As tattoos grow in popularity, so does removal process (Video)


Aug. 17, 2013 at 3:17 a.m.
Updated Aug. 18, 2013 at 3:18 a.m.

With bright pink stress balls clutched in hand and tanning goggles protecting her eyes, Paige Stringo set off for the second round of a treatment to reverse a youthful indiscretion.

The registered nurse was 21 when she had a smiling Mickey Mouse inked above her right ankle. Now, at 42, she wants it off.

"I'm a mom and an RN - a professional," she said. "Some people judge you - they really do - when they see you have a tattoo."

Stringo is part of a growing population of people who opted for body art in the past but later had a change of heart, said Dr. Sean Hamilton with the Victoria Vein & Surgery Clinic, where Stringo's procedures are underway.

Hamilton noted a 2012 study released by The British Association of Dermatologists, which analyzed 580 polling responses from people with tattoos. Of those, about one-third reported regretting the tattoo.

"I've read that, in the U.S., about 50 percent of people will have tattoo regret," he said. "And we've got about 50 million Americans with tattoos."

Hamilton's clinic at 1701 E. Red River St. began offering laser tattoo removal in October, said Brittney Payne, a medical assistant and laser technician with the clinic. Since the start, she said she estimates she's performed nearly 100 procedures.

Names are the most common removals left up to herself and "the Cadillac," the clinic's machine, she said.

Treatments start at $150 each, but the price increases with the size of the tattoo. A 4-inch tattoo costs $200 per treatment and so on, Payne said, noting packages are available.

Removal has always been available, Hamilton said, whether through excision, abrasion techniques, cryogenics or even salt solutions. Laser treatment became the standard within the past 10 to 15 years, however.

The staff at Victoria Vein & Surgery evaluates the tattoo based on the Kirby-Desai Scale, which factors in skin type, colors, location and other points to determine how many treatments it will take.

In most cases, Payne said, it takes five to seven sessions to completely remove the art. Still, some patients simply want the tattoo lightened so they can cover it up with a new tattoo.

When it comes time to begin the removal, the clinic uses a pulse wave laser that oscillates quickly, Hamilton explained.

Wavelengths fractionate the tattoo dyes in the dermis and epidermis while a "cryo machine" cools the skin, helping to numb the area and aiding in comfort.

Blacks and blues are easiest to remove, Payne said, while yellows and greens are among the more difficult colors to get out.

Victoria's Fountain of Youth Medical Spa has offered laser treatments for things such as hair removal and vein treatments since it opened seven years ago and expanded its services with time, said Dr. Nhi Le, with the spa. After the business purchased its RevLite machine two years ago, tattoo removal also joined the list.

Le said she, too, has seen the number of tattoo removals increase and attributed it to several factors.

Many people regret having exes' names or likenesses permanently on their bodies, for instance, while others sport low-quality, amateur tattoos. For still others, it's employment issues - their companies require them to cover their artwork for instance - that brings them through her doors.

Regardless, she said she feels good knowing she's doing something to help.

"People will feel better on the inside if they look good on the outside," she said.

Dr. Alexander Berlin, president of Arlington's DFW Skin Surgery Center PLLC, said he has been removing tattoos for about seven years.

He encouraged those considering laser treatments to do their homework when going in for consultations.

Make sure the clinic you're considering offers the right type of laser, as different tattoo colors require different wavelengths, he advised. If possible, obtain the actual ink composition from the business that gave you the tattoo, since some contain unusual mixtures that make removal more difficult.

Different skin types react differently to removal attempts, he said, and under some circumstances, colors can shift because of laser light.

"While we're getting better at it, we're still not perfect at tattoo removal. And it's a long and costly process," he said. "It's still a lot easier and cheaper not to get one in the first place."

And Stringo agreed it isn't easy.

After her first round about eight weeks ago, the entire tattoo blistered, with fragments of the ink visible inside. And while she attempted to take the second round without the numbing Lidocaine, she couldn't take the pain.

Stringo likened the laser's pulses to the way it might feel to receive multiple bee stings and said she welcomed the numbing shots.

Still, there is an upside.

She purchased the package of seven treatments, for instance, but saw such strong results after the first round that the process might go more quickly.

Really, she said, a little pain is worth it to rid herself of the artwork that has made her self-conscious all these years.

"It hurt putting it on, and it's gonna hurt taking it off," she said with a shrug. "That's just how it is."



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