Laser treatment no quick fix for tattoos

The tattoo, once flaunted mostly by soldiers, sailors and ex-cons, has come into the mainstream thanks in part to TV shows such as “L.A. Ink,” “Miami Ink” and the influence of celebrities.

VANCOUVER — The tattoo, once flaunted mostly by soldiers, sailors and ex-cons, has come into the mainstream thanks in part to TV shows such as “L.A. Ink,” “Miami Ink” and the influence of celebrities.

But today’s expression of individuality through body art can sometimes be tomorrow’s unsightly embarrassment.

Like the guy who appeared at Dr. Jason Rivers’ Vancouver clinic asking to have the corkscrew tattoo removed from his penis.

Judging from the growing number of people sporting ever more elaborate tattoos, dermatologist Rivers and his Ottawa colleague Dr. Sharyn Laughlin will likely get busier in the coming years.

“Some people don’t realize that what’s cool when you’re 20 doesn’t look so great when you’re 75,” says Rivers.

“The context of a tattoo in a young person versus somebody who’s older is totally different.”

A veteran Vancouver tattoo artist, who didn’t want to be named, says there’s a definite trend towards larger, more complex tattoos covering arms, backs and chests on both men and women.

It became almost cliche for young women to tattoo the lower back just above their butt cleavage.

“Personally, I love tattooing that spot and it’s a beautiful area,” he says.

“Then somebody came along and coined the term tramp stamp. Virtually overnight that spot’s not popular anymore.”

Instead, he says women are opting to have the side of their ribs done, which requires a little more commitment because it’s more sensitive.

Besides pigeon-holing the wearer, tramp stamps have another adverse side effect, says Laughlin.

“The problem with those is when those little girls decide to have babies of their own, the anesthetist won’t go through their tattoos to give them an epidural,” she says.

Age also is not the tattoo’s friend.

“If a woman gets a butterfly on her breast, there’s a good chance in a few decades it’s going to be a pterodactyl,” the artist says.

Distorted tattoos are a common reason patients show up at Laughlin’s and Rivers’ clinics.

Other times it’s buyer’s remorse, like a teenage girl who came to Laughlin the day after she and a friend got matching hip tattoos to commemorate their high school graduation.

Luckily the artwork hadn’t set and Laughlin was able to use an immune-enhancing cream to fade the tattoo.

But the girl’s friend opted to cut out the tattoo herself rather than face her parents, Laughlin says.

More often, though, it’s a change of lifestyle that prompts tattoo removal.

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