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My experience with tattoo removal

My name is Andre Pawlowski, and I am writing this article so that the readers can learn about some of the ways that removing a tattoo can be approached, as well as hopefully showing that one should put much thought into what they get tattooed and where. I'll start with a little bit of background as to getting my tattoo so that you can understand the situation as well as my insisting on the importance of tattoo placement.

As of 2010, I am 24 and got my tattoo when I was 19. It was my first tattoo, and I chose to get the logo of the punk band The Suicide Machines on my inner-left forearm. I had the tattoo done at Lunchbox Tattoo in McHenry, IL, which was a great shop, very friendly and professional, and I was very happy with the work. At the time I was attending school and working part time and was not very happy with my situation. My mother and father were both in the military for short periods of time in the past and my father recommended talking to a United States Air Force recruiter since I didn't really have any goals pertaining to what I wanted to do in school. After talking to him I was excited about it and decided to go for it. It turns out that the Air Force doesn't like tattoos that are certain dimensions and/or in certain spots on your body, basically my tattoo was too big. The fact that my tattoo was very large—covering just about the entire length of my inner forearm—was an issue and I was faced with keep the tattoo or get it removed and join the Air Force. At the time I opted to attempt to have my tattoo removed seeing as how I could always get another one when I wanted to in the future, and that I felt that the Air Force was a good opportunity for me.

I wanted to include that info so that you can understand why I now stress the importance of making sure a tattoo is something you can live with, and that placement of your tattoos is just as important as content. Joining the military was something I never thought I would pursue, but as you can see different opportunities come along and things change and a tattoo can have consequences down the road. I know that's what a lot of conservative people have to say but I think it's worth mentioning, since you are obviously interested in tattoo removal.

I will describe the numerous ways I attempted to remove my tattoo first and include information on how each method felt— as the most common question is how it much it hurts —and it's cost. I will close with a summary of costs, a recent photo, and links for further information which will provide details on how exactly each treatment works.

I first went to a cosmetic office in Vernon Hills, Illinois called the Ritaca Laser Center. I was very uncomfortable being there, as most of the clients seemed to be women who were having anything but tattoo removal done. I felt very rushed by the doctor and he did not seem very interested in my case, only with getting me in the chair and my money out of my wallet. Although I did not ask exactly what kind of lasers were used, based on reading on Wikipedia, I am 99% sure that a laser technique known as Q-Switching, or giant pulse formation, was used. For this treatment I was given an anesthetic that was injected with a syringe slightly bit under the skin. Unfortunately I do not remember the name of the anesthetic, but it did result in a slight burning feeling under my skin. It was uncomfortable but not necessarily painful. During the process your tattoo is simply zapped with the laser. I did however, have the unfortunate experience of the laser hitting a part of my arm that was not fully numbed. It sounds like an exaggeration but it literally felt like I had a red-hot nail jabbed into my skin. It did not make me cry out, and it probably took me by surprise more than anything, but it did hurt. The pain went away quickly though and that was the only incident throughout the half-hour procedure. The first treatment seemed to work well; the tattoo seemed to start to fade throughout the coming weeks. Unfortunately they required you to wait six months between treatments. I needed something faster if I was hoping to join the military. The cost of this was not too bad--—it ended up being a flat two hundred.

I did not go back to that office, as I wanted something quicker than an every-six-months deal. I tried a different kind of laser treatment next. I couldn't find any different name for this type of laser, so I assume that if one thinks of "laser tattoo removal" this is what you will get. This office was called Sona Med Spa in Schaumburg, Illinois. Again, this office had more women who wanted their stretch marks removed rather than someone looking to get a tattoo removed. On the plus side the staff was very friendly and seemed interested in why I was there and didn't seem judgmental. The downside was that this place charged by sq. inch of tattoo coverage. Mine was a bit tricky as it was mostly an outline with very little solid coloring. This laser was more of a hand-held gun as opposed to the previous one, which was more like the dentist's light fixture (it looked like the thing they use to dry the glue when they put on braces). This one hurt much less as well. I opted not to have the anesthetic injected, as it was pretty irritating and uncomfortable. This basically felt like if someone used their fingernails to pinch you over and over again. It was more annoying than painful really. At first it looked like you had a lot of tiny little white dots (I know it's gross but think white head zits) all over the area. They went away within a day or two though, and this treatment you only had to wait four to six weeks between treatments. Because of my tattoo coverage and the fact that it was mostly "hollow" I ended up paying three hundred fifty dollars for a block of three sessions.

