“The body’s a temple, that’s what we’re told. I’ve treated this one like an old honky-tonk.” Oh Kenny Chesney, I think a lot of us can relate to that.  Not that I’ve treated my temple like a honky-tonk, but being the millennial I am I decorated it with some impromptu ink on an eventful Friday the 13th a few years ago.

Here is the stamp of my rebellious youth, sorry Mom!

People have been inking their bodies for thousands of years but in my lifetime it has become trendy, almost mainstream.  According to an article from 2015, approximately 1 of 5 adults have at least one tattoo and around 14% have two or more.  That’s 20% of the population that have gone under the needle, and it’s suggested that percentage is even higher for the older millennials (ages 25-29)!  Honestly, I’m surprised the percentage is that low…. I feel like I have more friends with tattoos than without.  With all of this very permanent ink being administered, how many of those 1 out of 5 adults are wishing they’d held off on their artwork?  Fear not!  That same article goes on to say that a whopping 25% of tattoo recipients regret it, with over 45,000 people starting the removal process in 2013.  Apparently I’m not the only one cringing at the thought of my flash art.

So what’s a girl to do with an unwanted tattoo?  Let me tell you, there are perks of working with licensed professionals.  AesthetiCare of Lawrence offers tattoo removal!  This was the first non-facial service I had performed in the office back in May.  For those of you that don’t know, tattoo removal is an on-going process so I’ll be documenting as I go, but let’s start at the beginning.

When you’re looking into having your ink removed there are some things you should consider.  First and foremost, make sure you are seeing someone that is licensed.  This is important, if you’re going to have someone treat your skin with a laser THEY MUST BE TRAINED PROFESSIONALS!  As you’re making calls and doing research do not be afraid to ask about the credentials of the provider.  Secondly, you need to go into this with reasonable expectations.  Tattoo removal is not something that is “one-and done.”  It is a process that unfortunately requires a lot of time.

Let’s say you have done your research and decide to come in to AesthetiCare for a tattoo consultation (fun fact: we’re the only practice in Lawrence that does tattoo removal). Your clinician will examine the tattoo in question and evaluate your response to the tattoo removal laser (we use the Cynosure Medlite C6 laser) and from there they will present you with a treatment plan.  Treatment plans will vary from one client to another based on factors such as size, color, age and quality of the tattoo, etc. and can require anywhere from 5 to 15 laser treatments spaced 4-8 weeks apart.  From there, it is up to you.  Once presented with your plan, you can choose to endure your first treatment right after consultation or schedule before you leave, or if you find you want to hold off that is perfectly acceptable as well.  As with all of our other consultations, there is no obligation to purchase or proceed with any treatment.  We want you to be completely comfortable with everything before you decide to move forward.  Before anyone is treated with the tattoo removal laser, pre-treatment instructions are issued and a consent form must be signed so our clients are aware of all possibilities.

Pre-treatment instructions are simple.  For at least two weeks before your procedure you have to avoid self-tanning products and tanning beds, and utilize at least an SPF 30 sunblock for the duration of your treatment program.  Should be easy because, if we’re doing our jobs right, you know after your Visia consultation how important sun protection is…. Right?  It is always vital for skin health but when you’re treating your skin with a laser sun protection is key because the laser targets pigment!  I reached out to the Twittersphere to see what questions people had regarding this treatment and the burning question was: can you still be treated if you’re tanning?  First, let me reiterate the importance of protecting your skin from sun damage, you need to be using sunscreen any time you’re exposed to the sun.  But if you have to tan and you’re looking to get a tattoo removed, you’ll want to make sure the tattoo and the area immediately surrounding it is completely covered in the tanning bed.  A tan on or around the tattoo could mean you’ll have to wait to be treated, you want to have as much contrast between your skin and the ink as possible.  If absolutely necessary, a prescription topical anesthetic cream may be applied one to two hours before the appointment to make the treatment more comfortable.

Without further ado, it is treatment time!  Nervous because I’ve heard tattoo removal is painful, I followed Stephanie back to the treatment room.  Each of AesthetiCare’s estheticians and nurses are qualified to perform tattoo removal, I just happened to go with Stephanie because she was finishing training at the time and I offered to be the guinea pig.  In the treatment room both Stephanie and I donned the required goggles because the light from the laser can damage your eyes.  I decided to forgo the topical anesthetic because, you know, I’m such a trooper when it comes to pain (who am I kidding?).  The tattoo I’m hoping to eliminate is on my hip so I laid down and pulled my scrubs away from the area.  At this point the anticipation of how the laser is going to feel has me hyped up and I’m just squeezing the arms of the chair I’m in, dreading it.  Stephanie asked me if she could do just a little spot at first so I’d know what to expect.  We did that and then we were off.  My tattoo is small, probably 1.5” by 1.5” so the entire treatment takes around 2-3 minutes depending on if I need to stop and take a breather in the middle. I won’t lie to you, it hurts.  I mean, it is a laser after all and it has to break up ink that was meant to be permanent.  But I can tell you with confidence that the anticipation made it seem way worse.  It is different for everyone, however it’s almost always at least uncomfortable.  For me it was an intense burning sensation but it subsided almost immediately to a dull throb as soon as the treatment was over.  According to Michele Blacksgberg, RN, many of her patients have described the pain as resembling a grease spatter in her piece about laser tattoo removal. Before I left the treatment room, Stephanie applied Aquaphor to the treated area to soothe it and put a bandage over it.  I went right back to work so it couldn’t have felt that bad, however I did end up using an icepack before I left for the day.

Before you leave the office after a laser tattoo removal treatment you’ll also be issued post-care instructions.  Again it lists that the area may be discolored, swollen, and sore.  Some crusting, weeping, and blistering of the area may occur but that is normal and should heal in a week to 10 days.  You’ll want to care for it just like you would a burn, cleaning the area with a mild cleanser and applying Vaseline or something similar when you change out bandages.  My tattoo immediately “frosted” and was scabby, it was sore for a few days but I just wore loose clothing so it wasn’t irritated.

This picture is about 10 days after my fourth laser treatment.  This is typically how I react to the laser, at first the lines forming the border of the bow are raised for a few days and then as the soreness goes away it gets flaky and there’s a little bit of a red border around the tattoo.  There is no pain at this point unless I forget it’s been treated and scratch it on accident.

To give you some perspective, here is a side by side comparison.  The photo on the left was taken on May 18th, 2016 just before my first treatment and the photo on the right was taken on August 25th, 2016, about 10 days after my fourth treatment as I mentioned earlier.  Please excuse the slightly distorted angle on the second picture, my appointment scheduling skills far exceed my photography skills.  As you can see the shading has lightened considerably while the borders are still prominent.  You might be thinking that isn’t much of a difference but I would say these are good results so far and I’m expecting to require at least another 8-10 sessions.  This is why if you’re looking to have your tattoo removed you need to go into it with reasonable expectations, tattoo removal is a process.  I’ll continue to update you on my progress over the next few months so you know what to expect.

If you’re interested in having a tattoo removed but haven’t started the process what is holding you back?  Do any of you have any juicy stories about how you got the tattoo?  Drop a comment and let us know what you were inking!