With Tattoo Removal often in the spotlight following the break-up of celebrity marriages, John Pereira - Consultant Plastic Surgeon at McIndoe Surgical Centre, East Grinstead - gives us an insight into what can be achieved and expected when needing a tattoo removed.
I frequently see patients in my outpatient clinic requesting tattoo removal. The commonest problem is a change of partner requiring removal of a name or birthdate tattoo, but a change in employment or simply a change of fashion can cause people to regret the decision that was made to have a tattoo.
Several options exist when it comes to removing tattoos and all should be discussed with a patient before one method is chosen and treatment commences. The size of the tattoo, its location, the colour and the cost of treatment all influence a patient’s treatment choice. So what are the options:
- Do nothing – accept that no removal method is perfect and decide to cover the tattoo with clothing – easy in some areas and tricky in others!
- Ask your tattoo artist if the offending name can be disguised in another tattoo – this can work very well at times.
- Cosmetic Camouflage – The Red Cross runs courses to help people learn how to most effectively cover birthmarks and other blemishes like tattoos.
- LASER treatment – this requires several different wavelength LASERs and often multiple visits to fade or remove the tattoo. Patients considering this should look carefully into the realistic outcome of treatment – ask to see pictures from the clinic of tattoos of the same colours that they want removed. Remember a course of treatment is usually required with a charge each time. Attend only established clinics with multiple wavelength LASERs and experienced operators.
- Tattoo Erase is a newer modality whereby a natural chemical is tattooed over the original tattoo. The skin scabs and the scab peels off taking with it the underlying pigment. This is repeated around every 8 weeks until all the pigment is gone. The colour of the remaining skin may be altered and there may be some scarring.
- Surgery – This can be the quickest and cheapest method of removing small tattoos, usually performed as an outpatient local anaesthetic procedure. Larger tattoos may need a skin graft to cover the area once it has been removed. Whilst this obviously leaves a significant scar it is a one stop procedure that appeals to many and can be explained away as the result of an accident if anyone asks.
My personal opinion is that no treatment is guaranteed to remove a tattoo without trace. Patients therefore have to have an idea of what will be left behind after treatment. Surgery will usually leave a linear scar if the tattoo is small enough to cut out and stitch closed, LASER may lighten some tattoos but still leave them readable – a disappointment if you wanted a name removed! Tattoo erase usually removes the pigment of a tattoo but often leaves some scar tissue in the shape of the original tattoo. Take your time to decide which treatment is most acceptable to you and research all costs up front so there are no surprises part way through treatment.
For more information call 0800 917 4922 or visit www.mcindoesurgical.co.uk