When Colby Scott went to have his tattoos of a bulldog and tribal symbols removed, he was shocked to find out it would take between six and 20 laser sessions, which at $450 per session, could mean $9,000 to remove one tattoo that cost $50 to have applied.

So he tried everything he could think of to remove it, including acid and steel wool. Eventually he bought his owner laser, figuring it would pay for itself with the money he saved not paying someone else to remove the tattoos for him.

It worked beautifully, he said, causing much less pain than the other methods he tried, and minimal scarring. When he started removing tattoos for family and friends, he recognized a demand for affordable tattoo removal. He consulted a lawyer, drafted a client waiver and opened up shop in Ashland under the name Inkzappers.

The only hitch is that he is not certified.

Certification for tattoo removal, however, is an ambiguous issue. Scott researched agencies that offered training, and found only one questionable school in Colorado that claims to have been training students to use lasers since 1890. Neither he nor his lawyer could find any laws requiring him to be licensed for tattoo removal, so they went ahead with business.

"There is no official certification for using laser devices," said Nadine Tosk, a spokeswoman for the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery. "That's the good news and bad news. There are guidelines that also vary state by state as to who can administer the procedure using what classification of a laser."

State Regulations

In Oregon, the regulation of lasers falls under the Board of Medical Examiners, and while it has issued statements of philosophy on medical use of lasers, those statements do not carry the weight of law, said Randy Day, a complaint resource officer with the board.

"It would be accurate to say that in Oregon we don't have a definite set of laws or rules covering the use of lasers," Day said. "We believe it is the practice of surgery except for hair removal."

The board defines laser surgery as "destruction, incision, ablation or the revision of human tissue by use of a laser," which could be interpreted to include tattoo removal, Day said. Hair removal with a laser is exempted because hair is at the surface or skin, but a tattoo is under the surface, implying that an incision would be required, he said.

Hair removal, or electrology, is monitored by the Oregon Health Licensing Agency, the same body that licenses tattoo artists, but not those who perform tattoo removal.

Although there is no specific license for laser tattoo removal, using a laser to remove tattoos without a medical license could be a prosecutable offense, Day said.

How it works

Scott uses a Q-switching laser to break up tattoos without piercing the skin. A session takes between 10 and 30 minutes, then clients must wait four to six weeks for it to heal and allow their immune system to remove the shattered ink. Like other clinics Scott visited in his quest to remove his tattoos, the process can require up to 20 sessions, but with prices starting around $25 per session instead of $450.

No sedation or numbing is required for the procedure, and Scott said while some clients experience pain similar to being snapped with a rubber band, others seem to enjoy the process.

"It's a bit intimidating, but when people actually sit in the chair and do it, some people report a pleasant experience," he said, attributing the pleasure to an endorphin release.

Scott requires his clients wear goggles to eliminate the risk of blindness, and all must sign a release form, which emphasizes keeping the area clean after treatment and avoiding sun, tanning beds and certain medications, such as oral acne treatments.

In addition to complete tattoo removal, Scott also offers tattoo lightening for people who want to have tattoos redone.

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