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Tattoo Removal

It seemed like the perfect relationship at the time – you and your new tattoo. But like so many other relationships, time has a way of changing our minds, so what worked yesterday doesn't work today. So, what's a guy to do if he's no longer in love with his permanent artwork and wants to breakup?

There are several methods of erasing the past, but I warn you, none is as easy or painless as getting out of an actual romance... and we all know how easy that is!

The most important consideration when getting a tattoo is the commitment. It's one that should always be given a lot of thought before hand, since tattoos are permanent. And although they can be removed, it's expensive, time consuming, frustrating, and often not 100% effective. Many guys experience the need to use more than one process to achieve desired results, as well. Tattoo removal is challenging at best, and should always be given lots of consideration before attempting to do.

Many regretful tattoos are covered up or blended into new designs in an attempt to disguise or change them, but if removal, not reinvention, is the plan, the following procedures are available:

Tattoo Removal Cream – There are quite a few creams, gels, serums and balms on the market that claim to remove or fade black/grey and colored tattoos. Although cost, ingredients, treatment protocols, and results vary, all topical tattoo removing products work by either lightening or peeling the skin in order to reduce unwanted tattoos. Some product ingredients are much safer to use than others, with Hydroquinone and Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) being two chemicals to watch out for and possibly avoid. Hydroquinone is linked to cancer and is banned in some countries, while TCA literally burns the skin off. Not only is TCA painful, but it's risky, as well, since severe burns and infection can occur, not to mention skin discoloration and scarring.

Designed to be used at home, tattoo removal creams are the least expensive removal option available and average about $60 per unit. End results typically take a minimum of three to six months, depending on the product, and should be factored into the overall cost when comparing to other removal options. Although they don't usually erase a tattoo completely, most topicals are very effective in dramatically reducing their appearance. Compared to other tattoo removal techniques, creams, serums, etc. (that are Hydroquinone and TCA-free) are considered the least painful and damaging to skin. The following link reviews and rates various tattoo removing products and their cost: Tattoo Removal Association

Dermabrasion – Considered a surgical procedure that should be performed by a doctor, this procedure fades and removes tattoos by sanding or scraping them off with a special abrasive instrument. Ouch! Dermabrasion works by removing several top layers of skin, in preparation of new, tattoo free, skin growth. It's a very painful procedure that requires the administration of a local anesthetic or two to numb the tattoo site. Unfortunately, this is not a once and done procedure, but instead requires multiple sessions with weeks of recovery time in between. Tattoo age and color are key factors in dermabrasion's effectiveness, with professional tats responding much better than do-it-yourself amateur tattoos because their ink depth is more consistent. Dermabrasion is recommended for small tattoos on certain parts of the body (face, hands, knuckles, etc.) and not larger areas like the back, chest, or shoulders. It is not without risk or side effects, including infection and scarring – two good reasons not to try it yourself at home. The cost varies depending on where it's done, but expect to pay between $200 and $300 per session.

Salabrasion – Pass the salt, please! Yes, this centuries old method of tattoo removal uses granulated salt to exfoliate the skin. An abrasive device, like a block of wood wrapped in gauze, is used in conjunction with common table salt and water to scrub the tattoo off. Sounds simple enough, but beware... it's very painful and bloody, which is why it's recommended to have a doctor perform the treatment versus doing it yourself at home. Another reason to have it professionally done is a doctor can administer local anesthesia, which you'll need. Infection, skin discoloration, and scarring risks run high with this procedure, especially if it's done at home. Apparently, recovery time is fairly long, and requires careful and explicate aftercare to avoid serious complications. Sessions normally last between 30-40 minutes, and expect to undergo several, since results are rarely obtained with one treatment. It may not be easy to find a professional who still performs salabrasion, since it's been replaced by safer options. Even if you do find one, insurance does not cover the cost due to it being a cosmetic procedure. The most risky tattoo removal technique is also the cheapest, especially if done at home. Should you opt to try it at home, detailed information regarding procedure and aftercare can be found online.

