People get tattoos for many reasons; these could be cultural, personal, a decision made on a whim, or simply because they like a design.
With tattoos becoming more mainstream and so many tattoo parlours popping up, tattooing has been growing in popularity.
Just as the many reasons people get tattoos, there are just as many reasons why people may want to have them removed.
These may be due to regret, poor workmanship, fading tattoos, or even a requirement of a new job.
Of course, although tattoos are permanent, this is only to a certain extent.
They can be removed, but whether or not complete removal is possible very much depends on the tattoo.
Various techniques have been employed to remove tattoos over the years, including covering the tattoo with another skin-coloured tattoo (i.e. a cover-up tattoo), surgical excision and laser removal.
Generally, experts agree that laser removal is probably the most successful way to remove tattoos.
It is generally done using either the Q-switched laser or the newer Pico laser.
These lasers send out energy in one strong pulse, which shatters the tattoo ink inside your skin to dissolve it.
The two lasers do work in slightly different ways.
With Q-switched lasers, the pulse of energy heats up the ink in your skin, causing it to shatter (photothermal effect), while with the newer Pico lasers, the energy pulses are delivered very rapidly (in trillionths of a second), causing the tiny pigment particles in the ink to vibrate and shatter without burning the surrounding tissue.
The older the tattoo is, the easier it is to remove.
Amateur “stick and poke” tattoos are also more easily removed.
Colours are another factor.
Typically, dark colours such as black, dark blue, green and brown are easy to remove, while colourful tattoos are more difficult to remove, as they usually require treatment with different lasers and wavelengths to be effective.
Also, the closer the colour of the tattoo is to your skin, the more difficult it becomes to have it removed.
The best candidates for laser tattoo removal are those with lighter skin and dark-coloured tattoos.
Due to the risk of side effects, people with darker skin or who have pre-existing skin conditions such as keloids and eczema, may find tattoo removal more complicated.
Before the procedure begins, numbing cream is usually applied to the tattooed skin, then the laser is targeted at the pigmented parts of the skin.
Treatment typically feels like someone snapping a rubber band onto your skin, followed by a hot and stinging sensation in the treated area.
Following treatment, the skin may bleed, blister and swell, hence it is important that aftercare such as applying an antibacterial ointment, regular changing of the wound dressing, and avoiding sun and outdoor activities, is followed carefully.
The process is repeated over multiple sessions, usually six to eight weeks apart until the client is happy with the extent to which their tattoo has faded.
There are possible risks to the procedure, which were higher with the older Q-switched laser.
These include scarring, developing permanent white spots in the area of treatment and darkening of skin in the surrounding area.
The possibility of these happening have decreased with the newer Pico lasers, but they are still not zero.
To reduce your risk of scarring, do not pick at the area until it heals, try to stay out of the sun, and follow your doctor’s instructions and recommendations.
If lasers are not able to remove the tattoo, then the only sure-fire method of completely removing the tattoo is to undergo a surgical removal, also called an excision tattoo removal.
It involves cutting off the tattooed skin and stitching the remaining skin back together.
This will leave a scar and is usually recommended only for small tattoos.
Tattoos are a common, yet permanent body decoration.
It is important to consider carefully before tattooing in the first place, as removal of the tattoo is a much longer and arduous journey than getting the tattoo itself.
Dr Kwan Yuan Dong is a general practitioner with an interest in aesthetic medicine in Singapore. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and should not be considered as medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this article. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.