TORONTO – It’s not that Marc Smith doesn’t like his tattoos anymore, but the young actor feels the letters inked on his knuckles limit what he can do with his career.
Together, his knuckles read “Give to take,” a motto Smith says he still lives by. But first impressions are everything and that’s why he said he’s decided to get rid of his tattoos.
According to a poll conducted by Ipsos Reid, two in ten Canadians have at least one tattoo, and what’s more is half of them regret it.
Before the advent of lasers, tattoo removal meant either cutting out the skin or rubbing salt on it until it started bleeding.
Nowadays, the gold standard is a technology called Q-switched ruby laser, according to Dr. Lisa Kellett, a dermatologist at DLK on Avenue.
Laser technician Anuish Fariad of Precision Laser Removal Clinic used Q-switched Medlite C6 for Smith’s first tattoo removal procedure. She said the machine also works well on birth marks and sunspots.
With the Q-switched ruby laser, dermatologists apply local anaesthetic before zapping the tattoo with 694 nanometres of light laser, which hits the pigment and blasts it into little pieces. The body then gets rid of the pigment through the bloodstreams within a few weeks.
Depending on the size and the type of pigment, a patient may need three to eight procedures spread out over a period of six weeks. The procedure, which lasts anywhere between 20 to 40 minutes, isn’t painful if the patient is properly anesthetized, Dr. Kellett said.
“You get some whitening initially of the tattoo then it turns to red and you have some scabbing for about a week, so it looks a lot like when you go the tattoo.”
Some tattoo colours are easier to remove than others. The Q-switched ruby laser picks up black a lot faster and more effectively than red, orange, blue or mixed pigments.
The physical location of a tattoo could also determine the ease of removing it, said Dr. Howard Bargman, who is Director of Laser at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and a dermatologist at Thornhill Dermatology.
“If the tattoo is in the lower legs, it’s going to be more difficult to eradicate,” he said. “The larger it is, the more difficult.”
Even after several treatments, some tattoos don’t completely disappear.
“We’re not always successful in removing a tattoo,” Dr. Bargman said. “We can almost certainly improve it in most cases and almost in all cases to a degree it becomes hardly visible, but there may always be a little bit of ink left.”
In other cases, especially with patients with a darker skin tone, a ghost of the tattoo may linger after the pigment is completely removed.
Dermatologists advise their patients to put antibiotic creams on the tattoo after each session to reduce the risk of getting an infection.
Patients pay about $400 per session to remove a tattoo about a size of a hand. Even if they only need the minimum of three sessions, it adds up to a total of $1,200, which could mean a higher price tag to remove a tattoo than to get one.
For many people, it may well be a fair price to pay in order to move on with their lives.
“There are a lot of psychological aspects sometimes that are caught in the tattoo,” Dr. Kellett said. “So it’s almost like physically removing some of the scars people have had.”