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Louisville, KY (WDRB) -- It seems like everyone it tatting it up these days -- Hollywood stars, pop icons, sports idols. In fact, the American academy of Dermatology estimates about one in four Americans 18 to 50 years old have turned their skin into a canvas -- in short, getting a tat is where it's at.
But Louisville resident Peggy Campbell knows it's time for a change. Zap by zap, she's reversing what she calls one of the worst decisions she ever made -- getting a butterfly tattoo near her hip when she was 17.
Peggy says, "I didn't really think about 'Well, what if I wanted to have children one day.' And, it's in a place where it would stretch out, and the whole thing just, I immediately regretted it."
Peggy's among an estimated 21-percent who say they wish they had never stepped foot in a tattoo parlor. She's also among a growing number who are doing something about it... getting their tattoos removed by laser.
Plastic surgeon Lee Corbett is one of about a half-dozen Louisville physicians doing this, and his client list is exploding.
Dr. Corbett says, "In our early days, we might have two to four patients for a tattoo removal day, and now here today we have 52. So, huge increase."
It's not cheap. In fact, each session zaps $300 out of the typical patient's wallet. So how many sessions does it take? Dr. Corbett says that depends on the size and the color.
"A yellow, orange, red pallet is the easiest to remove. Black and blue -- they're a little bit more stubborn, but they do consistently go away. The real trouble color is green. There is not a wavelength of light that is preferentially absorbed by green," says Corbett.
Corbett says some only take two or three treatments, but typically more like eight to 12 -- meaning a final bill in the $3,000 ballpark.
Corbett says, "What most people choose to do is they'll stop when there are only a couple of spots where there is pigment left, because it essentially looks like they have a freckle."
Tattoo removal has made leaps and bounds from years past. There was dermabrasion, where the skin was scraped away. Salification was where a salt solution was rubbed into the skin and that was scraped away. Scarification used chemicals to peel the skin away, and the resulting scar covered up what was left of the tattoo. There was cryo-surgery, or freezing the skin. Then, there's surgical removal, where the tattooed skin is cut out and the skin is sewn back together. But, with all of those, the patients is left with a scar. With a laser, there's no scar.
And thanks to a shot of anesthetic to numb the area before treatment, there's typically little pain.
Peggy Campbell says, "You don't even feel the laser. You feel like somebody kind of flicking your skin. You can feel the pressure of it. But I've never felt the actual laser itself."
Peggy says she's sold. "I mean it's almost gone now, and I've only had two treatments, and it's nearly gone," she says.
Tiffany Mitchell has had seven treatments. She's having Dr. Corbett remove a pair of blue birds she got tattooed on her chest six years ago, to honor a pair of relatives who died of cancer.
Tiffany says, "I'm in graduate school right now for a master's in social work. And, so sometimes when you go into court or go certain places, you don't want to, it's not as socially acceptable."
Tiffany says she has several tattoos, but this is the only one she plans to have removed. It's also the only time she's broken her six-month rule. "If I like something and I want it, I'll wait six months. I didn't wait six months with this. I was a little compulsive and went in and just had it done," she says.
Dr. Corbett says while he can remove almost any tattoo, there's one kind that can be tough... the lower back tat. "That skin is the thickest skin on the body, and if a professionally-placed tattoo was placed really deep, there's just not a machine that will get that deep," Corbett says.
You won't have to worry about Peggy Campbell getting one there, or anywhere else. She says, "Never, ever, ever, ever... no. You would have to force me to get another tattoo."
Dr. Corbett says, whoever does your laser tattoo removal, make sure that person is a licensed physician.
Here are Louisville physicians performing laser tattoo removal: