(NPN) - The tattoo you got years ago seemed like a great idea at the time. Now, you wish it would just disappear.
You're not alone. One-in-8 tattooed Americans now regrets getting inked. But there's a right way - and a wrong way - to get rid of it.
Doctors want you to know the wrong way can cause permanent skin damage.
When Kristen Hoster got her tattoo, she thought it would be a part of her life forever.
"It's of a Hello Kitty cupcake with purple flames and peppermints," Hoster said.
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," she said.
Kristen is part of a growing number of Americans opting for tattoo removal - a long, often difficult process.
Now, some are going the do-it-yourself route. Doctors, like board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Byun, are very concerned and strongly advise against it. That's because 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," Byun said. "That's a very difficult, dangerous thought process."
Online, there are graphic videos devoted to self-removal. Some people use safety pins or pens to try and "poke" the pigment out.
"We had a patient once who had used salt to try to scrub the tattoo off," said Dr. Amy Derick, a dermatologist.
Derick, of the American Academy of Dermatology, also has seen patients try self-removal gels and creams, but says there's no evidence that they work.
"A lot of products have chemicals or ingredients that are irritating to the skin with the hope that the immune system will fight off the pigment that remains," Derick said.
"I tried just the gel you put on twice a day," Hoster said. "Didn't do anything."
For some, DIY 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," Byun said.
Laser surgery is considered the gold standard for tattoo removal and is cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"The reason why we use a tattoo removal laser is to remove the ink slowly so that the skin looks pretty much normal when the treatments are completed," Derick said.
It's important to find a qualified and board certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
"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," Derick said.
After six months of laser treatment, Hoster'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," she said.
Even with laser surgery, complete removal without scarring isn't always possible. Successful treatment depends on the size, color, location, and age of your tattoo.
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