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SPIE Professional January 2012

Judge sparks laser tattoo removal

By Alexa Zaske

Photonics for a better world

In Orange County, CA, court-ordered tattoo-removal treatment for federal offenders helps them return to the community by removing gang-related tattoos that could seem unprofessional.

The program was instituted in 2008 by U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter. Young people going through rehabilitation are required to have certain tattoos removed as part of their parole. Carter began a similar program in the 1990s as a county Superior Court judge.

"In conjunction with the court, our program is to aggressively treat so that these individuals can be reintegrated into society," says Dr. J. Stuart Nelson of the Beckman Laser Institute (BLI) at University of California, Irvine, where the treatments take place.

This tattoo-removal laser treatment gives the offenders a chance to erase signs of their history. "The tattoos respond very well to the laser," Nelson says.

Dr. Stuart Nelson administers a laser treatment at Beckman Laser Institute
 Dr. Stuart Nelson administers a laser treatment at Beckman Laser Institute.

Nelson, BLI medical director and professor of surgery, has worked with more than two dozen probationers to remove tattoos that could prevent them from building a new life in the community. Through the federal program, Nelson has removed tattoos located on hands, lower arms, and necks that could be off-putting to future employers.

"This is particularly important to these clients because they're trying to reenter society, acquire a job, establish a new identity and a new career. The stigma associated with having a tattoo can often inhibit that," he says.

Since a majority of tattoos treated at BLI are typically of the black or dark blue India ink variety, most offenders have been able to have their tattoos removed completely. Multicolored tattoos tend to be more challenging, since they contain organo-metallic dyes. These dyes make it difficult for the ink to properly absorb the laser treatment, making removal more of a process.

Nelson and other BLI members were honored for their work by the U.S. Probation Service and Judge Carter at the Federal Courthouse in Orange County in March 2011.

Research for new treatments

Stuart Nelson works with children to remove vascular malformations of the skin (port wine stains) that become darker over the course of time. The goal of his research is to develop novel technologies that can treat patients while they are younger, in order to give them the most benefit from the treatment. His work is just one of many areas of biophotonics education and research being pursued at BLI.

To learn more, see the SPIE Newsroom video tour at spie.org/beckman.

Photonics for a Better World

Join the discussion celebrating the many ways that photonics are applied in creating a better world at PhotonicsforaBetterWorld.org.

Read more articles in the SPIE Professional series at spie.org/betterworld.

Do you have a story to tell about the work that you or colleagues do to make the world a better place? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201201.08

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