Removing a tattoo could cost more time, money and discomfort than you’d think. Here’s a best-success guide.
It seemed like such a cute idea at the time. You and your three best college buddies swore eternal friendship and each got identical tree frogs tattooed on your ankles.
Fifteen years later, you’re not really in touch with those women anymore. You can’t remember what it was that you loved so much about frogs. And you’re wearing long pants to work in the sweltering heat so you can hide your tattoo (gotta look professional). You’d really like to get rid of it. Before you do, here’s what you need to know.
You’re Not Alone
Ten percent of American adults have or have had tattoos, according to American Demographics magazine. Nearly half are women. But don’t think “Mom” or a skull and crossbones. Picture the kind of small-of-the-back sexy arabesque or mandala sunburst made chic by the likes of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Drew Barrymore.
Perhaps the only trend growing as fast as getting tattoos put on is getting them taken off. According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS), about 48,000 laser-removal procedures were performed by dermatologic surgeons in 2001. Witness Angelina Jolie, who stepped out recently (and sleevelessly) with the once-prominent “Billy Bob” (her ex-husband) erases from her upper arm. Another tattoo customer with buyer’s remorse is Carre Otis. As a supermodel who came onto the scene in the late ‘80s, she covered herself with 11 illustrations, including the name of her future (and now former) husband, actor Mickey Rourke. Now, as a plus-size model who speaks about body image, eating disorders and substance abuse, she has changed her opinion about tattoos (and has lasered off one of hers so far). For a while, you will feel like, ‘It’s a part of me and it represents a part of my life,’ But you get to a point where you don’t want a physical reminder. You put names on there, but life is impermanent, as are relationships.
You Need a Doctor
Walking into a self-proclaimed removal expert’s office can be hazardous. If you choose to get rid of your “really awful” tattooed floral ankle bracelet. The aesthetician you picked out of the phone book may suggest using harmless-sounding glycolic acid to remove the design. Not only was the process painful, but it is unsterile. The solution will be spilled and then applied to your skin (which is first abraded with a pumice stone). Within days, you will develop a raging infection. You will be rushed to an urgent-care clinic, where you could lose your leg or even die.
Experts say the preferred removal method is the laser, and they recommend using a board-certified dermatologist or a physician with about five years of laser experience. Look for a member of the ASDS or the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery.
One Laser Does Not Fit All
Not all tattoos are the same, and neither are the removal methods or the results. The best option today, according to experts, is a Q-switched laser. There are three different ones. Each targets only certain colors of ink. For people with many-colored tattoos, this can really be a problem. More colors mean more lasers and, possibly, more office visits. Your best bet is to go with a doctor who uses at least two different lasers in his practice.
Removal Costs More Than The Tattoo – A Lot More!
Tattoo artists charge anywhere from $45 to $150 an hour. Prices for removal at a doctor’s office range from $250 to $500 per visit. Depending on your design, removal may require 6 to 12 office visits (with one to two months between treatments to allow the skin to heal). And it’s a cosmetic procedure, so insurance won’t cover it.
Discomfort is routine even with anesthesia. The pain ranged from the snapping of an elastic band to an intense burning feeling. The laser on my skin smelled like wood burning. So I’d sit there feeling like a Yule log with a rebellious past.
You May End Up With a Scar
There could be pinpoint bleeding. Not taking care of the area can lead to infection and scarring. Cover it with a dressing overnight; the ensuing “crusting” (which lasts up to a week) must also be protected from the sun.
Removal May Not Ever Work Completely
Lasers aren’t perfect; inks can react unexpectedly and darker skin can lose pigment. You can get a tattoo totally off, but it’s not guaranteed. Often you’re left with a dim shadow of the tattoo or a light patch where it was.
The bottom line: It’s much easier to get a tattoo than remove it. She notes that 42 percent of tattoo-removal patients blamed peer pressure for their tattoo and spent just a few minutes deciding to get one. A good policy? Think long and hard before you ink.
With removal so risky, why bother erasing tattoos? For many women, it’s about self-esteem. For others, it is a professional necessity. Some employer had a strict no-body-art policy.