Body art can be a beautiful thing, but when tattooists get it wrong, the results can last forever. Even if a tattoo is done well, over time circumstances can dictate that the beholder no longer wants the tattoo, when it relates to a failed relationship, for example. Although it is possible to remove tattoos to some extent with laser surgery, the results are not always perfect. In many cases all that can be achieved is a fading of the tattoo.
Tattoo removal is most commonly performed using lasers that break down the ink particles. The broken-down ink is then absorbed by the body, mimicking the natural fading that time or sun exposure would create. Certain tattoo pigments, such as yellows, greens and fluorescent inks are more challenging to treat than darker blacks and blues because they have absorption spectra that fall outside or on the edge of the emission spectra available in the tattoo removal laser.
Complete laser tattoo removal requires numerous treatment sessions, typically spaced at least seven weeks apart. Treating more frequently increases the risk of adverse effects and does not necessarily increase the rate of ink absorption. Anecdotal reports of treatment sessions at four weeks suggest more scarring and dyschromia which can be a source of liability for clinicians. At each session, some but not all of the tattoo pigment particles are effectively fragmented and the body removes the smallest fragments over the course of several weeks. The result is that the tattoo is lightened over time. Remaining large particles of tattoo pigment are then targeted at subsequent treatment sessions, causing further lightening. The number of sessions and spacing between treatments depends on various parameters, including the area of the body treated and skin colour. Tattoos located on the extremities, such as the ankle, generally take longest. As tattoos fade clinicians may recommend that patients wait many months between treatments to facilitate ink resolution and minimise unwanted side effects.
Alison Johnson, senior associate in the cosmetic surgery team at Penningtons Manches LLP, says: ”Tattoo removal is clearly a time-consuming and complex clinical process and the results are not guaranteed. This is even more reason to think carefully before embarking on having a tattoo. There are a number of legal requirements a tattoo artist must meet and of course it is essential to check that the tattoo studio complies with the relevant regulations at the outset.”
These legal requirements are: