Think Before You Ink: The Truth About Tattoo Removal

Tattoo

Maybe it’s because I’m a dermatologist, but there’s one thing I’m certain about when it comes to tattoos: Many people who have them wish that there was an easy way to remove them.

A recent survey from England shows that close to 1/3 of people end up regretting their tattoos and that men are twice as likely as women to suffer such regret.

The first thing to realize about tattoos is that the ink is placed in the dermis, which is the deeper layer of the skin. The dermis is where all the connective tissue lies that make up the structure of your skin. It is also the layer of skin that leaves a scar if damaged. Superficial damage to your skin can typically heal with little or no residual mark. However, when the deeper layers of the skin are damaged, the tissue cannot repair itself without leaving a scar. This is an important point to consider before getting a tattoo.

Because the ink is deep in the skin, there is no cream or ointment that can get rid of a tattoo without leaving a scar. Although there are no shortage of websites claiming to remove your unwanted tattoo by applying their special cream or ointment, I know of none that is effective. It is not possible to bleach the pigment down deep without damaging the skin at the surface. Chemical treatments or acids that claim to get rid of tattoos could only do so by leaving a significant scar, like a third degree burn.

Lasers tattoo removal works best. It can eliminate a tattoo by targeting the pigment. Since different lasers target different ink colors, they can more effectively blast the tiny ink fragments.. The blast and destruction of the ink triggers your immune system to come in and clean up the spots, carrying the ink with it. Because the laser targets only the color, it is able to treat the tattoo that is deep in your skin while leaving the surface of your skin undamaged. Professional tattoos tend to use a higher quality ink in higher quantities, which makes complete tattoo removal difficult. Therefore, realize that oftentimes a shadow of the tattoo remains even after extensive or repeated laser treatments.

Newer tattoo inks have been developed that are engineered specifically to be good targets for the laser. The laser is more easily able destroy these pigments, and the tattoo can be removed entirely, without any residual color. You might want to ask your tattoo artist about this ink before you get your tattoo.

If you decide to remove your tattoo, then make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist who has experience with laser tattoo removal. Realize that different color inks require different lasers; black and red inks are easier to remove. Most patients need several treatments over a period of months to fully remove a tattoo, depending on the color and size of the tattoo and your skin color.

Keep in mind that laser tattoo removal is timely and expensive. Treatment sessions can be several hundred dollars each, and most people need several sessions over the course of many months. Even so, some tattoos are never completely removed.

So, please, think before you ink. It could save you a lot of time and money if the day comes when you no longer want it.

Photo credit: FCC, Jhong Dizon

Is Laser Hair Removal Safe?

Yes. Laser hair removal is a common and effective way to permanently remove hair. It is safe, but remember these tips:

  1. Hair removal lasers target the pigment in hair (that’s how they work). Hair lasers can damage darker or pigmented skin as the laser will target both the hair and the skin, burning it. This can lead to permanent skin discoloration.
  2. Tanned skin is dark skin, and laser hair removal should never be done on people with a tan.
  3. Laser hair treatments hurt. Some people find it too painful, while others don’t mind it. Numbing creams can lessen the sting; however, they can only be used in small amounts. Large quantities of numbing cream can be toxic and has led to death in extreme circumstances.
  4. The light from the laser can be damaging to your eyes. Be sure you’re wearing approved safety glasses at all times.
  5. Laser hair removal can be additive – once you’ve treated one area, you might want to treat lots of other “hairy spots” which can be harmful to your wallet.
Photo: Sean Drellinger, Flickr

Cellulite: What Is It? How Can You Treat It?

Spring is here. You can finally stop salting your icy sidewalk and start focusing on summer issues, like cellulite.

What is cellulite?

It’s the dimpling and nodularity that occurs in women on the thighs, pelvis and abdomen. Cellulite is the result of fat pouching out of holes in the connective tissue on the skin. It occurs in 98% of girls and women post puberty. That’s right. Essentially all females have cellulite. It is a normal characteristic of sexually mature women.

Here’s what cellulite is not:

  • Cellulite is not fat. It is the appearance of the superficial fat held loosely beneath the skin. The fat is held more tightly in men which is why we do not develop cellulite.
  • Obesity doesn’t cause cellulite. Look around and you will see that skinny women have cellulite (in real life anyway).
  • Cellulite is not an accumulation of toxins or fluids; it is normal fat.

