Tattoos may seem like a good idea in the moment, but sometimes, tattoos are inked on impulse. We spoke to Dr Kenneth Lee, founder of the SW1 Clinic (who also co- founded The Sloane Clinic in 2003) about tattoo regret.
SKINMAG: Do you often see patients who have tattoo regret?
Dr Kenneth Lee: Yes, I have seen quite a few over the last decade. They range from pretty young to working professionals who regretted the tattoos they got in their younger years, because the tattoos didn’t fit their lifestyle anymore. The tattoos range from professional, self-inked, very new, old, black tattoos and multi-coloured ones.
SKINMAG: What kind of tattoos do people normally regret?
Dr Kenneth Lee: Usually people regret tattoos that label them, such as gang tattoos. I have had to help a young man remove massive yakuza style tattoos on his chest, back and both legs because he wanted to become a policeman. Sometimes people remove easily visible tattoos such as those on the fingers and wrists when they change jobs, because prospective employers view these negatively during a job interview.
SKINMAG: How are tattoos normally removed in a doctor’s clinic?
Dr Kenneth Lee: Tattoos are normally removed via lasers. When the laser beam is fired into the tattoo, the ink pigments are broken up into small fragments, like a mini explosion under the skin. These fragments are then removed gradually by one’s own body. The laser creates heat injury under the skin, so patients will need to be numbed with topical numbing cream before the procedure, because it hurts. The skin over the tattoo then appears red and slightly swollen after the procedure, and patients will need to be gentle with it for the following 2 or 3 weeks.
SKINMAG: What kind of tattoo is the hardest to remove?
Dr Kenneth Lee: Multi-coloured tattoos that have green or purple inks are tough. Tattoos that have yellow and red pigments are the hardest to remove. Black tattoos are the easiest.
SKINMAG: What laser do you currently use for laser tattoo removal?
Dr Kenneth Lee: I use a second generation Picosecond laser to remove tattoos now. It has three wavelengths, two of which are identical with the traditional nanosecond Q-switched Nd:Yag laser, and an additional wavelength, a Ruby laser, which effectively allows for treatment of more multi-coloured tattoos, which the traditional laser doesn’t have.
SKINMAG: Is a Picosecond laser better than a Q-Switch laser at removing normal tattoos?
Dr Kenneth Lee: Well, the Q-switch lasers definitely work, but it has its limitations. I like the picosecond laser a lot compared to the Q-switch! (laughs) It is highly effective for tattoos because it can generate very high tensile stress to pulverize tattoo pigments, at lower energy settings. So tattoo clearance is faster and it has the safety profile like that of its nanosecond predecessors.
SKINMAG: Do tattoos change in appearance over time?
Dr Kenneth Lee: Tattoos age. The ink may look smudged over time, because our bodies are trying to digest and clear the pigments. In certain parts of the body where shape shifts, skin sags or stretches as we age, tattoos may also look misshapen after a while.
SKINMAG: Have you removed brow embroidery before?
Dr Kenneth Lee: Yes, every now and then I see a brow embroidery mishap. I tell my patients that these will slowly fade, but usually they would still prefer to remove it because I guess no one will ever get used to a bad brow job. Usually I try to reshape the botched brow rather than treat the entire brow, and my settings are conservative, to avoid de-pigmentation of the normal skin, and to preserve the eyebrow follicles.
SKINMAG: Do you have any advice for our readers who are thinking of getting inked?
Dr Kenneth Lee: I think there are different levels of tattoo regret. Some may not like their tattoos as much as before, but they can live with it. Tattoos sometimes tell stories of a person’s life, so I always ask my patients about the story behind each tattoo I treat. I wouldn’t say some areas are safer than others in terms of regret, but maybe think twice before inking something like a new girlfriend’s face on your arm, for example. Also, tattoo removals are painful, they actually hurt more than the inking itself. So think, before you ink.
Dr Kenneth Lee has more than 15 years of experience in Medical Aesthetics and has treated many who have regretted their inks.
He co-founded the SW1 Clinic in 2017 with Dr Low Chai Ling, former Medical Director of The Sloane Clinic. They can be located at 290 Orchard Road, Paragon Medical, Level 13, along with the group of doctors who were also formerly from The Sloane Clinic.
Tel: 6817 8888