You were young, drunk and stupid… you took a dare.. a flight of fancy overtook you… you were madly in love with what’s-his-name… you wanted to experiment with hand poking a tattoo on yourself… you got it when you were seventeen and now you’re 47… it’s old… it’s ugly… it’s lost its color…
Whatever the reason was for getting that tattoo, you now regret it, or maybe you’re just tired of how it looks. What can you do? Fortunately current technologies in plastic surgery and advancements in tattooing offer the despairing individual options in correcting the problem. So what is available? You have two basic choices; get it covered up or get it removed.
The two most basic reasons for getting a tattoo covered up are to hide or obscure an unwanted tattoo and to rework an existing tattoo that has faded with time. The most common cover-ups are the ‘name’ tattoos and tattoos of poor quality by inexperienced tattooists. Which option you choose for your tattoo is a personal one that you have to make.
In the past the typical type of cover-up was the solid black design. Panthers, eightballs and large geometric or tribal designs were used to hide unwanted tattoos. Today many tattoo artist are able to employ intricately colored and cleverly placed designs in order to obscure the offending tattoo. A good cover-up requires patience in finding the right design, usually custom created to fit the existing tattoo and the individual getting the cover-up. A knowledgeable tattoo artist can even use a special technique to ‘lighten’ an unwanted tattoo, making the cover-up process easier. Advanced planning and a cautionary approach is needed. The last thing you want is to get a bad tattoo covered up with another bad tattoo. Make sure you are comfortable with your artist and that you have a well thought out plan on how the tattoo should be covered up.
If you are happy with the design you have but it has faded with time, then having the tattoo reworked or re-colored may be the option for you. Depending on the extent of fading or blurring your tattoo has received over time will determine the amount of rework that will be needed to bring the design back to life. This is the easiest type of cover-up to do since you are not changing the design, but rather redoing the lines and colors that are already there.
Keep in mind that both a cover-up and a rework require more work than a fresh tattoo, so expect to have to pay a little extra. In the end that little extra will be well worth it.
“This customer came in with a very old and poorly executed tattoo. The original design was a rose that had a banner at its base containing names (just visible). The snake was added later to cover up the names.”
“Here the outline was redone to rejuvenate the design and hide some flaws in the original. Heavy shading was used to accentuate the different subjects and to help hide additional flaws the outline could not.”
“After the outline healed, color was added. This picture shows the tattoo right after the color session. While light colors were used, it will darken as the tattoo heals and the new ink intermixes with the old.”
For the removal of a tattoo you must consult a physician. As with finding a good tattoo artist, you should also find a good doctor. Use common sense and listen to the refferals of others who have had good results. Ask questions and become informed. Remember that this is considered surgery, and with any surgery, the more you know the better your chances of getting the results you want.
There are four basic methods for the removal of a tattoo; excision, dermabrasion, salabrasion and laser. No matter which method you choose, you must keep in mind that all tattoo removal methods leave scars or blemishes of some extent on the skin.
This is one of the oldest methods of removal and is idealy suited for small tattoos. With this process the tattooed area is surgically removed by cutting the tattoo out and suturing the skin together. One advantage is that the offending tattoo is removed completely and with today’s medical technology the resulting scar is minimal. With larger tattoos this process can be used but it may be done in stages or with a skin graft. If done in stages, a wedge is removed from the center of the tattoo and allowed to heal. When the skin around the tattoo has stretched enough, the remaining tattoo can be removed. On very large tattoos it may be necessary to graft a piece of skin taken from another part of your body and used to ‘patch’ the area where the unwanted tattoo was. I would not recommend this process for large tattooed areas.
Another popular method of tattoo removal is with dermabrasion. In this method the surface of the skin is frozen by the surgeon and the tattoo is ‘sanded’ of with a special machine. This process leaves a large scab, similar to road rash, and when healed may leave blemishes on the skin. You may also need to do this in several sessions if the first pass doesn’t remove the tattoo completely.
This procedure is similar to dermabrasion but the results are questionable. With salabrasion, salt and water are used with a block of wood to ‘scrub’ away the old tattoo. The skin is vigorously rubbed with the salt and water untill the skin turns deep red. Because this does not completely remove the tattoo, several sessions may be necessary. This method can be used in conjunction with a cover-up in order to lighten up the old tattoo prior to the cover-up.
Current technology has given tattooed individuals a new method of safe tattoo removal with very favorable results; laser surgery. This new type of surgery uses a Q-switched Ruby, Q-switched Alexandrite or a Q-switched Nd:Yag laser. The beauty of this process is that the laser burns away the tattoo pigments without doing much significant damage to the skin. A few drawbacks to this are the cost of the procedure and the fact that it may take several sessions to completely remove the tattoo. There have also been a few reported cases where the procedure did leave some blemishes and/or scars on the skin surface.