In a way, my tattoo removal story is rather anticlimactic. It’s wasn’t a drunken tramp stamp; no ill-advised commemoration of an ex. Nope — just a lovely, but slightly too large illustration on my arm that I simply wasn’t feeling anymore. As soon I realized I could definitely live without it, I knew it was the perfect time to see what laser tattoo removal is really like.
As always, talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any new treatment.
I had no idea what to expect beyond the universal feedback that it’s “really painful.” I didn’t know, for example, that even for my relatively diminutive single-line artwork, I wouldn’t even notice results after the first session. So in the interest of shedding light (or really, just to get some moral support), I spoke with a major laser guru: Will Kirby, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and LaserAway’s® Chief Medical Officer. Here, I’ve broken down everything I’ve learned so far about getting laser tattoo removal.
Tattoo Removal Truth #1: Removal is a very long process.
While I’ve always tried to be very intentional and forward-thinking with all of my tattoos, one of the ways I’ve rationalized my ink is the assumption that soon enough, advancements in laser removal would be substantial enough to make the process much faster and way less painful.
In reality, progress is happening — but far slower than I’d envisioned in my highly optimistic mind. While Dr. Kirby revealed to me that LaserAway is hard at work developing a superior technique, he also told me that there hasn't been any true innovation in the laser tattoo removal device category in well over a decade.
That means that for those thinking about tattoo removal, patience is your friend — not just for the number of sessions required, but the length you’ll need to wait between those appointments. “Everyone needs to wait at least eight weeks between treatment sessions,” says Dr. Kirby. “And, since multiple sessions are required, complete removal, or even fading, of a tattoo can take a number of years.” Yes, years. You’ve been warned!
Tattoo Removal Truth #2: The size, shape, and color of your tattoo makes all the difference.
It kind of makes sense that a teeny-tiny, single-line heart would fade faster than a multicolor sleeve piece, right? Everything from the thickness of the line to the shades used can affect how long it takes for it all to fade. Colors other than black, for example, tend to need more aggressive treatment. A skilled practitioner can probably offer a pretty decent guess of how many treatments you’ll need to remove your ink entirely.
Tattoo Removal Truth #3: You won’t notice any progress right after your appointment.
That’s because your body basically has to metabolize the ink. Here’s how it works: “The light extruded from the laser breaks the ink into tiny particles, and the inflammatory cells in your body metaphorically ‘wash’ the particles away slowly, leaving the patient with less and less visible ink with each subsequent treatment,” explains Dr. Kirby. That can take two to three weeks after your appointment, which is when you might notice a difference.
That said, I actually got excited during my first go-around when I saw an immediate fading effect on the ink. Sadly, this was a temporary phenomenon. “Immediately following a treatment, the skin looks white,” says Dr. Kirby. “This is called ‘frosting,’ and represents small amounts of gases under the skin that are related during the treatment.”
Tattoo Removal Truth #4: The downtime is pretty mild.
Once the frosting subsided, my tattoo was just a little red and raw for a few hours. Per my practitioner’s advice, I kept it wrapped up until the following morning. Aside from that, the aftercare was pretty minimal. For those experiencing pain or dryness, vitamin E oil is recommended.
Tattoo Removal Truth #5: Yes, it hurts. (A lot.)
I’d like to preface this by saying that I actually pride myself on my pain threshold. (Even the two hour process of getting this tattoo in the first place was perfectly tolerable in my book.) That’s not to mention that LaserAway pulled out all the stops to ensure that my appointment was as comfortable as possible: I sat with numbing cream for 30 minutes, and my practitioner handed me a little tool that blew frozen air onto the area as she worked.
Even so, I was blown away by how painful it was. If you’ve ever gotten any kind of laser facial or hair removal treatment before, you know the sensation can best be compared to snapping rubber bands on your skin. Now, take that and amplify it to the nth power. I winced all the way through, and by the time my practitioner was completing her second pass on the area, I was practically begging for it to be over.
And yet somehow, I’m actually looking forward to my next appointment, because I know that the discomfort will be worth it. Sorry, Dr. Kirby, but patience and I have a rather fickle relationship — and I’m stoked to see some results.