Let’s be real. We can legally get a tattoo at the age of 18, but we will continue to grow and change as a person after that point. With this personal growth, a plethora of changes in our identity begin to surface.
At some point you may find that the tattoo you got at 18 of your favorite song lyrics at the time isn’t exactly relevant to your life anymore. Or the boy you swore you were going to marry broke your heart but now you have his initials inked on your wrist as an unwanted reminder of a failed relationship.
There’s an obvious difference between us and our tattoos. As we are ever-changing, tattoos remain almost permanent. I use the word "almost" because tattoo removal does exist and it's a popular choice among people who want to rid their skin of a regretful tattoo.
So what exactly does tattoo removal entail?
When deciding to remove a tattoo, you have to take all of the possible outcomes into consideration.
Even after several treatments, some tattoos may only fade partially, leaving behind a ghost-like image of your unwanted tattoo to haunt you.
The possibility of permanent, raised scarring at the site of the now-removed tattoo is likely as well. However, with newer technology the process of removing tattoos successfully is improving.
The process of tattoo removal is not just a one-time thing. Depending on the size and colors of the tattoo it can take up from two to 10 visits.
And talk about pricey! During these visits a professional removal technician will use lasers with a high-intensity light beam in order to break up the ink particles. These tattoo removal lasers are also called Q-switched lasers or ultrashort pulse lasers.
The lasers are red-hot and perform in a very narrow frequency at a rapid speed. The speed and heat of the lasers are critical when it comes to breaking the ink particles apart. After each session, the tattoo will progressively fade more and more until it is gone.
When it comes to the physical pain of this process, that tends to vary. It has been regarded as pretty painful. Some feel that the removal process hurts more than getting the initial tattoo. Many patients have described the pain as resembling a grease splatter or the quick snapping of a rubber band on their skin.
Despite the heat of the lasers, they don't burn the skin because the laser itself moves so quickly. The pain that most people feel actually comes from a shock wave created by the heat and movement of the laser. The shock wave vibrates through your skin, which forces the upper layer of skin to slightly lift and create a white pigment. The whitening of the skin is also called “frosting.”
If the pain is something you’re truly concerned about, it’s important to note that many physicians can apply a topical anesthetic cream or a pain killer injection on the tattoo before its removal.
Some common post-treatment symptoms you might experience are swelling, redness, blisters and raised skin. Hyperpigmentation (darkening) and hypopigmentation (lightening) of the skin are also common side effects. Luckily, the darkening or lightening of your skin at the site of the removal will go back to normal on its own, anywhere from 6 to 12 months later.
While these consequences aren’t too severe, there are some more serious possible side effects of tattoo removal. As previously stated, permanent scarring is a risk of the procedure. The area is also at risk of infection, burns and in some cases a total textural change of the skin.
Since most tattoos are different, it’s important to meet with a professional technician who can cater to your every need when it comes to successfully removing the tattoo. A single laser isn’t capable of removing all tattoo colors. Due to specific laser wavelengths treating specific colors, you may need multiple lasers in order to fully remove the pigment from your skin.
If tattoo removal doesn’t sound like it's up your alley, another option is to talk with your tattoo artist about a potential cover-up. These have proven to be very successful in transforming your unwanted tattoo into something you’ll love.
Reviewed September 25, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) Here's What Really Happens When You Remove a Tattoo With Lasers. Business Insider. Accessed August 30, 2016.
2) Laser Tattoo Removal: 10 Things You Should Know Before Getting Your Tattoo Removed. RealSelf. Accessed August 30, 2016.
3) Laser Tattoo Removal. WebMD. Accessed August 30, 2016.