By Prossy Nandudu
Rose Najjemba, 35, has had a tattoo for three years.
However, what was once a beauty mark is now causing Rose sleepless nights. “Since I had the tattoo inscribed on my leg, I have had skin reactions, which doctors say, result from the ink failing to blend in with my body.
A skin doctor recommended grafting (transplantation of skin) and another said the tattoo would have to be removed.
Dr. Kotecha removes a tattoo using laser
What you need to know about a tattoo
Dr. Chiraag Kotecha, a dermatologist in Kampala, advises that before one gets a permanent tattoo inscribed, he must be find out what the procedure entails.
He defines a tattoo as a permanent mark or design made on the skin with pigments inserted through pricks into the skin’s top layer (the epidermis).
“A tattoo artist uses a hand-held machine that acts much like a sewing machine, with one or more needles piercing the skin repeatedly. With every puncture, the needles insert tiny ink droplets,” Kotecha explains.
One must be careful, however, when choosing a site where to have the tattoo. For instance, in case of weight gain, or pregnancy, once the skin stretches, the tattoo may be distorted, affecting its appearance.
Why do people get tatoos?
He explains that the history of tattoos dates back centuries ago. Egyptians, for instance, used tattoos to differentiate slaves and peasants.
Today, however, people get tattoos for personal expression, youthful impulsiveness and to fit in with the trends.
He cautions, however, that good tattoos are not cheap and cheap tattoos are not good.
Health risks of tattoo
According to skin specialists, tattoo dyes can trigger reactions at the tattoo site, such as a rash. The reaction can be immediate, or may occur several years later, after the tattoo has been done.
A tattoo can also cause redness, swelling, pain and a pus-like discharge.
Tattooing can also lead to keloids, according to Dr. Paranav Pancholi, a dermatologist. He says keloids are raised areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue and are common among Africans.
“If the tattoo equipment is contaminated, for instance by infected blood, you can contract blood-borne diseases, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV as well as tetanus,” Pancholi cautions.
Tattoos can also cause other skin bumps (granulomas) around the tattoo ink, which may easily result in skin infections.
How to treat reactions from tattoos
In case one reacts to the tattoo ink, medication may be required and in extreme cases, it may necessitate removal of the tattoo.
Removal of a tattoo is costly
Pancholi says the cost of removing a tattoo is high and in the past, it would necessitate going abroad. However, lately, one can have the procedure done locally.
The cost ranges from about $80 (about sh220,000), onwards, depending on the size and number of sessions required to get rid of the tattoo.
Safe and unsafe methods
In a desperate attempt to remove the tattoos, some people use extreme measures to scrap out the ink. For example, some people use the dermabrasion technique, which involves scraping or sanding down the skin.
Others use the salabrasion method, where a salt solution is rubbed into the skin and heated to scrap the tattoo. Both cases, according to Kotecha, are not safe. “When the wound heals, it leaves a visible scar,” he says.
Occasionally, doctors perform surgical removal of tiny tattoos. But even with surgical removal, the procedure is likely to leave a scar because the tattooed skin is cut out and the surrounding skin sewn back together.
Kotecha warns against crude methods of tattoo removal, adding that the best way method is laser.
With laser removal, a beam of light searches for a contrast between the skin tone and ink, pulsing intensely on the skin to break the ink down into particles small enough for the body to absorb.
Laser treatment works differently, depending on the tattoo. The greater the colour contrast between the ink and skin, the easier it is to remove the tattoo, Kotecha says.
For instance, black ink on light-skinned people is the easiest to remove, while fluorescent colours like green and purple are nearly impossible to erase. He adds that small tattoos are easier to remove, as well as old tattoos because the ink is easier to break down.
How long does it take to erase a permanent tattoo?
Taking those factors into consideration, patients should expect to undergo five to 12 laser treatment sessions. In addition, the patient would have to wait a month before the next session, meaning that the process could last six months to a year.
Removal of a tattoo using laser can be painful and for the first few days after the procedure, the skin looks like a healing burn. And like any other burn, patients should care for the skin like they would a burn, applying antibiotic ointment and keeping the skin bandaged.
Compared with older treatments, laser removal leaves little to no scarring, but may also cause allergic reactions in some people. So as you consider getting a permanent tattoo, remember that the cost of taking the ink off is more costly than putting it on.