Why you should care
New technology means fewer treatments to eradicate that one bad decision.
Embarrassed by that faded butterfly on your lower back? Struggling to cover up that crooked tribal armband? Chances are you’ve already considered the costly, painful and time-consuming procedure it takes to erase ill-advised tattoos. And even then, they’ll never fully disappear, leaving behind unsightly, pale traces of a past mistake.
If you’re among the estimated one-quarter of Americans who regret getting tattooed, Texas-based health science firm Soliton believes it has developed a better removal solution than the industry-standard procedure — one that not only does a more effective job of scrubbing unwanted ink from your skin but also in fewer treatments. Which is good news for anyone typically looking at multiple sessions to eradicate that sucky panther everyone else was getting at the time.
The Soliton process combines a regular “Q-switched” laser treatment, today’s most popular removal method, with its new rapid acoustic pulse (RAP) technology, operating at 3,000 volts at nearly 3,000 amps, which allows for multiple passes over the skin, reducing the number of appointments needed to eradicate a tattoo.
In addition to the typical tattoo-regretters, there is also a crowd, typically younger, looking simply to clear their natural canvas to make way for new ink.
With lasers alone, clinicians can pass over the skin only once per session. While lasers are extremely effective at breaking up tattoo ink in principle, explains Soliton co-founder Wally Klemp, the process also creates two layers of stubborn vacuoles inside the skin, which effectively serve as barriers and render another immediate pass largely useless. “Once you put [the laser] into the skin, that whole dynamic changes everything,” Klemp says. So patients — the most determined of them, anyway — need to attend around 10 appointments over the course of one or two years to fully remove a tattoo.
Soliton’s RAP system blasts away both layers of vacuoles immediately after they form, allowing for another pass of a laser. Then another, and yet another. By the end of one session, it’s possible to squeeze in four passes. And while the laser isn’t exactly pleasant, the company claims that the procedure is mostly pain-free. Still, if you’re worried, you can opt for topical anesthetic before the treatment.
“It’s like getting half a year’s worth of treatment in a single office visit,” says Klemp. On average, in clinical trials involving nearly three dozen participants, the RAP device busted up around 49 percent of black ink — compared with 16 percent with a laser only — after a single session.
Klemp and co-founder Christopher Capelli spent five years and around $25 million researching the acoustic shock wave method. And the industry is starting to take notice. The RAP device recently received a “Best of Session” award by the American Society for Laser Medicine & Surgery at its annual conference. Earlier this month, Soliton received the Food and Drug Administration’s small-business designation, which allows it to file a premarketing notification, kick-starting a process that will eventually allow the company to begin advertising. The medical device company, which completed an initial public offering in February, is eyeing a limited launch by the end of the year and hoping for a full-scale rollout in 2020.
It’s a potentially lucrative market. In addition to the typical tattoo-regretters, there is also a crowd, typically younger, looking simply to clear their natural canvas to make way for new ink. Or at least that’s what Klemp and his colleagues found while consulting both tattoo owners and artists during their research. “The motivations to remove a tattoo are way beyond the concept of embarrassment or regret,” he says.
To become truly popular, though, the technology will have to win over clinicians seeking solid research data and substantiation from respected doctors. “We adopt new devices based on this evidence and data, as well as the reputation of the laser company itself,” says Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, a partner at Modern Dermatology in Westport, Connecticut. (Robinson said she was not yet familiar with Soliton.)
Is it going to cost patrons an arm and a leg to eradicate those no-longer-wanted tats on their arms or legs? While the cost will ultimately be determined by individual practitioners, the overall price tag for customers is estimated to be lower than existing laser-only methods, which average around several hundred dollars per session (you do the math).
So with any luck, you may not be staring with dread at that off-color dolphin on your ankle for much longer.