CNN logo


BHN logo

Health half banner

Tattoo today, gone tomorrow


Lasers make them disappear

January 20, 1997
Web posted at: 11:30 a.m. EST

In this story:

From Correspondent Dan Rutz

HOUSTON (CNN) -- Getting a tattoo doesn't have to be a decision you live with forever. Using lasers, doctors can surgically erase screaming eagles, flowers, a loved one's name or any other body decoration that has lost its appeal. All it takes is a little patience and a lot of money. (11 sec. 1M QuickTime movie)movie icon


Richard Phillips, now 37, got his first "homemade" tattoo from fellow gang members when he was 13.

Later, when Phillips joined the Marines, he had a professional tattoo artist add a tiger to cover the gang graffiti on his upper arm. "It was cool back then," he told CNN.

Not 'cool' anymore

But times have changed and Phillips, who lives in a Houston suburb, now calls the tattoos on both his arms "degrading."


He decided 10 years ago to have them removed but it took until now for technology to come up with an answer. The laser treatment he receives at the Veterans Hospital in Houston feels like being continously popped with a rubber band, Phillips said.

How it works

But the laser does not actually burn the skin, according to Dr. Ida Orengo of the Baylor University College of Medicine. Instead, as she explained, the highly-focused light "explodes" the tattoo ink into smaller pieces.

Normal skin is unaffected, but the laser raises a temporary welt when it hits the tattoo.


Treatment may take years

The treatment takes about an hour but it takes a few weeks for the body heal itself, eventually flushing away the broken-down ink. Depending on skin type and the tattoo itself, it may take sessions lasting years before the image is gone for good. "You get rid of the tattoo, leaving little or no scarring at all," Orengo said.

Phillips has veterans benefits to help pay for his treatment. But for others, the cost can be several thousand dollars.


Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

What You Think Tell us what you think!

You said it...

To the top

© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.