You should probably still think twice before making any practically permanent alterations to your body. But in the event that you do end up with a regrettable tattoo, a researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax is making it easier to erase that mistake. Alec Falkenham, a 27-year-old PhD student in the university's pathology department, is working on a topical cream that could replace the painful laser removal when it comes to dealing with unwanted ink.
The tattooing process works by injecting ink into the skin, which stimulates an immune response in which cells called "macrophages" move into the area and "eat up" the ink. Although some of the macrophages carry ink away from the surface of the skin into the lymph nodes, others remain behind, darkened from "consuming" ink. These pigment-filled macrophages are what we see as a tattoo. Falkenham's cream works by inciting another round of macrophages to consume the colored ones and carry them, along with the ink, into the body's lymph nodes and away from the visible surface of the skin.
Falkenham isn't sure yet how many sessions a complete erasure will take, which in turn will determine the total price—a 10-by-10-centimeter area would cost approximately $4.50 per treatment. But still, it's unlikely to top the several thousand dollars laser removal can cost you. What's more, the topical cream will be safer than laser removal.
"When comparing it to laser-based tattoo removal, in which you see the burns, the scarring, the blisters, in this case, we've designed a drug that doesn't really have much off-target effect," Falkenham told CBC News.
"We're not targeting any of the normal skin cells, so you won't see a lot of inflammation. In fact, based on the process that we're actually using, we don't think there will be any inflammation at all and it would actually be anti-inflammatory."