A Health Canada warning issued on Tuesday about tattoo removal products makes sense to one local parlour that described one result as a “gnarly boily mess.”
The removal products can include “gels, creams or solutions applied topically or injected through the skin using a tattoo needle.”
Last fall, Health Canada received four reports of adverse reactions, such as scarring and skin irritation.
“We strongly discourage people from using it,” said Matt Beatch, shop manager at Classic Tattoo in Red Deer. They do not sell the products.
“In my opinion, the only way to do tattoo removal is by laser,” he said. Classic Tattoo does only tattooing. They refer people who want laser removal to someone who specializes in it. Laser removal works and is a proven thing, he said.
Laser removal is much like laser hair removal except with a stronger laser, said Beatch.
“I’ve seen what topicals have done. … This isn’t a new thing. … I’ve seen what it does to people’s skin and it’s absolutely horrendous.
“There’s one, if you could just imagine like a zombie movie, like a lady had one on her outer arm and it honestly looked like she was bitten by a zombie. It was so gross. So I strongly deter people from using that stuff.”
The woman he was referring to had been in their tattoo shop. “It was real, real, real ugly. Real messy.”
She had bought the cream online, Beatch said.
“I don’t think she understood really what she was doing. She had been applying it for close to a month so I don’t think she realized the issue that it was,” Beatch said.
“This isn’t the first case of seeing someone with this gnarly boily mess on their arm. I can’t even imagine what the long-term effects of that are,” he said.
“To be honest, laser removal isn’t even all that expensive … considering you’re getting a mulligan with artwork that you’re unhappy with on your arm or wherever.
“I’m pretty sure nobody (in Red Deer) recommends that stuff. It is kind of a scary thing in the industry.”
Another local tattoo parlour contacted on Tuesday, Dark Day Studio, said it did not use or sell the products either. It does offer laser removal.
Beatch said they do end up discussing tattoo removal with some of their customers, and in some cases removal is recommended. “You can’t cover everything up.”
Sometimes people just aren’t happy with their tattoos anymore or the tattoo is something that can’t be covered with a different tattoo, he said.
“When you’re messing with that kind of thing (tattoo removal), and this is exactly back to the point of why I wouldn’t recommend a topical, you could potentially scar someone’s body.”
Beatch said the tattoo business is a “luxury” industry “much like when you go to get your hair dyed … it’s kind of the same thing. You feel good after you get tattooed. … It doesn’t feel good getting done, if that’s your next question.”
Tattoo clients can be anyone, he said. “We’ve had an 87-year-old lady who got a little rooster on her leg.”
Health Canada said the products they are warning about are available through specialized tattoo or esthetic service providers, or may be purchased directly from specialized retailers, in store and online.
“The products work by fading/lightening the tattoo ink, or by drawing the ink to the surface of the skin, causing a scab that eventually falls away,” the Health Canada statement says.
Anyone who experiences an adverse reaction related to a tattoo removal product should report it to Health Canada as well as to the establishment it was purchased from.
“Health Canada is seeking further information about the products implicated in the reported incidents. In addition, department officials are carefully monitoring the marketplace for information about safety-related incidents involving tattoo removal products. Health Canada will follow up with companies where products are implicated in an incident and, where appropriate, take compliance and enforcement actions.”
The public can contact Health Canada by calling 1-866-225-0709 or 613-957-2991.