A New Way to Play Taps for Your Tattoo

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Not so long ago Chris Opfer told about the burgeoning business of tattoo removal fueled in equal parts by inky remorse and spiffy technology like the “Q-Switched” laser.  As Opfer explained:

The laser makes removal less painful than harsh previous techniques like dermabrasion and salabrasion (scrubbing ink out with sandpaper and salt) or simply cutting out the tattoo and sewing the skin back together.

A dermatologist he quoted described the process as “uncomfortable, but tolerable.”

Tolerable, that is, if it works. A new study in the Archives of Dermatology, reports that successful removal is ultimately dependent on variables like the size of the tattoo (smaller, as you might guess, is better), the presence of and density of colors other than black and red (if you’re wavering, stay away from yellow and blue), how old the tattoo is (hopefully your remorse came within three years of being tatted), where the tattoo is located on your body, and whether or not you smoke (I refuse to explain which is better).

There's hope. (Credit: Flickr Creative Commons)

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So what’s a nicotine-stained old campaigner with a sunset-over-the-ocean on their legs to do? Look to even newer technology, of course. Q-switched lasers have been toiling at the dermatologist's since the 1980s, after all, while the “picosecond alexandrite laser”—which fires even shorter bursts of concentrated light to break up the ink lodged in your skin—looks like the looming gold standard of removal.

The new laser’s maiden tests between 2009 and 2011 are presented in the current issue of the Archives. Of the 15 patients in the trial, 12 returned for follow-up interviews and of that dozen, all had “tattoo clearance of greater than 75 percent.” According to the researchers led by Dr. Nazanin Saedi, the treatment hurts but not unbearably so – “minimal subsequent downtime,” as the paper reads. While the study was funded in part by a maker of cosmetic lasers, a number of recent studies on critters like Guinea pigs and Yorkshire sows suggest that newer, faster-pulse lasers will indeed improve tattoo removal.

Someday the old saw that “true love is forever, but a tattoo is a day longer” may no longer ring true.

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