Thinking of Having a Tattoo Removed? Read This First

Patient Expert

_What story is your tattoo telling about you? Is it a tale of remembrance? Love? Or regret? _

Most tattoos tell stories unique to the people who have them. But for people like Dejuan U., some stories end up told in the "wrong place."

“I got a tattoo on my neck back in 2008," Dejaun told me via email. "The reason for removal was because I felt that it held me back from pursuing a career that would have benefited me financially.” Dejuan is not alone in his regret.

According to a 2013 study in the British Journal of Dermatology, nearly a third of the 580 people with tattoos who completed the study’s survey regretted getting one. The study found that a majority of the regretted tattoos were ones found on the upper body. Men were also found more likely to regret the tattoo and three times more likely to experience regret if they got the tattoo before 16 years old.

While tattoos can be removed with laser treatment, the process of removal can be much more expensive and time-consuming than the tattooing itself.

“Laser treatments are performed every six to eight weeks in order for the body to have time to absorb the ink,” said Joe Carroll, general manager of Dr. Ink Eraser, a tattoo removal firm based in the Atlanta area, in an interview.

Joe notes that the amount of time it takes for a tattoo to be removed depends on the nature of the body art, including:

  • How heavy-handed the artist was who originally did the tattoo;
  • The age of the tattoo;
  • Location of the tattoo;
  • Colors involved, e.g., the most difficult to remove involve blue and green ink.

Depending on the circumstances, it could take anywhere from six months to a year for a full tattoo removal.

Although the process to remove a tattoo can take a few sessions, the sittings are pretty short. “Each treatment with the laser only takes seconds,” Joe says.

Dejuan, meanwhile, says that during his first removal session, a numbing cream was applied to his skin about two hours before the procedure took place.

“I went out, grabbed a bite to eat, and returned to begin. They applied really cold air to my neck before using the laser and did a test area to check my tolerance.” On a scale of 1-10 (1 being the least painful and 10 being the most painful) Dejuan rates the pain as a 7. Of course, everyone’s pain tolerance is different. He describes the feeling of the laser as “small rubber bands popping on your skin rapidly.”

Dejuan also noted that, because he is African American, the process may take even longer, as removal can sometimes require more sessions for customers with darker skin.

Joe recommends the following for aftercare:

  • A non-stick bandage applied to the area where the tattoo was removed.
  • An ice pack placed on the area for 30 minutes, three to four times a day.
  • The area should remain clean and dry for at least seven days.
  • The area should be cleaned frequently with antibacterial soap.
  • Avoid exposing the area to sunlight until it heals.

Candidates for the procedure should be aware that there are some risks associated with tattoo removal.

“The chances of scar tissue developing are fairly minimal with the equipment we use, but things like hypopigmentation, lightening, and hyperpigmentation [darkening] of the skin can occur — even though they're usually transient,” Joe says.

Alisha Bridges has battled with severe psoriasis for over 20 years and is the face behind Being Me in My Own Skin, a blog which highlights her life with psoriasis. Her goals are to create empathy and compassion for those who are least understood, through transparency of self, patient advocacy, and healthcare. She is currently a post-bach student at Georgia State University pursuing a career as a Physician's Assistance—her passions are dermatology and sexual health. Alisha also shares her passion as a Social Ambassador of the Psoriasis HealthCentral Facebook page where she shares timely tips, stories and insights on living with psoriasis. You can also find Alisha on Twitter.