UNC doctors say tattoo craze leads to more removals, health warnings

August 30, 2000

CHAPEL HILL -- Almost half of Americans sporting tattoos are changing their minds, according to some estimates, most often because they change romantic partners whose names are emblazoned on their bodies. Increasingly, they seek out plastic surgeons and dermatologists who specialize in tattoo removal.

Removal techniques -- always more expensive than having tattoos applied in the first place -- range from excisional surgery and dermabrasion to the newer lasers. And while patients may no longer have a tattoo after these procedures, they almost always emerge with some kind of scar or mark, say physicians at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Add those reasons to the ever-present threat of infection, and Dr. Robert Tomsick, associate professor of dermatology at the UNC-CH School of Medicine, makes a case for thinking twice before going under the needle.

"What you're doing is breaking the skin and introducing pigmented material into the area," Tomsick said. "Even though the needle only goes in a little way, anytime you break the skin, you have a risk of bacterial or viral infection. I think it [getting a tattoo] is generally a risky thing to do."

Tomsick said he's especially concerned about methods amateur tattoo "artists" use to introduce pigment into skin. "I've even heard of people using wooden sticks and forcing in the pigment," he said. "Once pigment is in, even if there's no infection, there's always the chance of contact allergies, dermatitis and allergic reactions that can cause skin to get red, swollen, crusty and itchy."

Such reactions, which occur more often with red and white pigment than with blue and black tattoos, generally continue until the pigment is removed, Tomsick said. He also cautions dark-skinned people that they are at risk of getting keloid scars -- raised scars that keep growing -- from tattoos.

"These begin with pain and tenderness and can get to be so big that they can interfere with movement on certain body parts," he said.

Laser ablation is the newest and best for tattoo removal, but the process requires expensive equipment, including multiple lasers -- each specially tuned for the various pigment types to be removed, the physician said. Because of high equipment and maintenance costs, he and his colleagues at UNC-CH have not pursued this work. "Nonetheless, for the patient who wishes the most 'elegant' and least scarring tattoo removal, laser is the way to go."

Dr. Lynn Damitz, assistant professor of plastic surgery, said her department is looking at the possibility of purchasing laser equipment necessary for tattoo removal. "Lasers designed for this purpose have gotten much better at tattoo removal," she said. However, tattoo removal lasers are not yet standard at most hospitals. Such surgery takes multiple sessions, with each costing from $250 to $400.

"It's very expensive, and most of the patients I've talked to say it's more painful than getting the tattoo was," Damitz said.

Tomsick described the most common types of removal:
Tattoos can be cut away with an excision that goes through the full thickness of the skin. All the skin is pulled off and then pulled together again. Excision on small tattoos can make the area less conspicuous, but "a scar will always be there when you take scalpel to skin," he said.

Dermabrasion involves a hand-held tool that literally sands off the tattoo along with the skin, he added. The procedure can remove most of a tattoo, but residual pigment often is left behind, along with a scar.

Damitz offered a word of advice for those who are determined to get a tattoo: "Go to someone reputable, a professional whose health record you've investigated. And if you think you might change your mind about your tattoo, don't get a red or yellow one. They're the hardest to remove."
Note: Tomsick can be reached at (919) 966-2648.

Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Related Infection Articles from Brightsurf:

Halving the risk of infection following surgery
New analysis by the University of Leeds and the University of Bern of more than 14,000 operations has found that using alcoholic chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) halves the risk of infection in certain types of surgery when compared to the more commonly used povidone-iodine (PVI).

How plants shut the door on infection
A new study by an international team including University of Maryland scientists has discovered the key calcium channel responsible for closing plant pores as an immune response to pathogen exposure.

Sensing infection, suppressing regeneration
UIC researchers describe an enzyme that blocks the ability of blood vessel cells to self-heal.

Boost to lung immunity following infection
The strength of the immune system in response to respiratory infections is constantly changing, depending on the history of previous, unrelated infections, according to new research from the Crick.

Is infection after surgery associated with increased long-term risk of infection, death?
Whether experiencing an infection within the first 30 days after surgery is associated with an increased risk of another infection and death within one year was the focus of this observational study that included about 660,000 veterans who underwent major surgery.

Revealed: How E. coli knows how to cause the worst possible infection
The discovery could one day let doctors prevent the infection by allowing E. coli to pass harmlessly through the body.

UK study shows most patients with suspected urinary tract infection and treated with antibiotics actually lack evidence of this infection
New research presented at this week's European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Amsterdam, Netherlands (April 13-16, 2019) shows that only one third of patients that enter the emergency department with suspected urinary tract infection (UTI) actually have evidence of this infection, yet almost all are treated with antibiotics, unnecessarily driving the emergence of antimicrobial resistance.

Bacteria in urine doesn't always indicate infection
Doctors should think carefully before testing patients for a urinary tract infection (UTI) to avoid over-diagnosis and unnecessary antibiotic treatment, according to updated asymptomatic bacteriuria (ASB) guidelines released by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and published in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Subsidies for infection control to healthcare institutions help reduce infection levels
Researchers compared three types of infection control subsidies and found that under a limited budget, a dollar-for-dollar matching subsidy, in which policymakers match hospital spending for infection control measures, was the most effective at reducing the number of hospital-acquired infections.

Dengue virus infection may cause severe outcomes following Zika virus infection during pregnancy
This study is the first to report a possible mechanism for the enhancement of Zika virus progression during pregnancy in an animal model.

Read More: Infection News and Infection Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.