How to keep your tattoos looking good as you age
by Dene Moore
(Excerpt) Monica Hamilton got her first tattoo at age 20 – a fairy on the left side of her chest. She loved it and over the years got several more symbolizing people she loves and landmark moments.
But after living a life and raising two children, she noticed her fairy had changed along with her body.
“By my early 30s, I had had two kids and had gained weight. The fairy was stretched and looking long and skinny,” says Ms. Hamilton, 49, an investment advisor associate from Sylvan Lake, Alta.
She opted to have a tattoo artist touch it up, extending the fairy’s wings, plumping up the profile shape and brightening the colours. She loves it.
“My body continues to change and the tattoo changes with it,” she says. “I don’t think I will touch it up again. She and I are ageing together.”
Tattoos, like the skin they’re in, are subject to the sands of time.
Josh Skrupskas, a tattoo artist and brand manager for Chronic Ink Tattoo, which has studios in Greater Toronto and Vancouver, says it’s become fairly common for mature customers to come in to have vintage tattoos touched up.
“Over time, the tattoo faded or for whatever reason is not holding up the way they had hoped,” he says. “If they’re still happy with the design they would have, ideally, the original artist go over it and breathe some new life into it.”
If the customer is no longer happy with the design, an artist may be able to design a new tattoo that covers the original, he says.
In cases when neither of those will do, there is laser removal.
“You can fully remove a tattoo; it just takes quite a long time,” Mr. Skrupskas says.
A laser delivers high-temperature pulses at rapid speed that breaks up the ink particles in the skin. Once broken up, the ink particles are flushed naturally out of the system while the surrounding skin is undamaged.
While laser treatments are available widely, the Canadian Dermatology Association would prefer directed-energy dermatology devices – including tattoo and hair removal laser systems – be offered by physicians or physician-designated staff.
Dr. Lisa Kellett, a Toronto-based dermatologist and member of the Canadian Dermatology Association and the Canadian Laser Aesthetic Surgery Society, suggests that while that is not currently the case, anyone considering laser tattoo removal should see a professional.
Professionals understand the process, what kind of inks can be removed and what kind of lasers are appropriate for various procedures, Dr. Kellett says. They can also provide anesthetic for comfort, she adds.
She has removed thousands of tattoos. She has also treated patients who have had improper laser treatments, with light sources such as intense pulse light, which has a significant risk of burns or scarring. She has also seen infections and allergic reactions to tattoo ink.
And she’s seen many patients who just don’t like the look of a tattoo anymore.
“Some want to be able to wear something and be more comfortable with what they’re wearing. Sometimes the tattoo is associated with something unpleasant and they want to forget about that,” Dr. Kellett says.