Turns out that Balinese dancing girl tattooed across your chest might not have to be forever, after all.
Advances in laser technology have made tattoo removal faster, less painful and more effective. And the treatment is now available in Northern Michigan.
Cosmetic Skin & Laser Center, which has offices in Traverse City, Petoskey and Gaylord, recently started offering tattoo removal because of advances in the technology, said Kelly Bolton, office manager.
“I have been pushing for tattoo removal for quite a while. It’s the one phone call that we got and we didn’t offer the service,” Bolton said.
Now that they do offer the service, it appears there’s lots of demand. And more importantly, Bolton believes the procedure looks promising.
“We’re seeing results right after the first couple of treatments,” she said.
A TYPICAL CLIENT
There is a particular type of person who most often inquires about tattoo removal -- it’s someone whose 30- or 40- or 50-year-old self doesn’t agree with the aesthetic tastes or the judgment of their 20-year-old self.
Bolton falls in that category. While on spring break with friends back in college she got a tattoo of a flower on her hip. She recently decided that the tat would have to go.
“A lot of times, people were young and made a decision that they didn’t realize they wouldn’t appreciate as much later on as they did at the time they were getting it,” Bolton said.
She said it’s common for people who become professionals to want to get rid of tattoos, especially if the tattoos are somewhere that is visible while they are at work.
“We had one gentleman who got one on college spring break and now he is a professional,” she said. “It’s on his arm so he feels like he has to hide it.”
Others interested in removal want to change or refresh a tattoo they already have. In order to do so, in some cases it’s easier to wipe part of it away so there is a clean slate for a tattoo artist to work.
DON’T THINK, ‘WHATEVER’
Just because tattoos can be removed more effectively and with less pain than was previously the case, that doesn’t mean a decision to get a tattoo should be approached lightly, however.
“I would never, ever, ever go into getting a tattoo thinking, ‘Whatever, if I don’t like it, I’ll just get rid of it in five years,’” said Lee Middleton, R.N. B.S.N., a tattoo removal specialist at Cosmetic Skin & Laser Center.
In addition to the cost of getting a tattoo removed, there is the pain or discomfort, which, as with getting a tattoo, varies depending on where on the body the tattoo is located.
Middleton said lidocaine, an anesthetic applied as a topical cream, is used at her clinic to ease the pain. Nonetheless, it’s a medical procedure, and there are risks, such as infection.
Middleton said the biggest issue she raises with potential clients is that they need to keep their expectations in check. There are many variables that go into how difficult it will be to remove a tattoo and they are not always evident on the first office visit. Removal could take three visits, or it could take a dozen visits.
Black ink tattoos are typically the easiest to remove, but sometimes a black ink tattoo might not be what it appears.
Middleton was recently at a conference on advanced tattoo removal in Denver and she learned of a case of a man who expected a fairly easy removal, who actually required many more treatments than was expected.
Once clinicians removed a layer of black ink, they discovered a splotch of green ink, a pigment that is much harder for the laser to remove.
In other cases, people have discovered their tattoos are much easier to remove than was expected.
“People need to understand that it’s a work in progress, but the results that we have seen have been very promising,” Middleton said.
How heavy a hand the tattoo artist uses when applying the tattoo changes the difficulty of removal, also. Deep tattoos are harder to remove than those where the ink is closer to the surface.
ALSO A CLIENT
Middleton is also planning to undergo tattoo removal herself.
She has a tattoo of a feather on her ankle that she no longer wants.
“It changed over time,” she said. “I’ve had it for 23 years. At the time it seemed to make a lot of sense to me.”
She was on a trip with a group of friends and they decided to get tattoos together.
“It eventually no longer looked like what it was supposed to look like,” she said.
Middleton said she never considered tattoo removal until the latest generation of laser removal recently became available. Older tattoo removal processes were too invasive and could leave behind skin that looked scarred.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Treatments start at around $150 and are not covered by insurance.
What’s left after a tattoo is removed with a laser isn’t a clean slate, though it’s closer to that than early generations of tattoo removal.
The treatments can as take a little as a minute for a small tattoo. The artwork should disappear after three to 10 treatments.
A mark on the skin will remain. Middleton said it’s like creating a little wound in the skin, and once the tattoo is gone, that blemish will be there in its place. It’s less noticeable than an unwanted tattoo, however. “Most people would rather have that than an ex-girlfriend’s name,” she said.