It's a strange feeling to get a tattoo and realize immediately that you hate it. I got my tattoo two weeks after I graduated from college. In retrospect, it was so clearly a bad idea. I came up with the design a few months earlier: while I knew I wanted an infinity sign, I never actually found a drawing of what I wanted it to look like. I just walked into a tattoo parlor on the beach, paid the man, and walked out 45 minutes later with what I can only describe as a serpent-like infinity sign on my wrist. I don't even have any photos of the original version to share.
I tried for months to convince myself and others that I liked my tattoo. I even got it touched up at a much nicer shop with the hopes that a slight variation on the design would fix the problem. After three years of hiding it with a watch, I decided that the only option that would make me happy was to get it removed.
Although the day I got my tattoo was not well thought out, I had been considering the idea for a long time. I've always loved tattoos. I've seen so many beautiful and inspiring tattoos, and most have a story behind them. I knew that I wanted a tattoo and that I wouldn't get one unless it had meaning to me.
When I was 19, one of my dear friends was killed in a car accident. I wavered about getting a tattoo to memorialize her. Three years later, I somehow happened upon the infinity sign as the perfect tribute. To me, it represents that your past will always shape you, but time continues to move forward, and it's important to move with it.
While I love having that reminder, there are a couple reasons I am removing the tattoo. Not only have I never liked the way it looks, but also, when you have a tattoo on your wrist, people ask you about it. I quickly learned that my tattoo is just something I don't like talking about.
So three years after getting inked, I started the process of removal. Once again, I did not plan well. I chose a laser business a block from my apartment (convenient!) and it only cost $20 per session (cheap!). I went there twice and left the second time with various scars throughout my tattoo, which is not supposed to happen if it is treated properly. I now drive an hour away and pay much more for my treatment, but I feel so much more confident in my care and the results.
How Does Tattoo Removal Work?
I asked Dr. Rick Noodleman of Age Defying Dermatology, where I am treated, to give me a simplified explanation of the science behind tattoo removal: "The laser breaks up the pigment particles, and then your body digests them [through your bloodstream] and gets rid of them." Newer lasers break up the ink particles into smaller pieces, which allow them to be more easily digested. In the past, certain colors were more difficult to remove, but as lasers advance, more tattoos are candidates for removal.
While getting my tattoo removed, I picked up some interesting advice from the nurses, as well as theories on what can affect tattoo removal success: namely, that tattoos closer to your heart are easier to remove because there's more blood flow, that the extra ink in my tattoo may require more sessions, and that a diet high in antioxidants could aid the process. While Dr. Noodleman was quick to refute these as minor to non-factors in aiding removal, I figure taking this dietary advice certainly can't hurt.
Does It Hurt?
For a typical appointment, you can ice the area for a few minutes before treatment or apply numbing cream about 30 minutes in advance. Because the ink is actually below the surface of the skin, numbing isn't 100 percent effective, but it does help. The removal is more painful than getting the tattoo, but it is over quickly: my tattoo is a little larger than one square inch, and each session lasts under 30 seconds. After the appointment, it's important to ice the area and let the tattoo breathe, because covering or wrapping the tattoo can trap the heat from the laser and lead to scarring. It is also important to protect the area from the sun and any physical trauma for a few days after each treatment.
Thinking About Getting Your Tattoo Removed?
Do your research. Choose a place that is reputable, and ask them about the lasers they use. Right now, the best laser available is the Picosure. It's not necessarily mandatory that an office use this laser, but you want to make sure that they use something modern, as the technology is constantly advancing. The average cost for each tattoo removal session is $40 to $100 per square inch, and most tattoos are removed within four to six sessions. Though this certainly adds up, it's unwise to choose a place below that price point.
It is important to be more committed to your tattoo removal than you were to your tattoo. The process can take a while and costs a lot, so it can be tempting to give up and try to redo your tattoo. Be sure that it's the right decision for you and that it's truly what you want.
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