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February 2001

Regarding TattoosIs That Sunlight, or an Oncoming Train at the End of the Tunnel?

Arch Dermatol. 2001;137(2):210-212. doi:10-1001/pubs.Arch Dermatol.-ISSN-0003-987x-137-2-ded00010

TATTOOS ARE increasingly popular among young adults around the world. This is not just a fad—almost every culture uses tattoos and the oldest human mummy sports several of them drawn more than 6000 years ago. Prevalence in the United States is probably about 3% to 5%, somewhat higher in young adults and in the South. However, good demographic data are unavailable. Many who get a tattoo will eventually want to get rid of it for a variety of good reasons.1 Unfortunately, tattoos are far more difficult to remove than they are to acquire. The common misconception that lasers easily remove tattoos is driven in part by the media, advertisements, and wishful thinking. For example, in a television episode of "The Simpsons," Bart gets a tattoo that is quickly removed by a nerdy cartoon laser dermatologist with dollar signs in his eyeballs. Bart should have been depicted going to his dermatologist 6 to 10 times over the course of 1 year, wearing dressings to cover his painful, partially removed tattoo after each treatment, and being worried about the almost even chance that some of his tattoo will remain, after all. Whether Bart's dermatologist was properly depicted, I will leave to the reader to determine. Like it or not, we are charged with caring for the nation's skin problems, including self-inflicted ones. Unless something changes, we are going to disappoint the millions of persons getting tattoos, who eventually show up at a dermatologist's practice to get them removed.

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