- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

CARMEL, Ind. (AP) - Tattoos are supposed to be permanent. But a won’t-this-be-so-cool idea one decade can turn into an embarrassment the next. High collars and long sleeves used to be the best way to hide such indiscretions. Now, a Carmel clinic aims to erase the past.

Using a new type of laser technology, Invisible Ink Tattoo Removers promise to remove unwanted tattoos faster, more effectively and with less damage than the previous generation of tattoo removal machines.

Even with the new technology, removing a tattoo is not as easy as getting one.

“Tattoos are definitely put in faster than they are taken out,” said Kelly Howell, general manager of the Carmel site.

A tattoo is more than ink on the skin surface. Tattoo artists inject the ink with a needle below the skin, deep into the dermis, in the interest of permanence. Removing that ink takes multiple treatments spaced weeks apart and can take months or even years.

Invisible Ink is banking on there being people willing to go through the process. More than 20 percent of people in the United States and about half of millennials have at least one tattoo, said the company’s founder and chief executive officer Dick Satterfield. About 50 percent say they have some regret about a tat and 20 percent say they want it taken off.

“Over 20 percent of our customers who come in, they like tattoos, they just don’t like the ones they have,” Satterfield said.

Tattoo artist Bradford Smith, 35, falls in that camp. Four years ago he had the phrase “One King Jesus” tattooed on his neck in big black letters at a time when he was feeling passionate about his faith. People often asked him about it, and he realized it might appear abrasive to some.

When a friend of a friend started working at Invisible Ink, the Greenwood resident decided it might be time to update the message, with a more extensive design that will span parts of his neck, throat and the back of his head. First, he would need to lighten what was already there.

And from his job at Ink Therapy in Plainfield, he knows he’s not alone.

“There’s a good 30 to 40 percent of people that are worked with stuff that they either regret or just wasn’t done professionally, and now they’re wanting to get it covered up and reworked. Sometimes you just have to get some laser removal,” he said.

The cost of getting a tattoo removed can range from $50 to $700 depending on its size, where it is located, type of ink used, age of the tattoo and skin tone. It cost from $215 to $246 to remove a quarter-size tattoo, Howell said. Removing a tattoo the size of a poker chip can cost up to $315.

Tattoo removal isn’t as painful as getting a tattoo, Smith said. Invisible Ink clients are encouraged to apply medical grade numbing cream about two hours before the procedure. During it, a machine blows cold air onto the skin to further numb it.

Rather than the sharp sensation of getting a tattoo, he described removal as a dull pain with a burning feel. He’s had one 10-minute session and expects to have a two or three more until the old ink has faded enough to start anew.

The concept for Invisible Ink predated the technology. Satterfield was watching “American Idol” about eight years ago when he noticed a large tattoo on a performer’s arm. Did she want it removed, he mused?

“Then I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if I can create the LensCrafters of tattoo removal,’ ” he recalled, referring to the eye-care chain, headquartered near Cincinnati, where Satterfield lived and ran an executive recruiting business.

Satterfield, who does not have any tattoos, consulted a plastic surgeon, who told him the best technology available did not work too well. So, he shelved the idea.

About three years ago, he was talking with a young plastic surgeon and the subject of tattoo removal came up. The surgeon agreed to research what was new in the field, and he discovered a next-generation laser, 1,000 times faster than the previous one.

Once Satterfield visited the laser company in Boston, he was sold. He opened the first Invisible Ink clinic in Pittsburgh in 2014. Four other free-standing stores followed.

The Carmel location, which opened in July in the office of plastic surgeon Dr. Janet Turkle, represents a new model - a clinic inside a doctor’s office.

Turkle already owned two Pico laser machines, which her staff used to perform skin rejuvenation procedures as well as tattoo removal.

But then she heard about Satterfield’s vision.

“It just sort of made sense. If you got somebody and that’s their niche and they’re doing a great job of it and they’ve gotten it down to a science - and most other tattoo places are not as well-backed - then I think they have a pretty unique spot,” she said.

Now, Invisible Ink staff who specialize in tattoo removal use Turkle’s machines.

Moving forward, Invisible Ink plans to open more clinics based on the Indianapolis model. The company opened its ninth location and currently has 50 employees. It plans to open another 25 clinics in the next two years.

The faster laser makes all the difference, Howell said. She compares the old laser to heating up a glass on the stove. Eventually the glass will shatter, into large pieces. Or, in the case of tattoo removal, the ink dissolves into large particles, too large for the body’s white blood cells to remove. Only after a number of treatments are those particles small enough to disperse.

The newer laser, she said, could be compared to taking that same glass, setting it on the sidewalk and bashing it with a sledgehammer, shattering it into much smaller pieces. Future treatments will lead to even smaller particles, Howell said.

Previously, removing a tattoo took about 15 to 20 visits six to eight weeks apart. The Invisible Ink process takes on average five to six visits, six to eight weeks apart.

Depending on the type of ink and colors used, the tattoo can start showing movement after the first treatment. Over the course of multiple treatments, the ink may fade, blur, and or change colors. With the old treatment, people often saw no results until after four treatments, Howell said.

Ivana Forbes, 21, is committed to having a 2-year-old tattoo on the back of her neck removed. Not only could it make it difficult for her to get certain jobs, the Carmel resident said, it also reminds her of a relationship she’d rather forget.

Not that she has anything against tattoos. She has every intention of keeping the tattoo art on her leg and arm, replete with roses, dragons, even Pokemon images,

While she could have opted just to cover-up, she’d rather go completely clean.

“I just wanted it all gone. Some people get it partially removed, but I just want it gone. I’m fine with a fresh neck,” she said.

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Source: Indianapolis Star, https://indy.st/2fKhcKH

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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