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A Cream to Erase Your Tattoos?

Alec Falkenham, a PhD student in pathology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, may have stumbled upon an easy to use and painless way to remove unwanted tattoos using a topical cream.

During the tattooing process a needle is dipped in ink and then, through a series of injections, deposited in the skin’s epidermis and upper dermis. The presence of pigment initiates a foreign body response causing the ink to be taken up by keratinocytes and phagocytic cells (including fibroblasts, macrophages and mast cells). As the healing proceeds, the phagocytes within the dermis are lost to the natural exfoliative process but as granulation and collagen form the deeper ink-filled fibroblasts are trapped within the dermis causing the pigment to become “permanent” where they can last for decades.

Falkenham’s method, which he calls bisphosphonate liposomal tattoo removal, is still in the research stages. But he says it could become an alternative to the current options. The cream is reported to work by targeting the ink-filled macrophages in the dermis, reinitiating the process and inciting other phagocytic cells to the area to remove the pigmented ones.

“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.” “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 said.

He has yet to determine how many applications of the cream it will take to remove a tattoo, but notes that it will work best on tattoos more than 2 years old. He estimates that the cost, per application, would be around $4.50 to treat a 10cm x 10cm area, which is much less costly than laser removal and reportedly with no burning or scarring of the tissue.

Adapted from several press releases.

By: John V. Notabartolo, MPAS, PA-C, SDPA Past President

[image by Meaghanw08]