Tattoo remorse? Here's how to erase the ink
The Vein Center at Greater Baltimore Medical Center began offering tattoo-removal services last summer using state-of-the-art Q-Switched lasers, the best medical-grade product on the market for this purpose.
“As a surgeon, I can appreciate that no intervention is without risk,” said the center’s director Jennifer Heller, M.D. “Patient safety is the most important factor. We want to be able to offer a safe environment and resources for this service that include a comprehensive evaluation.”
Vein Center at GBMC patients receive a free consultation, a medical work-up and an opportunity to discuss any conditions (such as allergies, pregnancy or use of prescription acne medication) that might contra-indicate the procedure before the laser ever comes into play. During the procedure, a laser beam is moved across the tattoo to break up the semi-liquid ink particles in the skin. Then, the body’s lymphatic system can absorb the ink and carry it away. A cooling tool is used in conjunction with the laser to prevent thermal injuries and to help numb the treatment area.
Getting rid of a tattoo isn’t quite as quick as getting one, and patients shouldn’t expect results after one treatment. Cathy Barenski, a nurse practitioner with the Vein Center at GBMC, says eight to 10 sessions are usually the norm to fully remove a tattoo. Results and the number of sessions required depend on the patient’s health, as well as the color, location and age of the tattoo.
“Red, yellow and green inks take longer to remove because they involve larger pigment particles close to the top surface of the skin where’s there less tissue and fluid protection,” she explained. “This requires us to use lower laser settings to avoid thermal damage. Also, removing a tattoo from an area of the body with greater blood flow goes more quickly than removing a tattoo on an extremity like a hand or a foot.”
The laser sessions can last anywhere between five and 30 minutes each and must be spaced four to eight weeks apart to allow the lymphatic system to carry away the ink particles between treatments. Laser tattoo removal services aren’t covered by insurance, and pricing can vary by provider. For example, the Vein Center at GBMC charges by the square inch, with patients paying as they go for each treatment.
Most people are pleasantly surprised to discover that the procedure is less painful than they anticipate.
“Patients describe it as the feeling of being snapped with a hot rubber band,” Barenski said. “There’s virtually no residual pain immediately after the treatment, whereas pain after tattoo application is more prolonged.”
“The most telling sign that it’s not terribly painful is that our patients continue to come back for their follow-ups!” Heller added.