Did you know that I don’t have a single piercing or tattoo? People are always surprised when I tell them I don’t even have my ears pierced, and my friends never remember so I’ve received earrings as birthday gifts more often than I can count. For me, piercings are off limits purely because of my fear of pain. Tattoos on the other hand, while I definitely fear the pain of getting one I also fear that I wouldn’t like what I get after a few years (or decades). I think Tattoos on young skin look amazing, but what happens as I get older, saggier, wrinklier? I don’t feel comfortable getting a tattoo until I think tattoo removal is a viable option, so I thought I should actually look into it.
I have lots of friends with amazing tattoos, some of them got them as teenagers and despite the 20 years that have passed they still look amazing. However, I feel that knowing my luck I would get something that would age terribly. Would tattoo removal be an option for me? Is the technology advanced enough to really remove every last trace? I asked Dr. Mary Dingley, a leading specialist in cosmetic injectables and laser technology, to tell me what I need to know about tattoo removal.
Think before you ink
It always takes more time, effort and money to remove a tattoo than to put one on. Therefore, think VERY carefully before getting one in the first place. Do you want the tattoo in an area where it can be seen every day? Is that person’s name always going to be as meaningful as it is now? Will the tattoo affect your employment prospects? Will future life partners regard it in the same light? Will it be as good an idea in 10 years time as it seems right now?
Make sure you see an experienced and reputable doctor about tattoo removal
There are some different options for tattoo removal. In some cases, especially if you have been allergic to the tattoo ink, a doctor may recommend that it be cut out. For most people, laser tattoo removal is advisable. These lasers are very high-powered and must be operated by trained and experienced personnel. You may need a local anaesthetic and procedures should be performed in clean environs. In some states, licences are required to own and operate these lasers but in many, eg NSW, anyone can use a laser. Hopefully, there will be national regulations soon.
No single laser can remove all colours of ink
Black is usually the easiest colour to remove but some colours, like blue and green, may require an alexandrite laser whereas red may require an Nd:YAG laser. If you have a multicoloured tattoo, you may need to see a doctor who has more than 1 type of tattoo removal laser or you may need to go to more than 1 clinic. Words to look for when searching for the right type of laser include: picosecond and Q-switched. Do NOT let your beauty therapist try an IPL on your tattoo! Cosmetic tattoos, such as lipliner, or skin-coloured camouflage tattoo and white tattoos will paradoxically darken when exposed to tattoo removal lasers. So, if you don’t like your eyeliner tattoo, consult a doctor about laser removal BEFORE your cosmetic tattooist tries to mask it with lighter colours.
There is new laser technology for tattoo removal!
New technology has been developed which uses even shorter pulses of light to fragment the ink particles. The PicoSure laser produces pulses of light in the picosecond range which is 100 times shorter than the prior comparable Q-switched laser produced. Ink in the skin is fractured into smaller particles more easily and without producing so much heat as a by-product. This means the procedure has less undesired effect on the surrounding normal skin and the best bit – fewer treatments are needed! Generally, half the number of treatments, or fewer, are required compared to the prior technology.
Protect your skin from the sun
Inflamed skin forms pigment more readily when exposed to the sun. If you are having laser treatment to remove a tattoo, the last thing you want is a tattoo-shaped brown mark replacing your ink. Also, lasers for tattoo removal may remove sun damage spots and background pigment which could create a paler area. While these issues may be temporary for most people, they can be frustrating when you really want to get rid of any mark reminding you of your undesired tattoo.
About Dr Mary Dingley
Dr Mary Dingley has been practising cosmetic medicine since 1987. As a veteran of the industry she has seen the remarkable growth of the field, both in terms of numbers of practitioners as well as types of procedures performed.
Dr Dingley is a member and past President of the Cosmetic Physicians’ Society of Australasia and is an advisor to government bodies on issues such as laser safety, training, cosmetic medicine and medicolegal issues generally. She served as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery from 2007 to 2013. Dr Dingley is the cosmetic medicine practitioner to the All About Acne resource group and is on Avant’s panel of experts for cosmetic and laser medicine.
Dr Dingley has spoken and demonstrated both nationally and internationally on topics such as fillers and laser technology.
Do you have any tattoos? Have you thought about tattoo removal? Let me know by commenting below!