ON SECOND THOUGHT: Laser tattoo removal perfect for people who regret them

Thursday, September 3, 2009
By Brandy Dolce
$400 to put it on, $4,000 to take it off: Laser tattoo removal can be costly.
$400 to put it on, $4,000 to take it off: Laser tattoo removal can be costly.

“Twenty bucks to put it on and $4,000 to take it off,” said Ginny Sofran about the vine-and-flower tattoo etched on her body below her collarbone.

“I just did it on a whim,” she said. “My mother said, ‘You’ll get tired of it when you get old,’ and guess what?”

“I just did it on a whim. My mother said, ‘You’ll get tired of it when you get old,’ and guess what?”

Sofran was 19 when she got her tattoo. Now 46, the Howell resident has opted for laser surgery to have the drawing she once thought permanent removed from her body.

“I can’t stand when my shirt dips down,” she said.  ”Like when I got married, I had to wear something up around my neck so nothing showed.”

Sofran is far from alone.

According to an article published by the American Medical Association, the youth of the United States is three to five percent more likely to get tattoos than the rest of the world.

The article, by Dr. R. Rox Anderson, of the Department of Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital writes, “Many who get a tattoo will eventually want to get rid of it.”

Laser tattoo removal is cosmetic, so it is not covered by insurance. Costs vary, Glicksman said. But to Sofran, who’s had to adjust her wardrobe to hide her tattoo, $400 per session is well worth the results.

Sofran has had nine laser treatments so far with Caroline A. Glicksman, a board certified plastic surgeon at 2164 Route 35, Sea Girt, who specializes in laser surgery. She rents the $300,000 laser machines.

“I’m sure you could go any place and somebody could burn it off,” she said. “But the idea is that it gets done safely by a board certified plastic surgeon.”

In New Jersey, only physicians are permitted to perform laser treatments, she added.

Nadine Tosk, spokeswoman for the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery said there are more doctors practicing laser surgery since the technology has become available.

“The number of doctors who have identified themselves as performing the procedure have increased nationwide,” Tosk said.

Pat Sinatra is a founding member of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists, which sets the standards for the tattoo industry. She also owns Pat’s Tat’s in Kingston/Woodstock, N.Y. She said a group of alliance board members visited a doctor in Maryland to see how well a laser could remove a tattoo.

“At that time, the YAG-Medlite laser was and, I believe, still is the best method for tattoo removal,” Sinatra said. “It left no scarring, unlike the ruby laser method.”

Sinatra said that laser removal is the least intrusive way to remove a tattoo when compared with dermabrasion or excision.

“It may be costly, but it is effective,” she said.

Glicksman said patients should do only what they can afford each year.  Less expensive ways to remove tattoos include surgery or sanding, both of which leave scars.  Glicksman said removing a tattoo with a laser often results in normal skin.

Each laser session takes just minutes. Sofran applies a topical anaesthetic an hour before her appointment, then receives a local anaesthetic around the tattoo before the procedure.

Glicksman glides a thick, wand-like instrument containing the laser along the pigmented skin.

“It feels like you’re being smacked with a rubber band,” Sofran said.

Initially, the treated area is tender and bleeds lightly.

“After, you can’t take any type of warm showers for two days because it blisters like a bad sunburn,” Sofran said.

In about two weeks, the scabs fall off, revealing new skin, Glicksman said.

“It’s just a little pink,” Sofran said. “I keep putting Neosporin on it and I massage it twice a day, so if there’s any scar tissue forming, it breaks up.”

Bill Hatfield of Alltec Medical, Fair Lawn, is a certified laser technician and manufacturer of lasers.

“When you impregnate ink … you’re actually causing tears in the derma layers of the skin,” he said. The laser converts light to heat, causing the pigment to explode during the removal process, he said.

Not every tattoo can be removed 100 percent. He said the laser acts like a hammer that chips away at a boulder, or pigment.

“Green is probably the most difficult (color) to remove,” he said. “Green allows energy to pass through, instead of absorbing it. It’s not a solid pigment and doesn’t pick up energy.”

However, Hatfield said black, blue, yellow and red are solid pigments that absorb much of the laser’s energy.

“Think of tattoos like sunlight,” he said. “Darker colors pick up more energy.”

Sofran said she’s taken several pictures of the scabbed area before it is healed and hands them out to co-workers whose sons or daughters want to get a tattoo.

“Their kids said, ‘No way,’” she said.

For more information, call Glicksman’s office at (732) 974-2424, or visit www.aboutskinsurgery.com for New Jersey doctors who use lasers or the American Medical Association Web site at www.ama-assn.org for a list of physicians.

by Brandy Dolce
The Asbury Park Press




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