Can a cream really remove your tattoo?

Posted at 1:44 PM, Feb 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-20 13:44:03-05

(CNN) — Regretting that “Laura Forever” tattoo on your back now that Laura is gone? Or perhaps the Pac-Man symbol that was once so cool?

It doesn’t look so good permanently etched on your body anymore.

That’s where Canadian graduate student Alec Falkenham enters the picture.

Falkenham, a Ph.D. student in pathology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has developed a technique that doesn’t involve lasers to break down the ink particles in the skin.

His technique, called Bisphosphonate Liposomal Tattoo Removal, involves a cream that makes use of the body’s own defenses.

He’s not anti-tattoo; in fact, he has four and is keeping them all.

“This idea started when I got my first tattoo and I was thinking of the tattoo process from an immune point of view,” Falkenham said in a news release. “Since then, I have added three more and currently don’t regret any of them — but that’s probably a reflection on me waiting until I was older.”

Falkenham worked with his university’s Industry Liaison and Innovation office to patent the technology and get funding to continue his research.

When people get tattoos, the ink pigments in their skin get eaten by macrophages, a type of white blood cells. The cells eat the pigment to protect the surrounding issue from the foreign substance, Falkenham says. Those cells form the tattoo people see. Tattoos eventually fade when those macrophages are replaced by new ones.

Another group of macrophages moves some of the pigment to lymph nodes that remove it from the area. Falkenham’s cream targets those macrophages, speeding up the natural fading process.

Though the initial research has proved promising, more is required to build on his results before the product can be sold.