The tattoo removal cream stimulates a process of replacement of the ink-filled cells with clean new cells.
Alex Falkenham, a 27 year old PhD candidate of pathology at the Dalhousie University, is developing a tattoo removal cream that he says will remove tattoos painlessly, unlike the more traditional laser removal.
"When comparing it to laser-based tattoo removal, in which you see the burns, the scarring, the blisters, in this case, we've designed a drug that doesn't really have much off-target effect," Falkenham told CBC News.
"We're not targeting any of the normal skin cells, so you won't see a lot of inflammation. In fact, based on the process that we're actually using, we don't think there will be any inflammation at all and it would actually be anti-inflammatory."
How does tattoo removal cream work?
When someone gets tattooed, their skin is injected with ink. An immune response is automatically initiated and cells called "macrophages" relocated to the area and consume the ink molecules.
The ink molecules are taken by the macrophages to the body's lymph nodes. However, many of the macrophages that are filled with ink stay in the area of the tattoo, stuck in the skin tissue. This is what makes tattoos visible under your skin.
Falkenham's tattoo removal cream works by targeting the macrophages that stay at the site of the tattoo. New macrophages move in to consume the old ones and then migrate to the lymph nodes, eventually taking all the dye with them.
There's no injection and no inflammation. Falkenham says the tattoo should eventually fade away.
Falkenham is working with the university's Industry Liaison and Innovation office to patent his technology on tattoo removal cream. He and the ILI office have secured funding through Springboard Atlantic and Innovacorp Early Stage Commercialization Fund for his research.
"Alec is a trail blazer in tattoo removal. He came to ILI with an idea, tangentially related to his graduate research, that had real-life applicability," said Andrea McCormick, manager, health and life sciences at ILI in a news release.
"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."
He doesn't yet know how many applications will be required to completely fade a tattoo. He's testing the tattoo removal cream on tattooed pig's ears.
Falkenham says it will be much safer than laser tattoo removal.
He's not sure when the tattoo removal cream will be available commercially.
Falkenham estimates a treatment with tattoo removal cream will cost four cents per square centimetre — a 10-by-10-centimetre area would cost approximately $4.50 per treatment. The tattoo removal cream will work best on tattoos that are more than two years old, he adds.