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The Evolution of Tattoo Removals

ByDave Stopher

Mar 31, 2020 #health

Despite the fading stigma which still clings to a number of the population who snub tattoos, peering into the past shows us a definitive five thousand plus year relationship we’ve had with grafting artwork to our bodies.

We’ve come a long way from the Romans or Greeks, who often used tattooing to mark slaves, criminals or fugitives, or from body art being used to indicate social, political or religious status and authority in ancient Egyptian culture.

But no matter how far we come, it’s undeniable that the art form is not without regret.

These days, over 20% of British adults have at least 1 tattoo, and around a third of us with ink regret at least one piece.

Whether we grin and bear it, go for a cover-up or sign ourselves up for laser tattoo removal, we’re fortunate enough to live in an age where the options are open to us more than ever before.

Laser removal of tattoos has become so established as the leading procedure for those rethinking their ink that many often falsely consider them magic erasers, capable of skin wizardry which wipes away all of yesterday’s mistakes.

That’s not the case at all, but lasers are setting gold standards for getting the job done, that’s certain. What’s interesting (and horrifying) is when you start digging into the alternatives, seeing links to age-old practices and attempts still carried out to this day.

With the help of Dr Holt, one of the UK’s leading laser removal specialists, we’d like to take you on a quick journey through time so you can see as we do just how fortunate we are to have the treatment options of today, and why no alternative to laser tattoo removal is even worth consideration.


There are those who still peddle dermabrasion as an effective means of removing tattoos, however, this is one of the oldest tricks in the book.

These days, an abrasive device blasts the surface of the skin to remove the top layers of skin and break down the tattoo.

Certainly, the modern procedure is less barbaric than the dermabrasion approach of ancient Rome. As early as the first century AD, Roman soldiers returning from far off, remote regions with forbidden or taboo tattoos marking them were treated to repeat scraping of the skin with rough surfaces like sandpaper.

The harsher the surface, the better.

For those unaware, dermabrasion owes its name to Greek and Latin origins. Derma means skin, and abrasion is the process of scraping or wearing something away.

Imagine sitting through this time consuming, excruciatingly painful and risky experience in ancient times. Even assuming a level of cleanliness (which may not always be present) to combat infection, permanent scarring and other serious side effects we almost guaranteed.

Despite this, the Romans’ sanded tools for tattoo removal were the best we had, and dermabrasion was the standard removal method right up until the late 19th and early 20th century.

Of course, with today’s advances in science and modern medicine, dermabrasion is far safer, however, we’re still talking about the same function at the core – stripping away layers of skin. We just traded in the sandpaper.

Topical remedies

Entering into less intimidating territory which doesn’t evoke images of torture, we have another method still considered viable today with deep roots in the past.

These days, topical remedies take the form of removal creams which dissolve the tattoo using chemicals, and surely there are other similar ointments or salves peddled throughout the world claiming results.

Centuries ago, two French brothers and members of an exploration of the Americas were captured by a native tribe.

During their imprisonment, they were heavily tattooed, and, on being rescued by their countrymen, they were studied attentively.

It’s reported that a number of attempts to remove the impossibly permanent ink were carried out with a variety of herbal preparations. Not only that, but these men were also subjected to dermabrasion techniques – all to no avail.

As if they hadn’t been through enough!

Even today, topical remedies typically only cause tattoos to fade, and are incapable of fully removing that unwanted ink.

The extremist

While dermabrasion and topical remedies might sound extreme or desperate, in truth, these methods do see some success… at least these days, anyway.

However, there have always been extremist methods.

Though the tattoo removal method we’re about to discuss absolutely has earlier use cases dating back to the Polynesian and Aztec tribes, this story focuses on 17th-century Scottish traveller and alleged spy, William Lithgow. While on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Lithgow took the time for a tattoo featuring the crucifix, Jesus’ name and the crowns of Scotland and England.

Sadly, Lithgow’s final excursion saw him captured by Spanish soldiers and branded a spy. Enraged by the blasphemy of his ink, the Spaniards savagely carved the flesh from poor Bill’s arm.

Thankfully, I can’t imagine any likely case in our day and age for such barbarism…

And yet then you realise that acid tattoo removal exists.

Yes, really. There are those today who actually turn to acids similar to those used in chemical skin peels to burn away layers of skin in an effort to remove tattoos.

Yikes! No thank you.

Laser tattoo removal – the gold standard

The swinging sixties saw the beginning of much change in the world.

One of the lesser-known is that in 1967, the first removal of a tattoo using laser technology was performed by Dr Leon Goldman.

Tattoo removal lasers certainly rode the technological wave which has swept us up into the modern age. By the 80s, specialists following in Goldman’s footsteps started using CO2 lasers, but the tech was still developing, working through teething issues. Patients were often left with scars or pigmentation problems, not to mention being in tremendous pain even after anaesthesia.

Dermatologists knew they were onto a winner, though, and persisted. Even with infancy issues, lasers were proving a more resounding success than any predecessor method, that much was clear.

By the 90s, safer laser procedures and minimal side effects entered play thanks to the development of short-pulse width lasers and the eureka moment of realisation that changed everything – that tissue could be targeted using specific wavelengths of laser light.

This game-changer opened the door to specialists’ ability to target only the tattoo ink and leave the surrounding skin unaffected.

Nowadays, all tattoo lasers do this as standard, heating up the ink in the skin so rapidly that the pigmentation breaks down and can be effortlessly flushed away by our bodies – all without any lasting damage.

Laser tattoo removal as an art and science has and continues to grow in leaps and bounds from the sixties, to today and into tomorrow. Dedicated dermatologists stock a variety of lasers designed for removing different types and colours of tattoos, and can perform procedures which consistently outshine any alternative.

Rethinking your ink?

Let’s be serious, why would you ever trust any other means of tattoo removal than laser when literally every other method is one mankind have been trying for thousands of years?

Laser tattoo removal is the only procedure with feet planted firmly in science, reason, understanding and results.

Sure, you could get a cover-up. But when the goal is full removal, get yourself in touch with a dermatologist who specialises in laser treatments, book yourself a consultation and please, for love nor money, don’t treat yourself like those poor inked souls throughout history who would have done anything for the chances we have.

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