Faster Tattoo Removal

 Fredrik von Erichsen / Corbis

We’ve all made rash decisions we later regret, but it really stinks when one of those impulses is permanently inked on your skin. If you’re sheepishly sporting an homage to an ex-girlfriend, an oversized “tribal” design pulled straight from a tattoo book, or, God forbid, a surfing lizard commemorating Spring Break ’97, then you’ve likely fantasized about making the eyesore disappear, not to mention slapping your younger self upside the head.

No question, laser tattoo removal is a costly and time-consuming venture. You may already have decided you’d rather save the few thousand dollars and skip the 10 to 15 sessions that a full removal can require and just never wear shorts on a first date and always keep your sleeves rolled down when meeting the parents. But before you write off removal completely, know this: New research shows that laser procedures may be getting more effective and that certain surprising factors can greatly impact tattoo-zapping success.

The first study, published in the ‘Archives of Dermatology,’ tracked the tattoo-removal outcomes of almost 400 people treated with the industry-standard Q-switched laser. Although 75 percent became inkless after 15 sessions, those with tattoos measuring 30 square centimeters or more, or that came in colors other than black and/or red, had less success. People with ink on their feet or legs were also less likely to see complete removal than those with upper-body tattoos. Cigarette smoking, which impairs the healing of wounds, was also found to hinder tattoo removal success.

Tattoo size, color, and placement aside, the number of sessions needed to undo a tattoo may soon plummet, thanks to a new type of laser awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval. In a smaller study published in the same journal, the picosecond alexandrite laser provided at least 75-percent tattoo clearance in all 12 participants after just two to four treatments, and each person said they were satisfied with the results by study’s end. Pain subsided immediately after therapy, and swelling went down after one week.

Of course, to remove or not to remove remains a heavy decision. But at least now you have a better basis for determining whether it’s worth it to go under the laser or just live with “Samantha” scrawled on your bicep.