Tattoo regret has driven explosive growth in the tattoo removal industry. Early forms of tattoo removal, which to some extent are still used today by the economically disadvantaged and determined, include dermal abrasion. It employs abrasive materials or caustic chemicals to rub away or burn out tattoos from the skin. The tattoos are removed but replaced with great disfigurement of the skin.
Laser technology has been widely used to remove tattoos; however, due to unpredictable results, only 18% of those who seek laser removal are happy with their outcome.
Laser tattoo removal must use the specific resonant energy frequencies of each of the different colors of the tattoo inks trapped in human skin. No one single laser can treat all of the colors used in modern tattooing. Dermatologists, therefore, use several different lasers. Matching laser frequencies can be difficult even with single-color tattoos but is significantly more challenging with complex, three-dimensional, multi-color tattoos. Dislodged or degraded tattoo ink particles are absorbed and carried away by the body’s lymphatic system or remain in place.
The main problem with laser treatment of tattoos is incomplete removal of the inks. For that reason, even with single-color tattoos, repetition of the laser treatment, often as many as 6 to 10 times with intervals of several weeks between sessions often extends over a period of a year or more. Other problems with laser tattoo removal include pain, high cost, and remnant or “shadow” tattoos, depigmentation of the overlying skin and scarring. Despite its ineffectiveness and often less than satisfactory outcomes, the annual US laser tattoo removal treatment market is estimated to be $250 million.