Picture a weekend on a hospital in San Antonio Texas. There is a waiting room full of people sporting varying styles of undesirable skin art. They are waiting patiently to see plastic surgeon Tolbert S. Wilkinson and hear him explain how they could shed some regrets.
There are many reasons why people have tattoos. Over the ages, tattoos have been a huge part of culture and identity. They still are. Gangs and tribes alike mark their members. Tattoos have also been about body decoration and they still play a very large part in self-design Unfortunately, there are also many reasons why people have their tattoo removed, painful, expensive and imperfect the procedure is. Many employers will not hire a visibly tattooed individual for a start.

Everyday we are bombarded with promises of magic creams and pills that will fade that tattoo for pennies and no discomfort at all, and invariably disappointment abounds every time. Innovations in Tattoo Removal Techniques are as rare as hen’s teeth but when they come along, they are welcomed with much relief.

Texas has had something called the Alamo Area Tattoo Removal Program for over a decade now. It was set up by Dr Wilkinson and has helped untold masses resolve their tattoos. Instead of a bank of different lasers to dissipate different colours, they use a very bright white light that deals with the whole spectrum at once. Two or three sessions are all that is needed. The downside is that the skin is left keratinised, or with a smooth flat scar like after a deep burn.

The real beauty of the treatment, however, is in the implementation of the programme itself. This is a case of social innovation for the removal of tattoos. People who are up to 21 years old are not charged a cent. Older patients are asked to make a donation, usually $50 per session. Peanuts compared to the thousands required for conventional removal techniques. Admittedly, the treatment is cheaper to run per session, as well as being offered in hospitals which will allocate a smaller overhead to the laser than a clinic. However, it is telling that Dr Wilkinson himself bemoans the lack of funding as the reason this setup is not more widely available.