As tattooing has become more common, the demand for tattoo removal has increased. It is said that 36% of Americans have tattoos. It's difficult to know the percent of people who regret this decision, but the figures quoted online go from 25% up to 80+%. Despite these high numbers, only a small percentage actually get their tattoo removed. The primary reason for this is that tattoo removal takes a long time and is much more expensive than having a tattoo put on. It hasn't helped that there has been no significant advances in tattoo removal machines for many years. Now a recent publication suggests that it is possible to remove tattos much more quickly and less expensively.
In an article in the February Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers from Greece and Boston reported the results of the treatment of 18 tattoos. Each tattoo was divided in half, and one half was treated with traditional treatments, while the second half was treated with 4 traditional treatments on the same day, with each treatment separated by 20 minute intervals. The repeated treatments were associated with increased pain, sometimes requiring local anesthesia.
The multiply treated sides were lighter after the treatment, and in most the tattoo disappeared in 6-10 weeks. In none of the traditionally tattoos did the tattoo disappear completely. With the new method 5 of 8 (63%) of professional tattoos and 6 of 7 amateur tattoos (86%) cleared completely.
Areas that had been tattoed more than once did not respond as well, and darker skin types and more dense tattoo pigment were associated with more pain. There were no increased side effects associated with the multiple treatments.
Although the study involved a small number of patients it seems very likely that this will open the door to tattoo removal for many who found it impractical before.
Gerald N. Bock MD
California Skin and Laser Center
Stockton & Lodi, CA