It’s not so much the pain of laser treatment that makes people wince. So when, for whatever reason they feel the need to remove their tattoos, some people start looking around for a less expensive (and relatively less painful) method, which invariably leads them to consider tattoo removal creams.
“After all,” they might say to themselves. “Why pay a doctor hundreds of dollars to zap my tattoos away when I can just do it myself? Besides, I hear laser tattoo removal hurts like the dickens.”
It’s true, you could actually buy “permanent” tattoo removal cream for about S$3 a tube (you could even buy it online). When you consider how the tattoo removal laser machine itself costs around S$200,000 (which gives you an idea of how much a treatment using that machine would cost), the choice in terms of cost seems like a no-brainer.
But before you rush out to buy a dozen or so tubes of tattoo removal cream, think about this: If creams really were all they’re cracked up to be, then why do so many people head for their doctors’ offices to get laser tattoo removal? Are they profligate masochists who get their kicks by throwing their time and money away? Or are they really making a smarter, savvier choice?
Let’s find out by taking a closer look at tattoo removal creams and how effective (and cost-effective) they really are.
How Tattoo Removal Creams Work
Many tattoo removal creams contain trichloroacetic acid (TCA) which acts as chemical peel. When applied to the skin, the acid causes its top layer (the epidermis) to come off. When applied to a tattoo, the ink supposedly comes off along with the epidermis.
However, when skin is tattooed, the ink is injected into the dermis, or the deeper layer of the skin, which creams don’t reach.
Hydroquinone is also included in cream formulations as an anti-pigmentation agent that helps the colours in tattoo inks to fade, because of its ability to decrease melanin production in the skin. Other cream ingredients include salicylic acid and other astringents, as well as Chromabright, stearic acid and other skin lighteners.
Some tattoo removal creams substitute their chemical components with natural alternatives such as lemongrass for astringents; and ascorbic acid, kojic acid and white licorice for skin lighteners.
With all the acids and bleaches it contains, the most a tattoo removal cream might be able to do is to bleach a tattoo or cause it to fade. The tattoo will become blurry, but it will still be there.
Unfortunately, that’s the good news.
Tattoo Removal Cream Side Effects
The bad news is that the use of trichloroacetic acid should be confined to clinics and hospitals and not the home. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve any tattoo removal cream, let alone for home or personal use. The FDA also says that no tattoo removal creams or ointments have been shown to work.
If you’re not careful, TCA, hydroquinone and other chemicals found in tattoo removal creams, could cause nasty side effects, not the least of which is anaphylaxis (if you turn out to be extremely allergic to the cream’s ingredients). You might even have difficulty breathing and become nauseous.
Other side effects run the gamut of rashes, redness, itchiness on one end of the spectrum, and blistering, chemical burns, permanent scars or skin discolouration on the other.
Research shows that the most common side effect of TCA use is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) an example of which is the kind of dark-coloured scars caused by acne. PIH can take up to a year to heal with further treatment and medication.
Hyperpigmentation is also a risk that comes with the use of hydroquinone, with the marks being notorious for their difficulty of removal.
Other studies show that the use of tattoo removal cream also comes with the risk of developing contact eczema, AKA contact dermatitis. The skin becomes inflamed and uncomfortable from coming into contact with an irritant or allergen.
Are Tattoo Removal Creams Really Cost-Effective?
When you consider the cost of treating the extensive skin damage and other side effects that could result from using tattoo removal creams, it’s easy to see the true cost of a seemingly low-cost alternative.
What costs you S$3 a tube today, could cost you hundreds of dollars in remedial treatment as well as potentially permanent disfiguration and a significant amount of pain down the line.
A good doctor would never recommend the use of something questionable or potentially dangerous, and would always provide options that actually work, even if these options take longer and are more expensive.
Unlike tattoo removal creams, laser tattoo removal is able to reach the ink embedded in the dermis. The laser heats up the ink to break up the pigment and remove the tattoo. While laser tattoo removal does cost—and hurt a lot more than using cream, it is safer and more effective. And unlike creams, laser tattoo removal is FDA-approved.
At the very least, you can be sure that you’ll be spending on actually removing your tattoos, and not on repairing the damage wrought by DIY tattoo removal tactics.
Don’t Be Misled by DIY Tattoo Removal
It’s understandable how people are tempted to remove their tattoos themselves, whether it’s with creams or through salabrasion (which uses a salt solution and abrasive implements). Given the amount of “proof” of how well these inexpensive DIY methods work on the internet, it may seem foolish to commit to several sessions of costly laser tattoo removal treatments.
But when you think about how many of these “before and after” photos are small, poor quality and even digitally retouched, and examine the list of ingredients of your average tattoo removal cream, anybody would be bound to think twice.
Laser tattoo removal is an investment that is well worth it for its results and the reassurance you have of its safety and effectiveness. To find out if laser tattoo removal is right for you, get in touch with The Aesthetics Centre, today.