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Undoing Ink: My Decision to Do Laser Tattoo Removal

Although I thoroughly planned my tattoo, it didn't turn out as I hoped. This is my personal experience of the laser tattoo removal process.

Think Before You Ink

In July of 2014, I made an appointment to get a tattoo I had been conceptualizing for months; a lotus flower (a common symbol in Buddhism) connected to a cross (a symbol in Christianity). While I pursued Religious Studies as a minor in my undergraduate career, I had come to learn about different world faiths, only to reaffirm my personal belief in Christianity. In this reaffirmation I identified I was a "Buddhist sympathizer," otherwise known as an individual who does not subscribe to or practice Buddhism but appreciates and incorporates aspects of Buddhist teachings into their life. Because of this experience, I came to identify with the imagery and meaning of a cross integrated into a lotus flower.

With that symbol in my head, I stopped by a tattoo shop in Atlanta, GA where the artist drew a beautiful version of the symbol as a tattoo. However, I declined to put the art on my body because the size was larger than I wanted and we could not come to an agreement on a smaller, less detailed version. A week later, I made an appointment at a shop where I had had other tattoos done. The artist there drew something much closer to my original vision, although it was still larger than I wanted. I was confident I wanted a small, simple outline, but decided to take the artist's advice that going too small would detract from the art. I signed the paperwork and agreed to get the tattoo done.

As soon as the needle began to ink my skin, a weird anxiety struck. I had been inked before, but had never experienced so much uncertainty in the moment I was being tattooed. I kept my thoughts at bay and let the artist finish. He was great and let me give input as he tattooed, redoing any line that was not to my satisfaction. Of all the artists that ever tattooed me, he had the lightest hand, so the process barely hurt. In the end, it was beautiful! I loved the art of the tattoo, but something was off.

My freshly inked tattoo.

My freshly inked tattoo.

The Moment of Uncertainty

I realized too late the placement on my wrist was not to my liking. Since I had not thought to lift my arm vertically (as if I was waving) when I had looked at the stencil design in the mirror, I did not realize my tattoo would go crooked with the twist of my wrist. I tried to convince myself I was happy with the tattoo, but with each minute that passed, I recognized another reason I was not 100% certain I wanted my new ink.

The day after I got the tattoo I was already looking up safe and recommended methods for removal. Three days later, I called Dr. Tattoff in Atlanta to ask how long I would have to wait to start the removal process. The first question the Tattoff employee asked was how long I had had the tattoo, to which I replied “Three days”. “Oh no, what have you done?” she asked half laughing.

I am sure there are people who may think I did not contemplate my wrist tattoo thoroughly. The truth is I did, for months. It was not until it was on my body and I was living with a visible black wrist tattoo that I realized I preferred my tattoos subtle and easily concealed. I have 3 other tattoos that people rarely realize are in plain sight. I was disappointed I wanted to remove the tattoo, but more importantly, I knew if I was not 100% happy with the art piece, why wouldn’t I do something? If I found myself wanting to cover it, why wouldn’t I change it?


My Tattoo Removal Experience

Fast-forward to September of 2014, my Dr. Tattoff consultation in Atlanta. When I went to my consultation appointment I felt so much relief to know I was a great candidate for laser tattoo removal (simple, black ink, professionally done tattoo on fair/light skin complexion) and they were confident they could remove it in about eight to ten treatments. It is a time commitment to remove a tattoo—safe removal takes months of laser sessions, weeks of healing in-between sessions and careful aftercare. By the time my consultation arrived I had become fond of my tattoo, but the consultation gave me the confidence to go through with what I knew I wanted more, a plain tattoo free wrist.

The Typical Tattoo Removal Process:

  1. The option to have your tattoo area numbed with cream or ice before treatment. Since my tattoo was on the small side, I usually skipped numbing. If you have a large tattoo, it is my understanding numbing can make a huge difference with the pain tolerance.
  2. Sitting in a chair, much like a tattoo chair, and getting positioned to treat the targeted area. Most professionals will go over what happens next at this point and proceed to give you protective eyewear.
  3. Lasering the treatment area with a level calibrated to your specific removal needs. If you have ever fried food before and felt the pop of hot grease or oil on your skin, that is what it feels like to be receive a laser removal treatment, but over and over again. Everyone's pain threshold is different and tattoo sizes will determine how long your treatment lasts. Ask the professional conducting your removal for a stress ball during your treatment as many businesses have them handy for you to squeeze to help overcome the discomfort of the laser.
  4. Having the area numbed with ice and potentially wrapped. After your session is complete your skin will likely feel warm and the tattoo area will show irritation. It's possible to see some blistering and your skin might be raised. Don't panic or touch the affected area as this will go away within a few days.
  5. Follow all recommended aftercare instructions and wait a determined number of weeks to heal before another session.

