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Outgrown The Ink? What You Need To Know About Tattoo Removal

Outgrown The Ink? What You Need To Know About Tattoo Removal
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BY KITT WALSH

Many years ago, I saw my first tattoo on a young woman on a train. It was just above her left breast–a miniature Peter Pan, complete with green-feathered hat and curled toe shoes.

I wondered to myself, “Is Peter going to look old and wrinkly when she is 65 and her breast sag?”

Now that woman probably is close to 60 and, judging from some of the ink I have seen on friends my age, Peter no doubt looks as though he needs a facelift.

Here’s the thing: our skin changes as we get older. Our upper arms get larger and looser, our breasts move southward, our spines start to curve and that Celtic tribal tattoo across the “small” of our back isn’t so small anymore. (If you are one of the gym rats or surgically enhanced for whom this isn’t true, please go read something else.)

I had to get a larger width barbell for my nose piercing (the hole got bigger as I aged) and tattoos also stretch and fade as time passes. So, unless you are Angelina Jolie, who will undoubtedly sport perfect cursive Sanskrit on her tight skin at age 90, you might be rethinking your youthful body ink and want to get rid of it. (I’m looking at you Melanie Griffith.)

What do you do? Get your tat removed.

Here’s what you need to know:

Use a doctor, not a “tattoo removal technician”: The last thing you want to end up with is scarring. Go for a board-certified dermatologist and ask if he or she has experience in tattoo removal before you make the appointment.

There is no such thing as total removal: According to dermatologists, it is not possible to totally remove a tattoo, but you can reduce it until there is only a white shadow or the color is only a light tinge.

Lasers work best: When you got tattooed, tiny bits of ink were put into your dermis, the second layer of your skin. To get them out, a laser bursts open the pigment particles by sending a shock wave through them. So blasted, the particles are so reduced in size so they can get carried away by your lymphatic system.

Be patient: You are not getting rid of your skin art quickly. Most people need at least 7 laser-removal sessions and some need up to 12. Depending on how you heal, you need to space out appointments by about a month. Also, in winter, you are at your palest and that is a good time to begin removal since you won’t risk zapping a lot of your natural pigment while you are at it.

It ain’t cheap: If you just have that old flame’s name in small script, it should cost about $400 per laser session. If you have the full Grateful Dead skull with roses, banners and dancing bears, you are looking at about $1,000 per session.

It’s probably going to hurt: Your fingers, face and toes are the most sensitive areas and will hurt more, but none of this is going to be comfortable. Get lidocaine injections if you can. If you are anti-needles (a little late for that, eh?) put topical numbing cream all over a half an hour ahead of the laser session.

Colors count: Brown, black and dark blue absorb the laser better and therefore get broken down more easily. Green, yellow, red and orange don’t respond as well, so it will take more sessions to get it right.

You will blister: It is the inflammatory response that lightens the pigment. As you heal, you will develop scabs (don’t pick) and look for redness, pain, fever or swollen lymph nodes—all signs you are getting an infection. Call your doctor if any of those things happen.

For once, amateur is better: If your tattoo artist was new at it, the tattoo he or she gave you might be easier to get gone. Experts blend pigments and make up their own inks that are more complex and therefore harder to remove. Also that new kid won’t usually work the pigment as deeply into your skin, making it easier for the laser to get the ink out.

Lasering might not be an option: If your dermatologist says lasering isn’t a good idea (like if you show signs of being allergic to your tattoo), surgical removal may be the only way to get rid of that ink. The surgeon will cut away the skin with the tattoo and stitch the skin around the removal area together. The result will be no tattoo, but you will have major scars.

If you can’t afford it, can’t take the pain or might end up with bad scarring, consider accepting your ink as a mark of your youthful indiscretion (it was fun, wasn’t it?) remembering we are the generation once advised to “Let our freak flags fly.”

 

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