For thousands of years, tattoos have been an integral (and permanent) part of cultures across the world. From the tattoos found on Otzi, a five thousand year old mummified body found in the Alps through to the latest tribal and Celtic designs, tattoos are not only a fashion statement, but also a personal choice to make a permanent mark on the skin. The permanence of tattoos has always been an issue - what happens if you decide the 'witty' statement on your skin is no longer either funny or relevant to you several years later?
Fortunately, tattoos are now no longer as permanent as they used to be, thanks to the development of tattoo removal, and in particular, laser tattoo removal. Now, tattoos that have become more of an embarrassment (such as an ex-girlfriend's name) or are poor quality and now-fuzzy smudges of black ink can be removed completely, without having to go back to a tattoo artist for a 'cover up job'.
Laser tattoo removal has come a long way in the last few years and is now available at a much lower cost than when it was first introduced to the public. Lasers work by producing short pulses of intense light that passes harmlessly through the outer layers of the skin, but is absorbed by the tattoo pigment. The energy produced by the laser causes the pigment to fragment into smaller particles. These particles are then naturally removed by the immune system and flushed out of the body. After some time, the tattoo fades and eventually disappears completely.
Does it hurt?
Laser tattoo removal could be described as uncomfortable, but if you've sat through the actual process of having the tattoo put into your skin, the discomfort of laser tattoo removal could be considered to be comparable to the initial tattoo process itself. It has been likened to being pinged with a rubber band, so the discomfort is certainly bearable. The process only takes a few minutes, but repeated processes will be required to remove the tattoo completely. Laser tattoo removal is usually preceded by the application of an anaesthetic cream to dull the sensation and reduce discomfort. Once the area has been prepared, the laser directs pulses of light onto the tattoo, breaking up the pigment. Over the following weeks, the body's scavenger cells remove the residue and flush it out of your system. There may be some initial reddening of the skin around the treated area, but the overall skin condition is not affected adversely by laser treatment, as long as it is carried out by a professional.
Alternatives to laser tattoo removal
There are tattoo removal creams available which claim to be able to remove tattoos without the need for laser treatment. However, most of these are ineffective. They claim to slough off skin cells layer by layer, but as the tattoo pigmentation is initially placed deep under the surface of the skin, they rarely if ever reach the pigmentation itself. Creams tend to be expensive and many have reported disappointing results with even the most expensive makes. Other alternatives such as dermabrasion and even cutting the tattoo out of the skin can damage the skin and lead to permanent scarring.
Obviously, the first course of action is to be absolutely sure that the tattoo you want is one that you will be happy to live with for the rest of your life. If you do have a tattoo and you want it removed, the next thing to do is to discuss your requirements with a specialist in laser tattoo removal. They will be able to tell you if you are suitable for laser treatment and talk you through the process before you make a final decision.