My Tattoo Removal Experience

I’m going to preface this post with a statement that may seem contrary to its title:

I LOVE TATTOOS.

Ever since I was a little girl, like old enough to process what pictures were, I wanted tattoos. Most girls wanted American Girl and Barbie dolls. I wanted GI-Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And tattoos. I drew on myself, to the misery of my mother and teachers, every chance I got. The other kids thought I was weird. Whatever.

I tell you this to illustrate how much I love tattoos. I love looking at tattoos, mine and other peoples’, and I love getting tattoos and watching tattoo artists work on other people.

The only thing I don’t like about tattoos is the healing time. Mr. J can heal a tattoo, no matter how big, within a week. I take 2+ weeks because my skin is useless. But other than that, I love tattoos.

In 2016 I came to one of those life crossroads that either yield great rewards or completely fuck you over. (The last one was in 2006–so once every 10 years this happens I guess–when I married my ex-husband.) Go into the medical field and remove my most favorite visible tattoo or keep the tattoo and risk future shitty retail jobs and/or unemployment.

At that time I was tired of following the same “career” paths I had been stomping down and I wanted to do something that would make me feel more useful to society and be a few steps up from an entry level job in a department store or office.

My previous jobs have included: teaching, retail, various positions in libraries on the East Coast, truck driving along the West Coast, and market research. None of these things were particularly lucrative, emotionally gratifying, or economically stable.

So I decided to become a phlebotomist. Why? Because I am was scared to death of needles and I make it my mission in life to run towards things I’m afraid of.

I enrolled in a phlebotomy training course at a local clinic and guess what…I fucking love phlebotomy. It’s the funnest thing I’ve ever done. And I’m pretty good at it too. Sure, I’ve missed veins before, everyone misses veins. But for the first time ever I thought to myself: I could do this for the rest of my life and be happy.

Here’s the down side: most medical facilities, especially ones in the American South where I currently live, discourage visible tattoos. I have noticed that hand tattoos are becoming more and more acceptable depending on the facility/clinic.

But here’s the thing: I had a tattoo on my neck. But not just on my neck, under my chin. You know that space where your lower jaw and your neck meet? That really, really tender spot? Yeah, I got a tattoo there.

Yes, employers are now more tolerant than ever of visible tattoos in the workplace.

Yes, the tattoo artist who did the work said, “That’s a job stopper.” And I said I was fine with that because I was convinced I would hate every job I ever worked at because my real job was writing and I’d never get paid to write poetry so what the fuck ever. (I know, real mature.)

And lo, I got passed over for jobs, irregardless of whether my tattoos were covered up or not, because the boss knew they were there and that was enough.

Yes, there is makeup to cover up visible tattoos. I personally don’t wear makeup (ok maybe mascara once in a blue moon). I experimented with multiple brands. Kat Von Dee’s tattoo cover up is NOT that great. I had to apply 5 or 6 layers to hide all the color (But that’s my skin, it might work great for you). The best cover up makeup I found was Merle Norman’s extreme cover up foundation. It’s a close cousin to stage makeup and very effective at covering scars, birth marks, and even my tattoo, I only needed 2 or 3 layers to hide it completely but I felt so gross wearing it. It was like I had to walk around with slime smeared under my chin all day and was constantly smearing it, even with setting spray it would melt down my neck and into my shirt collars. I even had a boss tell me to wash it off because I looked “sick” or “had something wrong with me.”

It might seem shallow to prefer something as drastic and painful as tattoo removal treatments instead of putting up with a little bit of makeup discomfort but in my mind the tattoo removal treatments are more temporary that applying mounds and mounds of makeup for the rest of eternity. My choice. (And having runny makeup when you’re trying to prep a sterile field is not very professional.)

Before 2016 I didn’t really care that I was working in “dead end” jobs and living from paycheck to paycheck. But I reached the decision that I didn’t want to struggle financially any more and I wanted to have a “day job” that I could take pride in and, more importantly, enjoy.

So after 6 years of having a tattoo under my chin and putting up with people either going “WOW!” or “WTF?” whenever they saw me, I decided to bite the bullet and get it removed so that I could have a better chance at getting a phlebotomy job.

In addition to the job thing, there were also a lot of personal elements between myself and Mr. J, which I will not go into. When I described the situation to one of my former co-workers, he made this analogy: “It’s like the motorcycle you give up when you want to have kids.”

I wouldn’t be that extreme, in my opinion a motorcycle is way more valuable than a tattoo but yes, that’s it. You can use your imagination to fill in the gaps. Mr. J. and I had several adult conversations about adult things and I have learned that it really sucks being an adult but sometimes you just have to buck up and be an adult.

So that’s what I did.

My first tattoo removal treatment was May 23, 2016. Since then I’ve had 12 laser treatments using 3 different lasers.

Picosure (5 treatments)

Enlighten (4 treatments)

Lumenis PiQo4 (3 treatments)

I had my treatments done at a Dermatology clinic. I had a consultation with the doctor and all of my treatments were facilitated by either certified laser technicians or medical assistants.

Treatments 11:

Lumenis PiQo4

Wavelength: 532

Fluence: 1.5 j

Pulse Energy: 5 pps

Pulse Duration: 800 ps

Spot Size: 5 mm

Treatment 12:

Lumenis PiQo4

Wavelength: 1064

Fluence: 2.7 j

Pulse Energy: 10 pps

Pulse Duration: 800 ps

Spot Size: 10 mm

The Picosure worked better than I expected it would but the results weren’t as impressive as the other lasers.

The Enlighten demolished all the black ink like it was going out of style. Serious pigment eating action here.

The Lumenis PiQo4 removes the most color out of all three lasers.

Later this year I’m going back to have one more treatment done to get rid of the remaining shadow.

Getting a tattoo removed feels like hot oil spitting up from a pan and burning you. It’s tiny little burns in a concentrated area. Depending on the lasers’ settings, the burning sensation can be mild or severe.

For most of my treatments I chose to use lidocaine injections to numb the site because:

1. I’m tough but not that tough

2. I wanted the laser to be on the highest settings possible

As seen in Table 1, the laser settings changed depending on the laser and how much ink was left over. In the beginning stages and whenever they switched from one laser to another, the techs turned the settings down so they wouldn’t burn me. I really appreciated that.

And now, if you really want to see them, here’s some pictures of the blistered, scabby healing process…(under the cut for sensitive eyes)

My tattoos and tattoo removal process and motivations were unique to me (how much color ink, my skin’s reactions, etc.) and may not be your situation. If you’re thinking about removing a tattoo, do your research, keep an open mind, and do what the laser tech tells you to do.

The white discolorations are called “frosting” and happen when the ink pigments react to the laser. Sadly, this does not turn the pigments white and the frosting fades after a few hours and then everything becomes a red, swollen mess.

The most difficult part of this process was the healing. Once the numbing effects of the lidocaine wore off my chin was swollen for at least 3 days and itchy (blisters and scabbed areas healing) for 5 to 7 days. As you can see in the very last photo, there was also some bruising but that came from the injections rather than the laser itself.

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jessicahalseywrites

Jessica Halsey lives in Arkansas and is working toward earning a degree in Laboratory Science while she writes books about werewolves and fairies, a well as many strange poems. She loves birdwatching and performing venipuncture. Her spark bird is the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak and her house words are, “Is there blood on the floor?”

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