Laser – This method of tattoo removal uses a laser, or high-intensity light beam, to breakup the pigment colors within the tattoo. Quick, repetitive, pulsating beams actually destroy the individual cells that contain ink. Tattoo colors respond differently to lasering, with some being more resistant to removal than others. As a result, various types of lasers are available and used to tackle the job. Black still remains the easiest color to remove, so lasering is a great option for the black-only or black/blue tattoo. Fortunately, there's not much pain involved during the procedure, which rarely requires local anesthesia; however, the person's pain threshold and the tattoo's location are taken into consideration when determining the need of an anesthetic. Whether anesthesia is used or not, expect the skin to be burned and painful for a few days after treatment. Treatment numbers could be as few as two to four, but often require more, especially for large colorful tattoos. Treatment sessions are normally done every four to six weeks, and the cost varies depending on where the procedure is done. The number of treatments depend on the age, size and color of the tattoo, in addition to whether it's a professional or amateur one. Risks include infection, loss of skin pigmentation, and minimal scarring. Prices typically range on the average from $100 to $500 per session, but again, that depends on the individual tattoo and where the treatment is performed. Fortunately, most treatment centers offer multisession discounts. Laser removal is considered the most effective and practical treatment available, especially for large tattoos, and has a price tag to match.

Excision – With this procedure the tattoo is literally cut out of the skin, and the surrounding skin is then sutured closed. This is a medical procedure that requires a surgeon, preferably a plastic surgeon, so find a skilled one for optimal results. Excision is recommended for small to medium size tattoos – not large ones. The average procedure time takes about two hours, which usually includes general anesthesia, so there should be no pain during the procedure, but do expect some afterwards for several days or so, as the incision site heals. Risks involve possible surgery complications, infection and scarring, which are reasons why it's imperative to use an experienced, reputable doctor. So, what does this minor surgery cost? Depending on the tattoo and who performs the treatment, expect to pay between $3,000 and $10,000, including follow-up care. I'm sure there are less expensive treatment centers that charge less money, but be leery, since we usually get what we pay for. Unfortunately, most health insurance companies do not cover the procedure, since it's a cosmetic one, so the cost is the patient's full responsibility. The best part of excision is it's usually a one-time treatment.

Skin Grafts – This procedure conceals the tattoo by placing new skin over the tattooed skin. A skin sample is taken from the client and used to generate new skin, which is then sewn onto the preexisting tattooed skin. The new skin is "alive" and responds as natural skin would during the healing process, although many experience compromised integrity of the grafted skin, resulting in abnormal skin appearance. It's an innovative approach that sees great results, although it's not without risk. Pain, infection, scarring, skin discoloration, and possible graft rejection are the most common side effects. The method is usually reserved for large tattoos, requires multiple sessions, and is very costly. No insurance coverage here, either, since it's a cosmetic procedure.

This type procedure has been updated from its original version that once cut the tattoo out, and replaced the skin with a graft obtained from elsewhere on the person's body. Some doctors and clinics may still do this procedure, but based on research, it appears most no longer do.

Regardless of the tattoo removal method you choose, there are several important things to keep in mind:

  • Do your homework! Research and acquire as much information as possible about the various procedures before making a decision or talking with a doctor. Information is power, gentlemen.
  • Consult and compare both dermatologists and plastic surgeons on services and prices.
  • Take advantage of the free consultations most doctors and clinics offer.
  • Get more than one professional opinion.
  • Investigate the clinics for credibility and reputation.
  • Make sure the clinic is clean and uses sterile instruments.
  • Always ask to see before and after pictures of previous clients.
  • If possible, talk with others who have had tattoo removal.
  • Be realistic about the price tag and your ability to pay for services, which is often the determining factor in choosing a removal method.

 

Making a lifelong commitment to body art is very difficult to do. Our best intentions are often undermined by maturity and lifestyle changes. Although making the decision to get a tattoo is one that should be taken very seriously – life happens. So, if you find yourself a victim of regret, know that you do not stand alone. For more information on tattoos, see my article, Tattoo Tactics.

by Aaron Marino

Pete and Pedro

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