Ask The Doc
Dear Doc Rick,
About 5 years ago, when I was in college, I decided to have a tattoo done on my left lower abdomen, a little above the bikini line. It was a beautiful piece of art and very colorful. Last winter I gave birth to twins. Though I’ve mostly regained my figure, the pregnancy left me with a couple of stretch marks going right through the tattoo. Now I hate it (and the stretch marks, of course). Can the tattoo be surgically removed?
-Wishing Tattoos Away
Though you may have thought your tattoo was forever, it need not be. With today’s advanced laser technology, a dermatologic surgeon can safely, easily, and effectively remove all types of tattoos, and treat a variety of skin blemishes and conditions.
Lasers vary, and the type of laser used to remove a tattoo depends on the tattoo’s pigment colors. Colors closest to skin tones, such as yellow or tan, are the hardest colors to remove; red and black are the easiest. Lasers developed specifically for use in tattoo removal utilize a technology known as Q-switching, which refers to the laser’s short, high-energy pulses. One laser system that I use extensively in my practice is the VersaPulse® C with HELP-G, which is actually four lasers in one unit: three Q-switched lasers optimized for all tattoo colors and pigmented lesions (such as “port wine stain” birthmarks, sun and age spots, and moles), and a fourth, high-energy, long pulse green (HELP-G) laser allowing for selective treatment of a wide variety of vascular conditions such as spider veins (sometimes caused by pregnancy) and common red spots (known as rosy angiomas).
Lasers target the pigment of the tattoo without damaging the surrounding skin. The short pulses of intense light produced by the laser pass harmlessly through the top layers of the skin and are selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment. The absorbed energy causes the tattoo pigment to break down into smaller particles that are then removed by the body’s own immune system.
Laser treatment will also improve the appearance of your stretch marks. The laser energy absorbed in the underlying layer of the skin stimulates the production of new collagen. As the new collagen thickens and plumps the skin, it fills in the stretch mark from below, minimizing its appearance.
A laser treatment session generally takes less than an hour and multiple treatment sessions are needed to remove an entire tattoo. The number of sessions depends on the amount and type of ink used, and how deeply it was injected. Four- to six-week intervals between sessions are required to allow pigment residue to be absorbed by the body.
Because this is a medical procedure, make sure to see a dermatologic surgeon who specializes in tattoo removal. Check with the American Society for Laser Medicine & Surgery or the American Society of Dermatologic Surgeons for a referral or ask your own doctor for the name of a specialist in your area.