Rethink your ink
Q. I want to get rid of a small grey ink tattoo on my upper arm but I am confused about the best laser removal and where to go. A. About 20 per cent of adults in Britain have a tattoo and almost a third want them removed, according to the British Association of Dermatologists (bad.org.uk). But removal can be a long and disappointing process, according to consultant dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe of the Cranley Clinic in London (drnicklowe.com). ‘Depending on how deep the tattoo is and how old [they fade with age], it may take three to 12 sessions of laser therapy, with six weeks between each session,’ he says.
Lasers work by releasing powerful beams of light that heat the ink and shatter it into tiny particles, which are absorbed by the body and eventually excreted. Dr Lowe recommends a Q-switched alexandrite laser, which he finds more efficient than the newer pico lasers.
Tattoos are seldom completely erased. ‘Although you can remove or reduce the colour, you are often left with a ghost-like shape because the heat affects the surface of the skin, making it lighter,’ he says.
However, dark shades of ink, including grey, are relatively straightforward to treat in fair-skinned patients. Yellow and red inks present more complex problems.
Blistering caused by the heat of the laser is a common side effect. It can be severe, but a new technique developed in the US, in which the laser is fired through a thin plastic membrane covering the site, is helping to reduce the problem. The upper body is less likely to blister. ‘Arms and legs heal more slowly, possibly due to poorer blood supply,’ says Dr Lowe.
Other possible side effects are scarring, hair removal, smallbreaks in the skin and sensitivity. Because lasers cause a reaction in deeper levels of skin, they can also destroy melanin – the pigment that colours skin, hair and eyes. So laser treatment may cause a loss of pigmentation in black, Asian and sometimes white skin tones.
Before and during lasering, protect your skin from sun exposure with SPF 50, as tanned skin (even self tan) will compete with ink for the laser effect.
Finding a qualified laser operator is essential, but Dr Vishal Madan, president of the British Medical Laser Association (bmla.co.uk), says, ‘At present there are no restrictions by law on who can perform treatments and no specific qualification requirements.’ Dr Lowe advises choosing physician or dermatologist-led clinics such as Sk:n (sknclinics.co.uk), which is an NHS partner.
TATTOOS: THE DANGERS
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) warns that tattoo inks have never been properly tested and may cause complications, including allergic reactions and painful itching. ‘Tattoo inks and permanent make-up may contain substances that cause cancer, genetic mutations and have toxicM effects on reproduction,’ it says. Other potential problems include sun sensitivity, antibiotic-resistant infections and blood-borne conditions including hepatitis B and C and HIV. Tattooists in Britain are not obliged to wear gloves and are allowed to reuse needles.
WORK THAT BUMP
Our pregnant tester, a medical student, recommends the award-winning FitBump Box (in three versions, from £49 for the Adorable Taster Box (at joannahelcke.com), devised by pregnancy and postnatal fitness expert Dr. Joanna Helcké, herself a mother of three. This wellbeing package gives you access to a comprehensive online pre- and postnatal fitness programme, including diet. The box contains a resistance band, hand-sewn Pilates cushion and mini pilates ball (‘Don’t blow it up too much – it has to be nice and squashy,’ says Joanna) and extra goodies, such as stretch-mark cream.