In between treatments I attempted a few DIY methods of removing my tattoo. I tried a dermabrasion kit that I purchased off of ebay. It listed its ingredients as "Medical grade Trichloroacetic acid" and purified water. The directions said to use a 50-50 mix of the acid and water. I prepared the 50-50 mix and was nervous that the flesh on my arm was about to be melted away. I had no such luck. There was an extremely slight burning feeling that was really more of a tingling than a burning. The directions said to keep it on for no more than five to ten minutes and I kept it on for much longer hoping I would see some results. Nothing more was happening so I neutralized it using a baking soda/water mix as per the directions. I also tried using the acid undiluted and received the same results. Doing some research about Trichloroacetic acid I found that it is supposed to be comparable to sulfuric acid. While I don't doubt that it is, I was probably somewhat scammed since I bought it off ebay. It was only about twenty dollars so it wasn't that big of a deal. If you choose to try this method using the DIY approach I want to emphasize following any and all directions before you try something like using acid or any chemical undiluted. Because I feel I did not receive "real" or at least a non-watered down form of Trichloroacetic acid I'm not going to say it does or it doesn't work. If you choose to try it do so at you and your wallet's own risk.

I also tried doing a DIY brand over the tattoo. I used both a paper clip and a sewing pin to use different widths. I'm sure some of the readers are familiar with how a brand feels but you are burning yourself so you know what to expect as far as what it will feel like. Really though, the anticipation of pain is more than the resulting pain, and you don't feel very much for more than a second. This method actually seemed to work pretty well but it obviously results in a scar. By the time I tried this method though my tattoo had faded quite well, so I'm sure that impacted the results as opposed to if you tried branding over a tattoo that hadn't experienced any other tattoo removal treatments. I would recommend using something clean and not a paper clip you found in the junk drawer down stairs, and to sterilize any equipment you use to the best of your abilities.

By now I was growing impatient and was willing to try anything. My recruiter mentioned that another individual had the same problem and he got rid of his and was accepted after only two treatments. This treatment used infrared lighting to burn the tattoo off. I was given the same anesthetic as the first laser treatment to numb the area. It was administered in the same way and again resulted in an uncomfortable burning feeling. I was grateful for the anesthetic though, as even with it the procedure felt as if I had accidentally pressed a small part of my arm against a hot pot over and over and over again. The light was held there for what I would say is slightly longer than what my reaction time to pull away would be. It was slightly painful but again, nothing excruciating—, although I imagine that it would've felt quite painful without the anesthetic. There is an important part to mention as far as this procedure. Because you are being treated using what are pretty bad burns the result of infection is high. My arm had literally pea-sized burn-boils all over my arm from the procedure. I ended up getting my arm bumped into at a couple concerts I went to and some of the boils were torn off leaving an open wound. As a result some of these did become pretty badly infected. I didn't have to go to the doctor for it but I insist you contact medical help if you are unsure about any possible infection. In my case it did result in obvious scarring. However, I cannot say for sure if this was simply because some of the boils were torn or not. I imagine the result would have been the same had they been torn or not. The cost of this session was one hundred fifty dollars, and I only went once.

At different times I had read about or contacted someone about other forms of tattoo removal. One was a method by which a tattoo artist would trace over your tattoo with the machine again but it would contain some sort of chemical that would make the ink your tattoo "bleed" out. I recall reading that very few tattoo artists had the procedure available, and the one I did contact said it takes a very long time to see results. I had also read about using hydrogen peroxide in the tattoo machine and tracing over the tattoo but several testimonials convinced me that is not the way to go, as they described it as quite painful. Another home remedy I read was using ice and salt. Apparently it hurts like hell and doesn't work.

In the end I ended up spending around $1000-$1500 to get this tattoo removed (I had several blocks of three treatments at the one facility), and my arm now looks like it was used as an ashtray. As a side note in the end the Air Force wouldn't take me with the scars and I eventually joined the Marine Corps. I still love the art of tattooing and body modding. I would suggest for your first few tattoos to make sure that they can be covered by a t-shirt until you are in a secure point in your life to where you can afford to get visible tattoos, it could end up saving you a huge headache.

I hope this article was helpful to you and I'd be happy to answer any questions you have via e-mail

Links for more info on things I've mentioned (open in new window):

Wikipedia section on general tattoo removal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tattoo_removal

Information about how Q Switch lasers work http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/540911_4

Information about Trichloroacetic acid and dermabrasion http://www.otohns.net/default.asp?id=14013

Information about infrared coagulation tattoo removal http://www.tattoos-away.com/infrared-tattoo-removal.html

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 07 April 2008
in Tattoos

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