often sported by criminal gang members, the Mafia and the Yakuza, which is why many tend to associate tattoos with bad hats, gangsterism and crime. Those with tattoos might find getting hired for a job or climbing up the workplace ladder more difficult compared to those with “clean” skins. Many companies, especially hotels, restaurants and sales companies, will refuse to hire those with prominent, visible tattoos as they do not want their company’s image to be affected.

I know of a person who had an extremely large and colourful tattoo of a dragon covering her entire shoulder and arm. She was desperate to get a new job, but had been turned down at numerous job interviews due to her prominent, attention-grabbing tattoo. She felt a lot of discomfort during her tattoo removal laser session because of the sheer size of the tattoo, but she bravely endured it anyway.

Some folks sport tattoos with names or initials of their lovers. All is good and dandy when they are happily in love, but when a bad break-up happens, they wish to move on and not want to think of their exes any more. Perhaps erasing the tattoo signifies that they have removed that person from their lives. And then there were also a few people whose new sweethearts requested them to get rid of tattoos with names of past lovers, perhaps out of jealousy. My advice to all you love birds out there is never to make tattoos with the name of your lover. There's a big possibility you'll regret it sooner or later.

Tattoos are usually done around the ages of 20 or 30. The tattoos may be gorgeous and artistic then, but as the person ages and skin loses elasticity, the tattoo starts to appear distorted. Many tattoos look cringe-worthy on sagging skin. So we have people in their 50s or older whose devil and skulls tattoo now resembles Mr Bean’s face. No wonder they want to get rid of the tattoo.

And then there are those who had tattoos done at the spur of the moment, without much thought put into it. Maybe they were drunk or just plain bored when they stepped into the tattoo parlour. Perhaps it was the result of a dare from friends. Or possibly it was just to annoy their controlling parents. But whatever the reason, in the end, they regret having the tattoo. So there they are, waiting for their turn to see the aesthetic doctor.

Removing The Ink

There are numerous methods of removing tattoos, including dermabrasion or the use of caustic agents to remove the top layers of the skin and create scarring. A more drastic method is getting a skin graft, whereby the tattooed skin is excised and skin from other areas such as the thighs or buttocks are grafted on.

The safest, most popular and effective method nowadays is the use of lasers. A Q-switch Nd:YAG laser can be utilised by your aesthetic doctor or dermatologist to blast away the tattoo pigments. This laser can remove both professional and amateur, homemade tattoos. You may require up to eight sessions to remove professionally-done tattoos, whereas four to six sessions may be required for amateur ones.

The exact number of sessions needed depends on the colour and size of the tattoo, and the amount and depth of ink pigments. Red inks and dark colour tattoos such as blue or black are usually easier to remove. Orange and purple usually fade also. Fluorescent colours, green and yellow inks are the most difficult to remove, and additional treatments are necessary to have good results. Greater than 90% fading of the tattoo may be accomplished.

However, you must realise that there are various types of tattoo ink, none of which is FDA approved. Not knowing which tattoo ink was used, or how deeply it was applied, makes it very difficult for your aesthetic doctor to accurately predict the degree of removal on any given tattoo.

The Nd:YAG laser emits light in very short pulses. The impact of the energy pulse of a laser beam is similar to the sensation of the snapping of a rubber band on your skin. To reduce discomfort during the procedure, your doctor’s assistant will apply some topical numbing cream to the tattooed area for at least half an hour prior to treatment. There is usually some degree of redness and mild swelling after the procedure. Pinpoint bleeding may be present.

You should exactly follow your doctor’s instructions as to what to do during the days following the procedure. You should keep the lasered area clean and apply sunscreen over it. Try to avoid excessive sun exposure to the lasered skin. You may shower as usual, but the treated area should never be scrubbed. If a scab forms, it is important not to pick on it to prevent any infection or scarring.

Tattoo removal can be time-consuming as multiple visits to the doctor may be required. It is costly and discomfort may be present. Scarring is a possible side effect, and complete removal cannot be guaranteed. Therefore, I always advice my friends and family to think twice (or 100 times) before they make their way to the tattoo parlour.

> For further information, e-mail The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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