Everything you need to know about removing tattoos, birthmarks and portwine stains.

14 08 05 tattoo

Whether it’s a birthmark we were born with or a tattoo that seemed like a good idea at the time (not), it is likely that there is something on our face or body that we would prefer was no longer there. There’s good news, though: Thanks to advancements in cosmetic procedures, with a little patience, they can become a distant memory. Dr. Sachit Shah, MD, CFPC of the Beautiful Canadian Laser and Skincare Clinic in Surrey, B.C. offers a rundown on what we can expect with different types of removals.

BIRTHMARKS

Eighty per cent of us have them, usually in multiples, and they are caused by blood-vessel clumping, although we don’t know why it happens. There are different types of birthmarks, the most common being the café au lait spot, which can appear anywhere on the body, and the Nevus of Ota, which appears around the eye area, most commonly among Asians.

Keep in mind that moles and birthmarks are not the same thing. Questionable moles should be removed at a dermatologist’s office and biopsied to ensure they aren’t cancerous. Birthmarks
are strictly a visual issue and are only removed for cosmetic reasons.

Laser: Q-switched.

Pros:  Can be completely removed with time.

Cons: Must avoid tanning during treatment duration.

Duration: Once every two to three months for one to two years to remove completely.

Cost: $100 to $300 per treatment.

Pain Factor: Moderate.

Temporary Fix: Vichy Dermablend Fluid Corrective Foundation ($29.95, at drugstores) in five shades that range from Opal to Bronze.

Celebrities with Birthmarks: Richard Gere, Christina Aguilera, Antonio Sabato, Jr. and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

PORTWINE STAINS

Caused by a capillary malfunction in the skin, they can change with maturity, becoming darker, thicker and lumpy. They are most often found on the face, neck and upper body but can actually occur anywhere.

Laser: Vbeam.

Pros: Will eventually be completely removed.

Cons: Expect lots of bruising.

Duration: Once every three months  for  two to three years to remove completely.

Cost:  $100 to $300 per treatment.

Pain Factor: High, but the use of  topical analgesics or a cooling agent just prior to or during treatment will help with discomfort.

Temporary Fix: Cover FX Total Cover Cream Foundation ($42, at drugstores) in Pink, Neutral and Golden undertones with a total of 28 shades that range from very light to very dark.

Celebrities with port wine stains: Billy Corgan, Tina Turner and Mikhail Gorbachev.

TATTOOS

From amateur to professional, tattoos come in every size, shape and colour. Tricia Misener, RN, senior clinical specialist at Syneron/Candela Medical, not only works with developing the technology but has also had a tattoo removed herself and cautions that “amateur and black are the easiest to remove, while professional multi-coloured ones are the hardest.  Other factors to take into consideration are the location of the tattoo, as well as the age and skin type of the patient. Different colours require different laser wavelengths to remove, with black, red and blue being the easiest to remove and green being the hardest.”

Laser: Alex TriVantage.

Pros: Can be completely removed.

Cons: The more colours in the tattoo, the harder it will be to remove completely. Side effects can include discomfort, redness, swelling, blistering, burning, damage to skin texture and changes to pigmentation.

Duration: Once a month for one to 18 months to completely remove the tattoo.

Cost: $250 to $300 per treatment.

Pain Factor: Moderate to high. Topical analgesics or the use of a cooling agent just prior to or during  your treatment will help. Following treatment sessions, Polysporin should be applied three times a day.

Celebrities with tattoos: Let’s face it, it would be easier to name the celebrities that don’t have one!

Tattoo removal revolution: PicoSure, a new laser on the market, will completely remove a tattoo in three to four sessions. However, the laser costs $300,000 for practitioners, so expect removal sessions to be pricier.

Temporary Fix: Kat Von D Tattoo Concealer ($25, at Sephora), which is available in nine different shades. For serious, heavy-duty concealing, combine with Kat Von D Tattoo Eraser ($14, at Sephora), a light pink pencil that counteracts the black and blue inks.

As with any cosmetic procedure, it’s important to make sure that removals of any kind are done by a reputable practitioner. Those who promise that it will only take a couple of treatments, offer prices that seem too good to be true or have a “one laser suits everything” mentality should be avoided.

Dr. Shah maintains that the secret to any successful removal is knowing when to stop. “It’s a long process, and you want to go slow to protect the skin—to lift off as much as you can with the least amount of damage with the desired result of making it look like nothing was ever there.”