WHEN “FOREVER” FADES BUT THE INK STAYS
It seemed like a good idea at the time…
You thought you would forever love your Grateful Dead bear riding a unicorn escorted by dolphins while jumping over a rainbow.
But now you’re starting to regret its prominent place on your forearm. Plus, you just learned the artful kanji symbols you thought meant “love and peace” actually mean “deep-fried doughnut.”
At this point, you should be rooting for doctoral student Alec Falkenham from Canada’s Dalhousie University to hurry up with his research.
A new approach for tattoo removal
Tattoo removal is big business — more than $75 million in the U.S. alone — and typically involves lasers that break down the ink particles in the tattoo, which is then absorbed into the body.
Falkenham has come up with a different approach, one that makes use of the natural healing process that your skin activates after it’s tattooed in the first place.
Falkenham is developing a technology called Bisphosphonate Liposomal Tattoo Removal. It comes in the form of a cream that is applied to tattooed skin.
It targets white blood cells called macrophages, some of which “eat” ink pigments and stay suspended in the skin, giving the tattoo its permanence, and some of which dispose of excess pigment through the body’s lymph nodes.
The cream essentially encourages a new set of macrophages to gobble up the old ones and carry the pigment away, causing the tattoo to fade.
The cream is designed to be much less invasive than current tattoo-removal treatments like laser removal. Laser removal is time-consuming, painful and expensive.
Falkenham told CBC News he’s testing the cream on tattooed pigs’ ears and says it will work best on tattoos that are over two years old. A 4-inch square treatment would be expected to cost less than $4 (about £3, AU$5).
Closer to erasing your ink
Falkenham worked with Dal’s Industry Liaison and Innovation (ILI) office to patent his technology. Together they have secured funding through Springboard Atlantic and Innovacorp Early Stage Commercialization Fund for his research into BLTR and he is continuing to work with ILI.
“Alec is a trail blazer in tattoo removal – he came to ILI with an idea, tangentially related to his graduate research, that had real-life applicability,” says Andrea McCormick, manager, health and life sciences at ILI.
“His initial research has shown great results and his next stage of research will build on those results, developing his technology into a product that can eventually be brought to market.”
So does the guy who has developed technology to remove tattoos have any tattoo regrets of his own?
“This idea started when I got my first tattoo and I was thinking of the tattoo process from an immune point of view,” explains Alec. “Since then, I have added three more and currently don’t regret any of them — but that’s probably a reflection on me waiting until I was older.”
See also: Digital tattoos have arrived!