“Tattoo regret” hits many people around age 30, said tattoo removal nurse Elizabeth Schlesinger of Delete—Tattoo Removal & Laser Salon on Newbury Street, Boston. “Tattoos can be an unwanted reminder of an impulsive decision made over spring break or the realization that ‘ink’ doesn’t look attractive on an aging bicep,” said Schlesinger, who uses a variety of laser wavelengths to safely target pigments below the surface of the skin. But it’s not always a quick and easy procedure, said Schlesinger, who said that it typically takes about 10 sessions, at a cost of a several hundred dollars or more per treatment, depending on the size of the tattoo being removed.
Q: Is some tattoo ink more difficult to remove than others?
A: Yellow, white and blue can be tricky. The lighter the color, the harder it is to take off, because the laser reads the difference or variance between skin color and ink color. So an African American with a black tattoo or a light Caucasian with yellow ink are similarly problematic. But now lasers are becoming more technologically advanced so it’s easier to target any color.
Q: Where exactly does the ink go after the laser breaks it up?
A: The laser breaks the ink into tiny pieces, then the body detoxifies it through the liver. The trunk, from the neck to the waist, is the optimal area for ink removal; the farther you get out in extremities, the less blood circulation, so it takes longer for the ink to clear. There are also individual variables in how quickly the ink is cleared; smokers can take a little longer, for example, because their bodies already are trying to detoxify cigarette chemicals. Other factors like taking a lot of fish oil and being active helps as well.
Q: Does it hurt to have a tattoo removed?
A: The process of tattoo removal can be extremely painful, much worse than getting the tattoo. I like to describe it as the sensation of a large rubber band snapping on the skin with the feeling of grease splattering on skin. An optional injection of Lidocaine goes superficially under the skin and can numb the area. A lot of time people are very anxious and sometimes even have a panic attack or faint. Men will most of the time say that they don’t want the local anesthesia then change their mind once the pain starts; on the other hand, women who say they don’t need it will end up not using it. So there’s a pain tolerance difference for sure, which is why women have the kids of course.
Q: Some stats say that half of all people with tattoos eventually want to get them removed. Why the change of heart?
A: In my mother’s time, only people in the service and bikers usually got tattoos. I’m 34, and I think my generation was the first to start getting tattooed for fun. But now these tattoos often don’t look very professional in the workplace. I have a couple of tattoos I want to remove, include a 18th birthday “tramp stamp.” My 7-year old-son doesn’t like it.
Q: What sort of tattoos have you removed?
A: I’m working on a 70-inch tattoo now; it’s its some sort of red large bird with a tropical jungle theme behind it and covers a man from his elbow to his shoulder. He said that when he first got it he was really into tattoos but now he’s uncomfortable with it. I’ve also seen people who have tried drastic things on their own to remove a tattoo, from scrubbing on their skin with Brillo pads to a woman who tried to take nail clippers and snip out pieces of a tattoo. And one mom keeps bringing her 18-year-old son in; he had repeatedly gets a girlfriend’s name tattooed, breaks up with her, has it removed, then comes back in a few months later with another girl’s name. I don’t think he’s learned his lesson yet.