How Can You Get Rid of Cellulite?

The best treatments for cellulite have at most shown mild improvements in the appearance. Unfortunately, in almost all cases, the improvements are not maintained over time. This is because it is hard to change the loose connective fibers under the skin, which are the primary cause.

  • Weight loss can improve cellulite, but not always. Losing weight can make the skin sag, and weight loss has been shown to actually worsen the appearance of cellulite in some women.
  • Endermologie is a kneading system (like my grandmother would knead the pizza dough). Although there is some evidence it can reduce thigh circumference, how long the effects last is questionable.
  • Liposuction removes fat through suction. It is not a good treatment for cellulite because the fat is too superficial. Liposuction combined with a laser to treat cellulite sounds interesting, but has not been shown to work better than ordinary liposuction.
  • Subcision, which targets the connective tissue bands by snipping them, is a great idea, but in practice has not been shown to be very effective. There is some concern that snipping the connective fibers might actually make the fat looser, worsening the problem.
  • Mesotherapy is the injection of medications under the skin to dissolve the fat. Although it has worked for some, the results are unpredictable and can cause adverse side effects such as bruising or pain.
  • Radiofrequency treatments like TriActive or VelaSmooth generate heat under the skin damaging the fat and connective tissue, hopefully smoothing the cellulite. Improvements have been reported, but no long term efficacy has been demonstrated.
  • Herbal creams have been studied and had no effect on cellulite. It is unlikely that any topical treatment can penetrate far enough down and be potent enough to have any effect.
  • Diet has no effect on cellulite.
  • It is possible that regular exercise can improve the circulation of cellulite areas, improving the appearance, but no studies have shown that it has a significant impact. Work out because it is good for you, but stop looking at your behind in the gym mirror.
  • There are some upcoming technologies that are promising. I’ll post about them later.

What Should You Do About Cellulite?

Because it is a normal occurence in women, it’s reasonable to simply tell yourself: “Hey, this is normal!” and stop killing yourself trying to eliminate it. Many women have been pleased with any of the above treatments, but they’re all expensive and likely all temporary. If it is worth spending $500 to have a 50% improvement in your cellulite, then make an appointment with your dermatologist or plastic surgeon to discuss your options.

Keep in mind that your friends or partner might not notice that your cellulite is 50% better (what does 50% better cellulite look like anyway?). If you’re worried that you might be featured in a magazine, don’t fret. You will receive the only known cure for cellulite: Photoshop.

Do you have cellulite? Have you tried to eliminate it? How successful was it?

Photo: Tassoman

Five Things You Should Know About Facial Redness

red-face-brent-and-marilynn

Despite its association with passion, love, and vibrancy the color red is not what most people want to see on their faces when they look in the mirror. Redness on your face develops from inflammation and from dilated tiny blood vessels right at the surface of your skin. Sometimes the redness can be sudden, whereas other times it can develop slowly over many years. Here are five things your should know about facial redness and what to do about it. Continue reading

Ten Things You Should Know About Laser Hair Removal

Laser Nova

Did you know that laser hair removal can take months to complete? That you cannot get laser hair removal if you have a tan? That laser hair removal can actually cause more hair growth? Here are 10 things you should know before getting your unwanted hair lasered off. Continue reading

How Do Hair Removal Lasers Work?

Summertime is nearly here and the lines are forming for last minute laser hair removal. Lasers are an effective way to permanently remove hair from underarms, legs, back, arms, chest, bikini area, and even faces. But how do they work? Continue reading

Coming Soon: At Home Laser Hair Removal

Hair removal is big business with sales in the billions of dollars. Now there is a new laser (currently undergoing FDA scrutiny) that will provide a safe way for women to do laser hair removal at home. Dr. Tina Alster conducted a study of 20 women who underwent treatment of underarm, forearm, bikini, and leg hair removal. The women had hair reduction of 40-75% after 3-4 treatments performed at 2-week intervals. The results were apparently better on the legs as compared to the underarms and bikini area.

The Silk’n hair removal device made by HomeSkinovations, Ltd. is expected to cost about $800 – similar to a laser hair treatment in a dermatologist’s office.