Removing a Tattoo
Even though I’m a huge fan of tattoos, the reality is that some tattoos just don’t work out and we want to remove them. I’ve been curious about this topic, not because I want any of mine removed at this time, but more because I wish had done some things different. I often reflect on my current tattoos and what I could have done better; the placement, the communications with the artist, my over eagerness, and my lack of knowledge at the time. I really could have, should have made smarter choices. But I didn’t have a knowledgeable but objective third party to talk with. One of the many reasons I created this blog.
So this post will be broken into two parts, mainly because the topic is large and complex. In this first part I’ll walk through the reasons why you might choose to remove your tattoo. I’ll also talk about tattoo removal history and current methods.
My hope is that through my ongoing research we’ll be informed and prepared.
Why would anyone go through the expense, obvious pain, and trust me…sweat, and of course time, on getting a tattoo to then possibly having it removed? First, no one I know sets out to get and remove a tattoo for fun.
There are really so many reasons to get a tattoo removed that are often unexpected. These can range from the most common one being you don’t want your past lover’s name written on your body…nor does your current partner. Or maybe the tattoo you thought so epic then, now seems really mundane. We get older and our tastes change and evolve, we want a different tattoo designs to adorn our body and express ourselves. Another reason could be the tattoo artist didn’t do as “rockin” a job as you’d hoped. Possibly you now have a career where the neck tattoo is probably not the image you have to present.
Recently, Starbucks a very hip company, started allowing their baristas to show their tattoos. Prior, they had to cover it up in some way, like a band-aid I saw on my local barista behind her ears where small transformers were inked. Thankfully they realized tattoos are here to stay and that it doesn’t affect the quality of our work and customers are totally fine with seeing some ink. No reason is wrong or right when deciding on getting or even removing a tattoo..
As I’ve stated before and will often repeat, it’s your body. You decide how it gets used, designed, and managed. So if this is the decision you’ve made then let me give you the information & resources you might need. Let’s start with a bit of history.
Tattoo Removal History
I’m sure as long as tattoos have been around, people have wanted to get them removed. Fortunately, we live in one of the most technologically, cutting edge times in our history. Prior to the advancements in lasers around the late 1980s, there were multiple alternative methods which were not the most effective and often led to scarring. The four most prominent procedures were:
- Cryosurgery – freezing the area before removing the layers the tattoo resides in.
- Excision – This involves surgically removing the tattoo area and then stitching the skin back together. Large pieces often require skin grafts.
- Dermabrasion – this specifically involves sanding down the skin and attempting to get at the top (Epidermis) and middle layer (Dermis).
- TCA (Trichloroacetic acid) – This acid removes the layers of the skin in hope of getting to the tattooed area.
Ok, all of the above are scary to me. I think I’d pass on those.
Lasers are the way to go
While in some cases the above procedures might still be used, it’s generally considered that lasers are best to remove tattoos as they have relatively small amount of side effects, are low risk, bloodless, and can be done via outpatient, multiple visit sessions. I have yet to see anywhere legitimate that Creams actually work. I would not invest a single penny into a cream to remove my tattoo.
When lasers were first introduced to remove tattoos, “Continuous-wave” or CW lasers were the norm; however. these didn’t have the power to achieve the best results. Now they use Q-switch lasers, the “Q-switching” references the short and high energy pulse. In the past couple of years the PicoSure which is a picoseconds aesthetic laser has been highly recommended for it’s effectiveness and reduction of treatments. Here are the current ones on the market at the time of this post:
- Nd:YAG (1064 wavelength)
- Alexandrite (755 wavelength)
- Q-switched Ruby (694 wavelength)
- PicoSure which is a picoseconds aesthetic laser (NEW)
What do the laser treatments do to the tattoo?
Lasers utilize a high intensity light beam in short energy pulses passing through your skin to break up the ink particles so they can be absorbed into the body by the immune system. Impact to the skin is based on the skin type and absorption of the laser wavelength. The smaller the wavelength the potential for more negative effects on black or darker skin.
The goal is for the targeted ink pigment to absorb the laser’s wavelength, resulting in it being broken up. However, some ink colors absorb certain wavelengths better than others. Example, Black can absorb all of the laser wavelengths, so it can be relatively easy to break up. Green and yellow are the most challenging. So research has been done to find the right wavelength for different pigments.
The usage and full understanding of how these lasers work, which is the best for each tattoo color and what to use based on your own skin pigment is very complex. That is why they should only be administered by a professional with specialized training. I know some tattoo shops specialize in this but do your due diligence, really research them and their standing with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that all of the tattoo will be removed fully and successfully, especially when multiple colors are used. The skin will never look like it did originally. But our technology is always evolving.
In Part 2 I will go over the procedure and resources you can find.