By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Tattoo regret; it’s estimated about 100,000 people a year try to get a tattoo removed. But it’s not easy, and can be dangerous, causing permanent skin damage.
3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl says there’s a right and wrong way to do it.
When Kristen Hoster got a tattoo, she thought it would be a part of her life forever.
“It’s of a Hello Kitty cupcake, with purple flames and peppermints,” said Kristen.
Now that Kristen is in the food industry, she says her tattoo is serving up stress.
“I had to wear long sleeves, even in the summer,” said Kristen.
She is part of a growing number of Americans who want to get rid of their tattoos, a long, often difficult process.
Some try do-it-yourself techniques, but doctors warn tattoo ink is embedded deep in the skin.
“People think that you can actually remove the outside skin and thus the color will leave the body. That’s a very difficult, dangerous thought process,” said Dr. Michael Byun, a Plastic Surgeon.
Online, there are graphic videos devoted to self-removal. Some people use safety pins or pens to try to poke out the tattoo pigment. And there are self-removal gels and creams, but doctors say there’s no evidence they work.
“I tried just the gel you put on twice a day. Didn’t do anything,” said Kristen.
Some tattoo removal treatments can cause serious side effects, like infection, scarring, burning, rashes and skin discoloration.
“That compounds the removal issues when they come in seeking the medical treatment,” said Dr. Byun.
Laser treatments are considered the gold standard for tattoo removal. The technique is cleared by the FDA. Experts say it’s important to find a qualified and board certified doctor.
“A lot of times, there’s the temptation for physicians who only have one piece of equipment to use that equipment on everything, hair removal, tattoo removal, red spots, but the problem is if you use the wrong equipment, the risk of scarring goes up very high,” said Dr. Amy Derick, a Dermatologist.
After six months of laser treatments, Kristen’s tattoo is 50 percent gone. Her advice is, think before you ink.
“Don’t rush it. Make sure that it’s what you want,” said Kristen.
Doctors say even with laser treatments, complete removal without scarring isn’t always possible.
Successful treatment depends on the size, color, location and age of your tattoo.