Increasingly, plastic surgeons are seeing patients who have “regret tattoos” that they would like removed. Invariably, those patients point to that one occasion when, in a youthful indiscretion, they decided to tattoo something on their body to commemorate their 18th birthday. Or they memorialized a relationship with their partner’s name on their body. Many years later, as the tattoo fades or the romantic relationship is a distant memory, patients are unhappy with the permanent reminder brought on by that tattoo. They then begin to explore tattoo removal, which in the past has been very expensive and not very successful. In some cases patients have altered the tattoo by having a tattoo artist blend a second tattoo on top of the original one. But ridding oneself of the tattoo completely remains the gold standard.
The good news about tattoo removal is that great progress has been made in laser technology over the last 5 years. Previously tattoo removal required a laborious process involving up to a dozen treatments that often left scars and were unable to remove the tattoo completely. Today’s ultra fast “pico” lasers allow for tattoo removal at lower energy levels and with fewer total treatment sessions.
A pico second is one trillionth of a second. This ultra fast pulse is what allows the targeted wavelength from the laser to shatter the tattoo in to very tiny particles that are then absorbed by the body’s natural processes. Some colors, like red and yellow, are notoriously more difficult to remove. All tattoos will require a series of treatments, but in the end, there is much better resolution of the tattoo than with the previous nanosecond lasers that were available in the market.
Of course, some tattoos are removed by plastic surgeons in the course of an operation. A tummy tuck, for example, can remove a tattoo as part of the planned removal of lower abdomen skin. But most tattoos are not in the lower abdomen. Those located in the back, arms, buttocks and legs need the new laser technology for removal. Because every tattoo has different colors, having a laser that can treat a wide spectrum of colors is important. A consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist with expertise in laser tattoo removal is a good way to start.