Tattoo removal might be easier than you think

Do you have a tattoo that you regret getting? Maybe your tattoo is not appropriate for your future career or you made a spontaneous decision to get one. For whatever reason, one in six people who have tattoos hate them so much that they want them surgically removed.


Woman has to get tattoo removed due to her job because the U.S. Marine Corps does not authorize any hand tattoos. Source: Slick-o-bot Wikimedia Commons

Luckily, surgery may not be needed because Alec Falkenham, a Ph.D. student from Dalhousie University, is developing a tattoo removal cream as a painless alternative. This topical cream promises to eventually make any tattoo fade away.


Using a tattoo needle. Source: James Gray-King Flickr

To make a tattoo, tattoo needles are used to go through the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, and send dyes into the dermis, the deepest layer of the skin, causing an inflammatory response. This would then signal the immune system to send a type of cell called macrophages to the wounded site. As a result, the macrophages eat up the dye and show up as the desired colour which is visible through the skin. In order to remove the tattoo, Falkenham’s cream allows new macrophages to consume the macrophages with dye and then migrate to the lymph node, essentially removing all of the tattoo’s dye.

Below is a video by TED-Ed which goes into further detail of the science behind tattoos:

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This tattoo removal cream would challenge current methods such as surgery or laser removal. Surgery requires the excision of the skin containing the tattoo and then stitching it back together, and laser removal uses a highly concentrated light to break the dyes apart so that the immune system can clear them away.

An article states that surgery is better for smaller tattoos but would still leave a scar, while laser removal is a long and painful procedure, and does not promise full removal of the tattoo. Moreover, the price of surgery could range from $500-$1000 and laser removal could be $200-$350 per session with a suggested 4-5 sessions. Alternatively, the tattoo removal cream would not cause any pain or scarring, and it would cost 4.5 cents per square centimetre for each treatment.

Falkenham’s cream has the potential to be a popular choice for many people regretting their tattoos because it would be a cheaper and painless alternative. It could even promote more people to get tattoos knowing they could remove them with a simple cream. The idea of this cream is enticing, but some things still need be known such as the amount of applications in order to see a noticeable change, whether the cream permanently removes the tattoo or just fades most of it, or the side effects while using the cream. Although Falkenham’s cream is still in its research stages, it would be interesting to see the results of his tests and if successful, a finalized product for commercial use.

-Ian Villamin

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