Compared to yesteryear, tattoos have become fairly popular, especially among younger generations. The Pew Research Center found that 36 percent of Americans ages 18-25 have a tattoo. But with more people getting inked, dermatologists are seeing an increase in tattoo-related complications such as allergic reactions, infections and reactions to tattoo ink that can mimic skin cancer.
“Since tattoos are not regulated in any way, there are many unknowns that could pose potential problems for consumers in terms of the inks and tools used,” says Seattle dermatologist Michi Shinohara, MD. “It is especially important for consumers to be aware of the potential risks, report any problem that develops to the tattoo artist and see a board-certified dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment.” If you’re considering getting a tattoo, take note of these tips from Dr. Shinohara:
- Be sure to go to a professional tattoo parlor and to a tattoo artist who is licensed based on a state’s requirements.
- Insist on seeing equipment in sterile packaging.
- Let the tattoo artist know if you have a reaction. If a problem lasts more than one to two weeks, see a board-certified dermatologist.
- Those with a chronic skin condition such as psoriasis, eczema, or a tendency toward keloid scarring should check with a board-certified dermatologist before getting a tattoo.
- Avoid tattooing over a mole because it will make it more difficult to diagnose a problem if the mole changes in the future.
But besides for the health risks involved, some experience tattoo regret, and wish they could have their tattoos removed. While this is easier said than done, there are ways to remove unwanted tattoos.
Tattoo removal lasers can remove tattoos by breaking up the pigment colors with a high-intensity light beam. Black tattoo pigment is the easiest to treat since it absorbs all laser wavelengths. Each laser targets a specific ink color, so simple tattoos are easiest to remove.
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), to remove most tattoos, at least three to four treatments, scheduled eight weeks apart are necessary. And because heat is used to destroy the dyes, laser tattoo removal may leave its mark in the form of scars, discoloration or an outline of the original design. Be warned, the treatments can be painful.
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