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Sick of that tattoo? A simple cream could erase regrettable ink

The pain of laser tattoo removal could be a thing of the past if a doctoral student's tattoo-removal cream hits the market.

Tattoo
A researcher hopes to make tattoos disappear with a high-tech cream. Amanda Kooser/CNET

It seemed like a good idea at the time. You thought you would forever love your Grateful Dead bear riding a unicorn escorted by dolphins while jumping over a rainbow. But now you're starting to regret its prominent place on your forearm. Plus, you just learned the artful kanji symbols you thought meant "love and peace" actually mean "deep-fried doughnut." At this point, you should be rooting for doctoral student Alec Falkenham from Canada's Dalhousie University to hurry up with his research.

Falkenham is developing a technology called Bisphosphonate Liposomal Tattoo Removal. It comes in the form of a cream that is applied to tattooed skin. It targets white blood cells called macrophages, some of which "eat" ink pigments and stay suspended in the skin, giving the tattoo its permanence, and some of which dispose of excess pigment through the body's lymph nodes. The cream essentially encourages a new set of macrophages to gobble up the old ones and carry the pigment away, causing the tattoo to fade.

The cream is designed to be much less invasive than current tattoo-removal treatments like laser removal. Laser removal is time-consuming, painful and expensive. Falkenham told CBC News he's testing the cream on tattooed pigs' ears and says it will work best on tattoos that are over two years old. A 4-inch square treatment would be expected to cost less than $4 (about £3, AU$5).

"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," says Andrea McCormick, manager of health and life sciences at Dalhousie's Industry Liaison and Innovation office.

In case you're wondering, Falkenham has four tattoos of his own and doesn't regret any of them.