Q: The once-cool butterfly on my ankle now looks tacky - what can I do?
A: Until recently, the only options were surgery or dermabrasion (where skin is "sanded" with a metal rotary brush to remove the surface and middle layers, diminishing the appearance of the tattoo after much pain). But these can cause scarring, which is why lasers are now the tool of choice, says Roy Geronemus, M.D., director of the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York and a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University.
During the procedure, the laser penetrates the dermis (the skin's middle layer, where the tattoo ink has been absorbed), superheating and dispersing the pigment while leaving the epidermis (the skin's outermost layer) intact. Although not as painful as dermabrasion, the treatment may hurt and takes several sessions -- ranging from a few seconds to 20 minutes depending on the size of the tattoo -- spaced one to two months apart. Because black, red and blue ink absorb laser energy more readily than other colors like yellow do, it may only take about three sessions (at $300-$800 each) to get rid of a tattoo with these shades.
For a less-expensive and quicker (although temporary) alternative, try body coverage makeup. Like the newest foundations, this makeup is made with light-reflecting particles, which creates a natural and sweat-, smudge- and waterproof finish. Try CoverBlend by Exuviance ($16-$22; 800-225-9411).