Since two thousand years before Christ, marking your skin with symbols has been part of the human beings’ life. Tattooing has once been used to identify who the bad guys were or to embellish the most powerful castes. It’s also been used to join tribes of the same kind and to keep enemies away, as well as to avoid battles. And that’s not all: tattoos have also been used in order to distinguish each person’s preferences and possible flaws.

The thing is that today tattooing has gained many adherents (of all ages). Big or small, the tattoo, for most people, carries a meaning. The whole idea is leaving a mark, be it to honor someone or to make a special moment eternal. I, for instance, had one done to pay a homage to my family.

zlatanibrahimovic-cropped_11tp0fvhxp6af10v236zwfe8zwThe problem is when the design, for some reason, doesn’t make sense anymore in our life. I’m sure you’ve read and heard many stories about people who had their boyfriend/girlfriend’s name tattooed to just break up afterwards, right?

Or maybe some sentences that meant something at the time. The whole point is: how can you remove that from your skin? In the past, that was not an easy task. But things have changed a lot today.

Old Techniques

Although there are many more advanced procedures out there for the general public (I’ll talk about it below), there are other very interesting options, depending on each case.

tecnicas-antigas“The cryosurgery, for example, is the use of extreme cold in the region where the tattoo is using liquid nitrogen – the cells die and the pigment fades away. That is a painful alternative that could leave a scar”, explains Ana Lúcia Recio, a dermatologist and member of the Brazilian Society of Dermatology (BSD), of the Brazilian Society of Dermatologic Surgery (BSDS) and of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

The dermabrasion procedure, on the other hand, is a technique in which the region of the tattoo is sanded. It’s very popular for removing acne scars but that can work very well for removing tattoos as well. “And in case the tattoo is small, a microsurgery could be taken into consideration”, adds Ana Lúcia.

As for possible scars, the dermatologist states that will depend on the technique chosen. Cryosurgery and dermabrasion can lead to fibrosis (characterized by pale hairless skin), as if you had suffered burns.

Laser

14 Aug 2009, Wiesbaden, Hesse, GERMANY:DEU --- The effects of a strong laser device on a tattoo, Wiesbaden, Germany, 14 August 2009. Meanwhile these laser devices usually allow scar-free and kind-to-the-skin removal of tattoos. Altering social standards and tastes may at times collide with once fashionable types of body art, demanding removal or other kinds of modification of the latter. Photo: Fredrik von Erichsen --- Image by © A3778 Fredrik von Erichsen/dpa/Corbis

Other than the two procedures mentioned, there’s also the new technique called Q-switched – or Q-switch –. “They’re lasers that concentrate great amounts of energy in pulses in nanoseconds. Such laser pulses produce a mechanic effect that breaks the cells that contain the tattoo pigment to be eliminated by our organism”, says Fernando Macedo, a dermatologist and director of the Brazilian Society of Dermatologic Surgery (BSDS).

More particularly, the procedure is split into two “sectors”. The first is Q-switched Ruby Laser, which removes the dark pigments. “Other than the dark colors, the Q-switched ND YAG removes colors like blue, yellowish, orange and red”, points Ana Lúcia.

Now the “Q-switched Alexandrite” removes green and dark pigments as well. All the methods act in nanoseconds and are considered by the professionals I interviewed to be the fastest in the market. Of course the technique is much more costly than the two others mentioned, but here chances of scar formation are really slim.

“It’s also important to highlight that all the colors can be removed from the skin, being white the most difficult one, followed by yellow and red” warns Luni Freire, a functional dermatologist and director at Corpus de Lune Clinic, in Rio de Janeiro.

She has also told me that the full removal of black tattoos done until 5 years before by a skilled tattoo artist takes, in average, 10 sessions. For tattoos that go back a long time or amateurish ones, more sessions could be required. Plus, the colorful ones are definitely harder to get removed and in such case an average of 15 sessions may be needed.

Ana Lúcia explains that when the tattoo is done by a professional, its removal is usually easier, since the pigment is deposited on its surface. As opposed to that, tattoos done by beginners or amateurs could be complex to remove in case the quality of the ink isn’t very good. “The skin could get stained if the ink contains iron in its composition. After the laser therapy, it’s necessary to wash the area twice a day as well as cover it, if needed”, she adds.

Before and After

Man with tattoos looking at the camera

Just like any aesthetic procedure, some pre and post care should be followed to the letter. “We must always consider the colors and the size of the tattoo to estimate the length of the treatment. It’s important to also take into consideration the regions: Arms, hands and fingers tend to be harder to deal with. And more: avoid sun exposure before and after the treatment”, Ana Lúcia instructs. Sun exposure is recommended just after 15 days.

Luni Freire tells me that before starting her sessions she always sanitizes the area and after it’s finished she cools the place down in order to make the laser application more comfortable.

According to Daniel Dziabas, a dermatologist in São Paulo and official member of BSD, in general, an anesthetic cream or injectable anesthesia is applied before the laser application. After that, he recommends applying an emollient/scar ointment/cream, which should be prescribed by the dermatologist.

And if you’re wondering if it is possible to have another tattoo done on the same place, yes, it is. Though it’s necessary to wait at least 60 to 90 days so that the inflammatory process is over and the skin isn’t, therefore, sensitive anymore.

No more Bad Memories

Well, now we know that technology has been advancing a lot and that it is possible to eliminate that tattoo you have today that reminds you of something unpleasant. But, my suggestion goes beyond that. Think well before having a tattoo done: it should be something to be remembered.

f9f5fe2451254eb1aea1b23a3851db44Don’t tattoo anything you’re not sure about. Besides that, forget about the idea of sharing a tattoo with someone you love. It’s pointless! Trust me on this. But if it’s done, here go the techniques. Now you know there is a solution.