Tattoo regret isn’t entirely unheard of. In fact, many people might have second thoughts after deciding to get inked. Reasons vary: sometimes it’s the name of a former partner, a sentimental image which no longer has meaning (or has become a bit corny) or merely something the individual no longer likes the look of. All the same, it’s not strange for people to change their minds after getting a tattoo.
However, the methods people adopt in doing this can vary. One popular choice is to simply tattoo something else over the unwanted mark. This way, you almost “upcycle” your outdated and/or offensive tattoo. It requires another trip to the tattoo artist and going under the needle again, but for many people who really want to get rid of a tattoo, this is a small price to pay. In fact, a show has been built around this premise. Tattoo Fixers, which airs on British broadcaster Channel 4, features tattoo artists who help members of the public transform old tattoos into fresh designs.
Another approach is to remove the tattoo itself, without replacing it with something else. The common way this is done is through the use of lasers. The lasers used in this process break down the ink particles embedded in the skin – these create the tattoo. By breaking down these particles, the ink is then absorbed into the skin and causes the tattoo to naturally fade with time. Some colours are harder to get rid of than others – for instance, yellows, greens, pastels and fluorescent inks are harder to erase than black and blue – and this process can require multiple visits to ensure total removal.
The problem some people have with this is that the lasers hurt. It really hurts. Being zapped again and again is not fun. Also, some treatments can leave scars, depending on the affected area and how thin the skin is. This raises a quandary for many who would like to remove a tattoo and don’t want to simply cover it with another image. Do they want to endure the painful process of laser removal, or simply live with their tattoo.
Enter Alec Falkenham, a PhD student in Pathology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He came up with a different solution – tattoo removal cream. The lotion he devised targets macrophages – the white blood cells which consume the ink. Falkenham explains how they work and why they are the prime target of his cream.
“Macrophages are known as the big eaters of the immune system. They eat foreign material, like tattoo pigment, to protect the surrounding tissue.”
The cream capitalizes on this process because it is made up of liposomes which then attract the macrophages that seek to “eat” them. By draining the liposomes from the affected area, the macrophages will also drain the ink and carry these substances to the lymph nodes, away from the tattooed area. This means the appearance of the tattoo will fade over time, but after a process far less painful than laser treatment.
Falkenham explained that this process is more efficient, less painful (in fact, potentially painless) and provides a better result by being more targeted since only ink-filled cells are affected. The promise of a painless way to reverse a decision one regrets is pretty alluring, but Falkenham’s technology – though patented – has not been released to the market as it is still being tested and is yet to be approved by the FDA.
The thing about good ideas, though, is that many people are usually thinking about them. The Falkenham cream isn’t the only lotion trying to crack painless tattoo removal. However, not everyone is going through the same due diligence to ensure that such creams meet commercial and safety standards. One woman found this out the hard way.