The end of tattoo blues: Removing body art no longer needs to be a pain in the neck, or anywhere else.
By Esther Walker
Tuesday 26 August 2008
Although sometimes I did wish it wasn't there, I never disliked my tattoo – a collection of stars on my hip, done seven years ago, partly in Mexico, partly in Australia – badly enough to consider suffering the pain involved in having it removed.
The only widely available method of tattoo removal is with a laser, and I've always dismissed that as a last resort: the preserve of jilted lovers or an admission of defeat. We, the jaded tattooed, wear our mistakes – names of former lovers, fleeting impulses, football teams, tacky dolphins and stag-weekend pranks – with weary resignation.
Until recently, the only methods of tattoo removal have been, frankly, medieval. "Dermabrasion" means freezing the skin and then scraping off the upper layers of epidermis, which contain the tattoo, with a rotary tool. Burning the skin with acid is another daunting option. And, in extreme cases of tattoo-regret, the skin can be surgically cut out.
Laser removal is the most commonly used and least gruesome procedure, but it is expensive, doesn't work for everyone, and is painful. Sometimes, the results can even look worse than the original tattoo.
But now a new treatment has come to the UK from America, where it has been available for the last few years. It works using a cream – Rejuvi – that is pushed into the skin with an injection machine, not dissimilar to a tattoo gun, called a micropigmentation pen. Tattoos work by injecting the ink into the top layers of the epidermis, shallow enough so that the body's immune system can't "see" the ink. The Rejuvi cream bonds with the tattoo ink in the skin and "reveals" the ink to the body, which then, as the skin heals, rejects the cream, which is pushed up to the surface of the skin, taking the pigment with it.
Rejuvi has a higher success rate than laser removal, is less expensive, less painful, and there is minimal risk of scarring.
Oxford Skin Clinics, based in Oxford, and with branches in Harley Street and Richmond, has combined the Rejuvi cream with a new design of injection machine, which it claims is the most precise and efficient way of delivering it.
Stuart Harrison, the director of Oxford Skin Clinics, first tried out the treatment on his brother, who had the initials "S" and "D" removed from his arm. The ink came away so well, in the form of a scab, that Harrison still has the initials in a plastic bag. He has recently been approved by the armed forces to carry out tattoo removal, and has already had emails from servicemen in Afghanistan wanting various tattoos removed as soon as they're home.
The removal procedure is straightforward and pretty quick. It feels a lot like having a tattoo, although it's not quite as painful: there is the same sharp, scratching sting and the same horrible mosquito whine of the needle. Afterwards, a small dressing is applied. It stings a bit for a few days, and the aftercare is similar to that of a tattoo: you are advised to keep it dry, exposed to fresh air, and to avoid tight clothing or straps that will rub and irritate it. "It's an open wound, you have to remember," says Harrison, "and you have to treat it as such."
After about a week (during which, I confess, I didn't look after it particularly well), a scab, black with old tattoo ink, formed and then fell off.
The results are impressive – from just a small patch test, one of the stars in my tattoo has almost completely faded, and even with my lazy approach to looking after it, the skin has healed up and looks as good as new.
But this treatment isn't quite the magic wand that it might sound. Harrison advises those whose tattoos are too large, too old or too deep that the process of removal might be more hassle than it's worth. "It would end up being very expensive and removal could take years," he says.
Due to the healing process, Harrison recommends six weeks between treatments, and tattoos need a minimum of four or five treatments to be removed completely, which means a minimum of six months' treatment.
And although using Rejuvi is much less expensive than a laser, it is not cheap. The initial consultation, plus a patch test, is £30. Then, depending on the size and shape of the tattoo, the price is worked out, based either on the area in square inches to be removed, or the time each session takes – whichever works out cheapest. One square inch costs £73 for one session, or 15 minutes' work costs £54.
This latest removal procedure certainly doesn't give us carte blanche to get tattoos put on and taken off with abandon. But for those who have a change of heart, it's a safer alternative to a sanding machine.
www.oxfordskinclinics.co.uk (0800 023 1915)
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