Dennis Rodman did a lot to popularize the body of the illustrated man, but now that he's off the court, Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James, their bulging biceps blackened with immense ink designs, are the poster boys for the tattoo industry.
Rodman, O'Neal and James are among the 40 million American men and women who sport tattoos inked in an estimated 20,000 tattoo parlors across the county.
Yes, tattooing is big business, but so is removing tattoos, as more and more people opt to fade a former spouse's name or that butterfly they acquired while in college or the insignia they sat for while in the military or the gang symbols they've outgrown.
Tattoo regret, as it's called, is so common that these days it's estimated that half of the Americans with tattoos now want them removed.
The method considered the most effective in erasing the ink is laser tattoo removal. In its most basic form, the laser is a device that uses concentrated light to pass through the upper layer of skin to the dermis. Short pulses of light fragment the ink into tiny particles that the body naturally expels. Different lights are used for different ink colors. Black ink is the easiest to remove; green, blue, red, and other colors require more laser pulses.
Laser tattoo removal occurs over time, with between one and 10 sessions being the norm. The number of sessions depends on the following characteristics of the tattoo to be removed: size, color, type of ink and age. The sessions typically are conducted by dermatologists, but many states now allow nurses to perform laser treatments.
Laser tattoo removal is so popular that an estimated 100,000 Americans undergo the treatment each year, but it is not without its drawbacks, namely cost and pain.
Laser tattoo removal is expensive. The average cost per treatment session typically ranges between $200 and $500, but because multiple sessions are required, the total cost to remove one tattoo can be as high as $10,000, depending on the size and colors of the tattoo and the expertise of the physician.
Laser tattoo removal is considered cosmetic surgery and, thus, is not covered by medical insurance. Some physicians do, however, offer payment plans and financing options.
Although lasers are considered the best tattoo removal method, the treatments are more painful than the tattooing process itself. To minimize the pain, physicians sometimes apply a topical anesthetic ointment on the tattoo several hours before treatment or they may inject a local anesthetic into the tattoo.
Perhaps the best news besides its effectiveness in removing tattoos is the fact that few side effects are associated with laser tattoo removal. There may be some blistering and scabbing, but both usually disappear within two weeks. Largely because of recent advances in laser technology, scarring, which once was a problem, is now rare.