Whether it be a faded jolly roger, a cartoon character long outgrown, or the name of an old flame that no longer burns, it's not unusual to know someone or even be someone stuck with a permanent tattoo that's past its prime. Alec Falkenham, a Ph.D. Student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, knows of the woes of those with outdated ink, and is developing a tattoo removal cream that could make that unwanted art a thing of the past.
Currently there are only a few tattoo removal options available to consumers and none of them work for everyone. Laser removal is the most effective treatment currently available, but it has many drawbacks; it's expensive, requires many treatment sessions, can leave scarring, is painful, and not everyone is a qualified candidate. Surgical removal is an extreme option and is guaranteed to leave scars; then there are dermabrasion and fade creams, which are topical, but can cause irritation, and have proven to be ineffective. Sadly, even with these treatments, there is still no guarantee that the tattoo will be completely removed.
Falkenham decided to take a different approach, he is developing a topical tattoo removal cream that will incite the body's immune system to remove the tattoo from within. His method, known as Bisphosphonate Liposomal Tattoo Removal (BLTR), utilizes macrophages (white blood cells that consume and remove foreign materials and debris), to attack the ink within the skin and eliminate it through the body's lymph system. Repeated applications of the tattoo removal cream result in a faded and blurred tattoo that will eventually fade away.
In addition to it being a pain-free, non-invasive, non-scarring solution to tattoo removal, Falkenham's tattoo removal cream has other advantages, including cost. Surgical and laser procedures can cost thousands of dollars, through multiple visits and are generally not covered by health insurance. Dermabrasion and fade creams can also be pricey and require multiple applications over long periods of time, and may still be ineffective in removing the tattoo. Falkenham said in an interview with CBC News, that removal of a four-by-four-inch tattoo with the tattoo removal cream will cost an estimated $4.50, and also told Newsweek that he would like it to be available as an over-the-counter treatment.
Falkenham has worked with Dalhousie University to have the technology patented, but more work still has to be done before the product is ready to hit the market. So far, testing on mice and on pig ears has been successful, but the cream has not been approved for human trial.
[Image via Michael J. Ermarth]