A Canadian uni student has invented a new tattoo removal cream that makes the ink fade away forever by replacing the ink-filled cells with new, clean cells.

Right now, if you want a tattoo removed, you have to undergo a painful process of laser removal that involves taking a super-fast laser to the site and getting zapped once a pico second. That's once every 0.000000000001 of a second. This causes the ink particles to rapidly heat up, and fall apart, at which point the white blood cells will move in and eat them up. You can watch a video about the process here.

So Alec Falkenham, a PhD student in the pathology department of Dalhousie University in Canada, decided to offer up a different method for removal, and condense it all down into a painless topical cream.

"When comparing it to laser-based tattoo removal, in which you see the burns, the scarring, the blisters, in this case, we've designed a drug that doesn't really have much off-target effect," he told Phlis McGregor at CBC News. "We're not targeting any of the normal skin cells, so you won't see a lot of inflammation. In fact, based on the process that we're actually using, we don't think there will be any inflammation at all and it would actually be anti-inflammatory."

When you get a tattoo, ink is injected via a special needle into the skin. The body responds to this foreign material by sending an army of macrophages - a type of white blood cell - to the site to devour it. While some of the macrophages succeed at ridding the body of the ink by carting portions of it away to the lymph nodes, others don't quite make it, and get bogged down in skin at the site of the tattoo, filled with ink.

Falkenham's cream works by delivering new macrophages to the tattoo site, where they consume the old ink-filled ones, and then migrate to the lymph nodes. They'll make it to the liver, and finally, well, you'll poop them out. Obviously, the time it takes for the tattoo to fade depends on how big the tattoo is, and Falkenham isn't sure yet how many applications it will take, but says the whole process will be painless, injection-free, and much safer than the current laser removal method. He recommends the tattoos be at least two years old before you try to remove them with the cream.

CBC News reports that Falkenham is now working with the university to patent and fund the technology. "Alec is a trail blazer in tattoo removal. He came to ILI [the university's Industry Liaison and Innovation office] with an idea, tangentially related to his graduate research, that had real-life applicability," Andrea McCormick, manager of health and life sciences at Dalhousie University, told Phlis McGregor at CBC News. "His initial research has shown great results and his next stage of research will build on those results, developing his technology into a product that can eventually be brought to market."

He's currently testing the cream out on pig's ears, and says once it hits the market, it'll cost about four cents per square centimetre of tattoo.

While we're happy that the tattooed names of ex-lovers no longer have to serve as a permanent reminder of a broken relationship, it does make us a little sad that tattoos will become a whole lot less permanent. There's something very special about choosing something you know will be a part of you forever. But then, situations like this remind us of why this cream is a really great idea.

Source: CBC News