I am old enough to remember when only sailors had tattoos. It was usually an anchor or “MOM” etched into a hairy forearm or muscled shoulder. Some young whippersnappers these days (you know, the kind who would constantly be on my lawn, if I had a lawn) have inked themselves up so much, it’s hard to tell where one tat begins and the other ends. Whatever gets you through the night.
But what happens when a tattoo is a problem — like when you have “Todd” tattooed near your naughty bits but your boyfriend’s name is Brian? Or suppose you’ve been a pirate for the past few years, and you put a skull and crossbones on your forehead. While it was good for your resume as a crewmember of the “Dirty Bastard,” it’s going to be an issue in the interview now that you have found Jesus and want to be pastor of a small church in the Ozarks.
Until the early 1990s or thereabouts, you were more or less screwed. Then, in that magical decade of Bill Clinton, Dr. Dre and baseball literally on steroids, it became possible to remove a tattoo with a laser. The beam attacks the ink under your skin, and the result is a tattoo-less body part — along with burns, scarring and blistering. Still for a couple hundred dollars, even less if you shop around, Brian doesn’t need to know about Todd, and you can cease being Captain Black Jack Rackham and take on the role of Pastor Black Jack Rackham.
Well, the world just got better. Alec Falkenham, a 27-year-old Ph.D. student at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University, has invented a cream that you rub on your tattoo, and the tattoo goes away. For five bucks American, it will get rid of a tattoo 10 centimeters by 10 centimeters (you want inches, work it out your own damn self).
“You’re destroying the skin in the process of all the other techniques I’ve seen so far,” Falkenham said. “What we’re trying to do is stay away from actually destroying the skin while still removing the tattoo.”
He claims, “We’re not targeting any of the normal skin cells, so you won’t see a lot of inflammation. In fact, based on the process that we’re actually using, we don’t think there will be any inflammation at all and it would actually be anti-inflammatory.”
In order to understand how it works, you need to understand just what the heck you are doing to your body when you get a tattoo. When you inject ink into the skin, your body doesn’t like it. Your immune response kicks in, and cells known as “macrophages” dash to where the ink is. These macrophages gobble up the ink and carry it away to your lymph nodes. Not all of the macrophages succeed in this. In fact, some over-indulge in the ink, and they stay stranded where they are. The result is a tattoo.
Falkenham’s cream causes new macrophages to show up and eat up the old ink-stained ones. Slowly but surely, the tattoo fades. It seems to work best on ink stains more than two years old. Currently, he is trying to figure out concentration of active ingredients and determining how many applications you need to get a tattoo completely gone. He is currently doing his tests on tattooed pigs ears.
As for those embarrassing piercings, you’re still on your own.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.