Post Laser Inflammation

Post laser session your tattoo will swell and look incredibly irritated. Do not pick at it and it will heal just fine. This is a photo from my 3rd removal session.

Post laser session your tattoo will swell and look incredibly irritated. Do not pick at it and it will heal just fine. This is a photo from my 3rd removal session.

My Personal Removal Results

As of today, some of the ink from my tattoo is still visible and I have not finished treatment as the company I was receiving services from, Dr. Tattoff, went out of business nationwide. Though they had predicted 8-10 treatments, I received 11 sessions and would likely need 2-3 more sessions to be completely ink free. It is difficult to predict exactly how many laser treatments it will take for complete removal as everyone's body reacts differently to the laser.

As pictured below, 11 treatments helped remove the majority of the ink. Then, even two years after my 11th treatment, my body continued to absorb some of the ink and fade further. The tattoo is not nearly as bold or visible as it once was; the details and the shading are gone. I am happy with how subtle the tattoo appears and do not regret the process of getting it done or removed. I have not even considered paying for more treatments at an alternative business because I am content with the appearance. As much as you may think before you ink, it is possible to decide you are not 100% satisfied with your tattoo. Thankfully, ink is not nearly as permanent as people believe it is and removal or fading is possible if this is a route you are interested in.

11 laser treatments later.

11 laser treatments later.

"After"- 2 Years Later Without Full Treatment

As mentioned, I did not finish the treatment and like the faded look. This photo is after 11 total treatments and 2 years post laser treatment of any kind.

As mentioned, I did not finish the treatment and like the faded look. This photo is after 11 total treatments and 2 years post laser treatment of any kind.

Think Before You Laser

When getting a tattoo it is important to conduct research about the individual or business you are getting your tattoo done with. With ample Google and Yelp reviews available for almost all existing businesses, there is no excuse not to do a quick and simple search with the name of the person or business tattooing you. The same advice goes for the business you receive laser treatments from. A quick search on laser tattoo removal could direct you towards Groupon, which continues to feature affordable options to begin laser tattoo removal treatments. However, before you click buy on that great tattoo removal deal, read the fine print and research the business.

If you are new to tattoo removal commit to a consultation, but give yourself time to consider if the business you may be receiving treatment from is:

  • Clean! Your tattoo removal provider should be as sterile and tidy as a doctor's office.
  • Fairly priced. Not all tattoo removal packages are priced equitably. With the introduction of new lasers yearly, treatment continues to be more affordable. Make sure you are not being pressured into an unnecessarily expensive package. If the provider estimates a certain number of sessions but goes past that number, ask how they will charge you for the remainder of sessions needed.
  • Friendly, timely and knowledgeable. I have often heard about laser businesses that pressure customers to buy expensive packages, charge high prices for extras like numbing cream or ice and do not respect a customer's time by honoring the appointment time scheduled. Do your due diligence to try to find an office that does none of the aforementioned things as you will feel trapped finishing multiple sessions at a business that does not care for you and your treatment process.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: How was the overall healing process for you after tattoo removal? I assume it took about 2 years? Did you have to wear long sleeves while it healed?

Answer: I found the healing process to be relatively easy. I think this is partly due to the fact it is smaller, so it just a concentrated area that's uncomfortable for a few days. I also had a lot of self-control when it came to picking or scratching at it if it itched. When it looks bloody (from blood under the skin) and is blistering it's imperative you leave it alone as it's possible to create scarring by interfering with the tattoo while healing. Timeline wise it was about 2 years, but due to the fact Dr. Tattoff closed its doors before I finished treatment, I still have a few remains of the ink. I actually like the faded look and am not planning on lasering it anymore.

Question: When did you start seeing the tattoo disappear?

Answer: In the first sessions you notice a lightening of the ink, but the tattoo will still be visible. I saw parts of the tattoo disappearing altogether 4-6 sessions in. You may notice the tattoo lightens or disappears quicker in some spots over others, and it may not disappear or lighten evenly.

© 2017 Nilza Marie Santana-Castillo


Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on September 08, 2017:

Tattoos are tricky. I've never had one, but I respect people like you who are bold enough to do so. You are a brave soul, my friend.