Should rapper Gucci Mane ever want to remove his ice cream cone tattoo or any of the other permanently-inked designs on the right side his face and forehead, he would be pleased to hear that the Food and Drug Administration has added tattoo removal options with greater benefits for African Americans.
New methods for tattoo removal or significant lightening with improved light-based lasers have been approved by the agency. The new technology builds on the pulsed-laser technology already used for two decades by Americans with skin bearing unwanted tattoos, such as the name of an old flame still borne long after the smoke has cleared.
The new lasers require a prescription, and add to the arsenal of methods currently used to rid the skin of the permanent inks, which include sanding down the top layer of the epidermis, or cutting out the section of skin tattooed and stitching un-inked sections back together.
“These lasers utilize a phenomenon called ‘selective photothermolysis,’ which is the specific targeting of ink pigments by the laser energy,” Michelle Bolek, a spokeswoman for the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in an e-mail to the AFRO.
“This method is often preferred by patients and physicians due to less ‘down-time,’ although they do require multiple rounds of treatment to lighten a tattoo to a point where it is not noticeable,” she said. “For the tattoo removal lasers currently on the market, blue and black colored tattoos are usually the easiest to remove, red and yellow or multi-colored tattoos might require more treatments.”
The company Cynosure announced in December that its latest tattoo removal device, PicoSure, would come online early this year. The machine has shown it can remove 94 percent of a black or green tattoo during a test of 22 men and women.
“Physicians that work in the laser care industry have been waiting for something like this,” said Yelena Grek, 40, a registered nurse who has cared for patients having tattoos removed at the Maryland Laser, Skin, and Vein Institute in Hunt Valley for four years. “It has been improving over the years and it is very effective. It can take up to fifteen treatments based on the ink used and the length that the tattoo has been on the skin.”
Grek said that the TriVantage laser is another one of the most recent products put on the market, and is able to treat all color ink and skin types.
“In the past, we had different lasers and some of them had the ability to only treat lighter skin types and it was difficult to treat darker skin types,” she said. “Now we have new lasers that have different wave lengths. They are very powerful and have the ability to treat multiple colors for every skin types. It saves time for the patient and the provider.”
The FDA regards the ink used in tattoos as cosmetics, putting it on a list of monitored products which also includes the medical devices used to remove the ink.
There are other ways to remove tattoos that are not FDA approved, such as skin creams available online. However, the FDA warned that these products could produce an array of side effects, ranging from skin irritations to scarring—also a reaction to lasers for some individuals.
According to polls conducted last year by Harris Interactive, an international market research company, one out of five Americans reported having at least one tattoo. That number is a jump from the 14 percent of citizens who had inked skin in 2008.
The same study said that more women than men chose to express themselves through the art form, and 26 percent of respondents in the Western part of the United States had tattoos, more than any other part of the country. Thirty percent of inked Americans said their tattoo boosts their self-esteem by adding to their sex appeal. Most of those with tattoos fell in the 30 to 39 age range.