Zap Those Tattoos Off by Laser

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Zap Those Tattoos Off by Laser

The convenience promised by permanent makeup was all too irresistible. "I was enchanted with the idea that I could come out of the pool and not have to worry about spending a lot of time putting on makeup before going outside," said Mickey, 36, an avid swimmer. In fact, she was so enchanted that she got her eyebrows, the line along her eyelashes and the outline of her lips tattooed.

That was 10 years ago. Although she still likes the convenience of just washing her face and putting on some moisturizer and powder before facing the world, she felt that her "makeup" was outdated. "The current trend in makeup is the natural look. So the heavy eyeliner just had to go," she explained.

A couple of months ago, she went to a dermatologist to see what options were available for having the cosmetic tattoos removed. She was elated to find that they could be removed quite easily with very little risk of complications. "Within a matter of minutes the heavy eyebrows were gone and the eyelining disappeared within two to three procedures," Mickey said enthusiastically. "Although it does take a few more minutes in the morning to finish putting on my makeup, I don't think I will ever get any permanent tattoos on my face again."

Mickey is one among the thousands of Korean women who had their eyebrows, eyes or lips tattooed, perhaps one of the excesses of the late 1980s along with oversized shoulder pads. Some 10 years later, women ready to trade their heavily made-up look for something more modern are heading to dermatologists to have their tattoos zapped away by laser.

"Cosmetic tattoos can be removed in 5 to 10 minutes using laser," said Park Kim-beom, head of the Seoul Laser Clinic in Shinsadong, Seoul. However, because most of the cosmetic tattoos have been done by unlicensed people, mostly in beauty salons and even bathhouses, some are more difficult to remove. "Pigmentation is rather uneven and usually placed deeper under the skin when tattoos are done by inexperienced people, and can require two to three treatments before they are completely removed," Dr. Park said.

The lasers used in tattoo removal, such as Ruby, Alexandrite and Neodynium YAG, specifically target black pigment and there is no scarring, according to Dr. Park.

Although there is generally little pain in removing eyebrow tattoos, a local anesthetic is used in removing tattoos from the more sensitive eyeline. The area surrounding the treated site may swell and there may even be slight bleeding afterward, but these conditions improve after a day or two.

A thin scab will form and the treated areas will heal completely in about two weeks. When eyebrows are treated, they will turn white and remain that way for two to three months before returning to their normal color.

"Although tattoos on eyebrows and eyelines can be easily removed, it is difficult to get rid of the red lip liner tattoo," said Dr. Park. There have been instances where the red pigmentation turned black upon laser treatment, he added. "It creates a very messy situation where the black line has to be excised from the skin," he explained.

To get rid of the unwanted permanent eyebrows, expect to shell out about 1 million won ($800), significantly more than the cost to get them done in the first place, which can be as low as 30,000 won. Yet, some women remain undeterred in their quest for convenience. "I see a growing number of women who come in to replace their Brooke Shields-like eyebrows with the thinner and lighter tattooed eyebrows that are currently in vogue," Dr. Park noted.

Tattoo removal is but one of several applications of laser technology available at the dermatologist's office. "A good 70 to 80 percent of my patients are treated with laser," Dr. Park reported. Unsightly scars, birthmarks, warts and stretch marks can all be made to disappear using laser, which emits an intense but gentle burst of light. Laser skin resurfacing is also a popular means of treating wrinkles, as well as scars from acne and surgery. If age spots are making you look old, you can also have them lightened or removed with laser.

In fact, the laser, which was first used by dermatologists here in the early 1990s, has now become an indispensable tool at most clinics. "It is a good instrument and one that is very convenient for the user," said Dr. Park, who also chairs the Korean Dermatology Laser Surgery Scientific Board.

However, proper training in the use of laser is absolutely necessary, he warned. It may look easy because just following the manual provided by the equipment manufacturer can yield good results. Equally problematic is the large number of inferior products on the market, according to Dr. Park.

"The key is to look for a doctor with experience and expertise," he advised, adding that people should be wary of overblown advertising among some clinics that offer laser treatment as a miracle cure for all skin disorders.

Not everyone is an ideal candidate for laser surgery. "Seventy percent of all people wanting laser treatment will experience favorable results, but the remaining 30 percent will receive little benefit," he said.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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