The barbed wire bicep. The so-called tramp stamp. How about your boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s name? Millions of us love our tattoos, but life and circumstances and people change. And sometimes that means the body art we had inscribed on our various body parts needs to change… or disappear altogether.
By John Hammarley
THE ONLY CONSTANT IN LIFE IS CHANGE ….
We don’t forget our first love, but who wants to be reminded of their ex’s everyday? Johnny Depp’s solution: he turned his Winona tattoo into Wino. That’s one way to deal with people who literally get under, and onto, your skin. Tattoo artists say they are often asked to rework old tattoos to obscure names, but if you’re really intent on a clean slate, other options exist. Be warned, however, few are cheap, most are painful, and none guarantee complete success.
A LOT DEPENDS ON WHO DID THE ‘TAT IN THE FIRST PLACE
Dr. William P. Adams, Jr., a Dallas-based plastic surgeon, says it’s easier (and more effective) to remove a tattoo if it was first administered by a professional tattoo artist. The dyes used as well as how they’re delivered makes a big difference if and when it comes to removing the tattooed image.
BRACE YOURSELF… IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE
If you thought getting the tattoo was painful, brace yourself. Even with a topical anesthetic, laser tattoo removal is more painful, and the process typically requires six to eight treatments, if not more, over the course of at least as many months to give skin time to heal between each procedure. The price of removal is based on the size of the tattoo, but it’s not cheap. A tattoo that cost less than $100 could cost thousands to remove.
CAN TATTOOS AND PLASTIC SURGERY PROCEDURES CO-EXIST?
Dr. Brad Calobrace, a plastic surgeon in Louisville, KY., says when he has a tattooed patient who’s come in for some type of plastic surgery procedure, he has to consider several factors. Can he completely remove the tattoo? If he’s partially going to alter the image, how can he best accomplish that? If you are considering both a plastic surgery treatment AND a tattoo removal, plastic surgeons recommend you wait until after your surgery to start your removal process.
SUCCESS IN A TUBE? BEWARE
Some say the easiest, most affordable (but probably least effective) tattoo removal process comes in a tube. All tattoos fade to some degree over time if exposed to sunlight. Topical creams aim to speed and maximize fading by bringing the tattooed layer of skin closer to the surface and prevent the pigment from spreading to new layers of skin.
After extensive product testing, the Tattoo Removal Association ranked Tat-Med, Profade, Wrecking Balm, Tat B Gone and Tattoo Fading (in that order) as the most effective and safest products on the market. But watch out. Many of these creams contain harmful chemicals, such as Hydroquinone (a carcinogen that has been banned in a number of countries) and Trichloroacetic Acid, which literally burns off layers of skin.
Both Drs. Adams and Calobrace say using several different lasers, with different strengths, is the best way to remove tattoos. Black, blue, and red colors are the easiest to disperse while yellow and green have staying power that makes them harder to eliminate.
In 2007, New York-based company Freedom2 produced a new tattoo ink made of smaller molecules encased in polymers that could be dissolved and dispersed completely after just one laser treatment. The product, called Infinitink, hasn’t really caught on yet by tattoo artists, however, who prefer to think of their art as permanent.