December 11, 2017
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When “forever” becomes “nevermore”: the science of tattoo removal

By Anne Gabbianelli, Special to the BDN
Updated:

Lower back tattoos. Ex-lovers’ names. Misspelled quotes. Even gang symbols. People get tattoos for a lot of reasons; some want to get rid of them for many reasons more. They say tattooing is a form of art, but to get one removed requires a lot of science. 

Fortunately, the market abounds with options for dispelling the ink. One such method, PicoSure, is the world’s first picosecond laser designed for the removal of unwanted tattoos. Christopher May, a laser safety officer and member of the American Society for Laser Medicine & Surgery, is one of the few scientists in Maine behind this process.

“The science behind the technology is fascinating,” said May.

May has practiced his science at the Maine Laser Clinic (MLC) in Portland for the past five years, drawing clients from as far away as Fredericton, New Brunswick. He claims there’s no job too big (although the larger the tattoo and darker the colors, the longer removal takes). 

The PicoSure laser was released in 2013 and has been used at MLC for the past two years.

“A picosecond laser delivers energy in a measurement of one trillionth—or one millionth of one millionth—of a second,” said May. “It’s incredibly fast.”

The PicoSure’s energy shatters ink particles into much smaller pieces, making it easier for the body to remove the ink through the lymphatic system. May said this new technology also promotes faster recovery time, as well as greater results with fewer treatments.

Costs vary by size, and are determined by several factors including the size of the tattoo, the location, its age, and the technology used to achieve a desired outcome.

There are several potential side effects associated with a tattoo removal session, including reddening, mild swelling, and pin-point bleeding. Many tattoo removal experts will employ methods to reduce irritation and make the process as comfortable as possible.

“We use a cooling device [to reduce discomfort],” May said. He recognizes that for many patients, the feeling of laser tattoo removal is comparable to the feeling of getting a tattoo. However, he said, “it is light years faster.”

Danielle Lawler, a tattoo removal patient, travels to Boston for her ongoing removal process. “They said it would be gone in three sessions, so I bought a package for just under $500,” said Lawler. “It’s still there, just very faded.”

She chose removal because she didn’t like having a visible tattoo, but sometimes second-guesses her decision.

“It’s super painful,” she lamented.  

If removal is not for you, then a cover-up tattoo might present a better solution. “Tattoos can be lightened in preparation for a cover-up tattoo,” May said. “In fact, your tattoo artist will be able to produce a clearer and detailed version of whatever you decide to have redone.” 


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