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Not too long ago, most Americans associated tattoos with sailors, bikers and sideshow artists. But tattoos have become more popular in recent years, and the people who get them are as diverse as the styles and designs they choose.

You didn’t believe your Mom when she said you’d regret getting that tattoo — the multicolored, fire-breathing dragon that starts at the small of your back, reaches up to your shoulder blades and wraps its orange flames around your biceps. Now you have a shot at a terrific job in banking, still one of the more conservative businesses around, and you are concerned that your symbol of youthful self-expression could create problems in your new career. Well, you’re not alone. Tattoos have become part of American mainstream culture over the past couple of decades. While many people love their tattoos, there are a significant number who remove them within 5 years. The process of removing tattoos is not an easy one and can take anywhere from 4 to 20 treatments. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the removal will be complete; tattoos are meant to be permanent and are therefore difficult to get rid of.

Lasers work by producing short pulses of intense light that pass harmlessly through the top layers of the skin to be selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment. This laser energy causes the tattoo pigment to fragment into smaller particles that are then removed by the body’s immune system. Researchers have determined which wavelengths of light to use and how to deliver the laser’s output to best remove tattoo ink

The unfortunate thing about tattoos is that both getting them and having them taken off can be uncomfortable. The impact of the energy from the laser’s powerful pulse of light has been described as similar to getting hot specks of bacon grease on your skin or being snapped by a thin rubber band. Because black pigment absorbs all laser wavelengths, it’s the easiest to remove. Other colors, such as green, selectively absorb laser light and can only be treated by selected lasers based on the pigment color. The pigments in tattoo inks contain color additives, which are defined as any material that can impart color to a food, a drug, a cosmetic, a medical device, or the human body. The color additives used in inks require premarket approval under the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to ensure that they are used safely and appropriately. Approved color additives are listed in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR Parts 73, 74, 82), but this approval does not extend to injected use. No color additives are Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for injection into the skin (21 CFR 70.5b) (www.fda.gov). Therefore, no tattoo pigments are approved for use. The majority of tattoo ink is industrial-grade color intended for use as printer ink or automobile paint. Although tattoo ink is subject to regulation by the FDA, state and local health authorities regulate the practice of tattooing, including those performed in salons and tattoo parlors. These departments mainly regulate sanitation requirements and prohibit tattooing minors.

Whether you currently have a tattoo or are contemplating one, it would be worth the effort to thoroughly investigate the parlor, the artist and the cost of eventually removing it… even if you don’t think you’ll want to!

Information in this article was taken from the following sources:

“How Tattoo Removal Works” 01 April 2000.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/beauty/skin-and-lifestyle/tattoo-removal.htm> 02 May 2014.


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