The UK has rapidly become one of the most tattooed nations on the planet with an estimated 1 in 3 people having a tattoo.
As a consequence of their increasing popularity many people have been left with regrettable reminders of their impulsivity, myself included. The current mainstay of tattoo removal is laser treatment which is extremely painful for both your skin and bank account with the end result looking like you’ve left the target area of skin in a frying pan full of crayons. I’ve often thought to myself “If only there was a magic cream that removed tattoos completely and painlessly without any scarring, oh and that it only costs roughly £3.” Well, thanks to Alec Falkenham, a PhD student at Dalhousie University’s pathology department, my prayers may have been answered.
Falkenham has been working on a topical cream that he says can fade tattoos without any pain or scarring. The method of removal is known as Bisphosphonate Liposomal Tattoo Removal (BLTR).
Anyone who has had a tattoo will know that immediately after it is done the skin is tender, swollen and red, this is due to an inflammatory immune response caused by getting ink injected into your skin. The immune response created by the tattooing process involves cells called macrophages, there are two groups of these that are active during tattooing. One group removes part of the tattoo pigment carrying it to be drained by the lymph nodes, the other macrophages try to “eat” the pigment, however as it cannot be digested these cells become arrested in the skin and form the visible part of the tattoo. As time goes on people notice that their tattoos naturally fade and blur, this is due to the pigmented macrophages being replaced by new macrophages. BLTR works by targeting pigmented macrophages using a liposome created by Falkenham and his team, in broad terms liposomes are synthetic vesicles used to administer various pharmaceutical agents or nutrients around the body. The liposome used in BLTR specifically targets the pigmented macrophages, the result being that when new macrophages come to remove the liposome from the pigmented cells, the pigment is also taken away to the draining lymph nodes. In simple terms you’ve just conned your own immune system into removing your tattoo.
Currently in the laboratory setting, the treatment for 100sq cm tattoo costs around $4.50 (that’s just less than £3) with Falkenham stating that they expect the price to decrease if they begin to commercially manufacture the cream.
Don’t get your hopes up just yet though, the cream is still in the experimental phase and hasn’t been tested on humans, however, the cream has had marked success on tattooed porcine tissue, which has resulted in Falkenham’s research being granted more funding.
Alec Falkenham and his team have provided some light at the end of the tunnel for people wanting rid of their tattoos, but the take home message is that currently tattoos are still permanent fixtures on your skin so give it some thought before getting one. If you’re also entertaining thoughts about getting your boyfriend/ girlfriend’s name tattooed on your neck, I would suggest a buying a bunch of flowers instead!