When I started researching tattoo removal several years ago, the results I found online were sketchy. Now that I’ve spent enough time working in digital marketing, I understand why: It’s a spam niche. People are desperate to get their tattoos removed — they want to believe in a quick fix (Spoiler alert: there isn’t one), and all that marketers have to do is show up and tell them what they want to hear.
When you filter out the false promises and Photoshopped pictures, you come to the unfortunate conclusion that — for the time being — laser tattoo removal is the only legitimate option. I say unfortunate because it is expensive (much more than the cost of getting the tattoo), painful, and a huge time commitment. Because of this, most people never remove their tattoos completely; they fade them and get a cover-up, or decide it isn’t a priority anymore and give up.
But I wasn’t interested in a cover-up, and I’m no quitter.
I decided from the start that I would see this through to the end, and that when I got there, I would try to sum up the main points I wished someone would have told me. I won’t drag it out any longer. Here’s everything you might care to know about laser tattoo removal and my journey with it.
What Were My Tattoos and What Did They Mean?
I had two tattoos on both of my inner biceps. The first I got when I was 18. It said “Love is here.” which was a sort of tribute to the TWLOHA message, much like the semicolon has come to mean now.
The second tattoo I got a year or so later. It said “God is love” — a homage to 1 John 4:16 and how we know love because God first loved us.
Why Did I Remove My Tattoos? Do I Regret Getting Tattoos?
It’s enough to say I simply didn’t want to have tattoos anymore.
It’s nothing about these tattoos specifically. If the tattoos had said something else or contained a different meaning, I still would have removed them.
I don’t regret getting them. If I’m being honest with myself, I got tattoos because I felt like I wasn’t enough and having them made me feel like more. Later, I realized I was plenty and didn’t need them.
For me, I guess you could say tattoos were like a Ninja Turtles graphic t-shirt — cool at the time, but as I grew older no longer representative of who I am.
The person I was needed tattoos; the person I am now doesn’t.
Some people may see it worth mentioning that my girlfriend at the time got a smaller version of the first tattoo for similar reasons. I’m also not as religious as I used to be. These feel like inconsequential anecdotes, but now you know in case they weren’t.
What You Need to Know About Tattoo Removal Lasers
Tattoo-removing lasers work by “breaking up” the ink in your skin. In order for this to work, they need to match the wavelength of the laser to the wavelength of the colors in your tattoo.
Originally, most tattoos were black, so most lasers are equipped to remove black tattoos. If you have a colorful tattoo that you’re hoping to remove, I’d research heavily to make sure that the place you might attend has a laser capable of removing your specific color(s).
Does Laser Tattoo Removal Hurt?
In my opinion, laser tattoo removal hurts much more than getting a tattoo.
I’d put it in the top three most painful experiences of my life (still far away from #1, but remarkably painful). It could have been partially due to the location — I’m confident a back or shoulder tattoo wouldn’t hurt as bad to remove. But my body convulsed uncontrollably, and it took a few sessions for me to at least learn how to move the convulsions to the other side of my body so the aesthetician could focus.
I never got used to the pain. It feels like someone snapping a rubber band against your skin, but instead of a rubber band, the point of contact is a thumbtack. Repeat that feeling a few times per second.
It’s like anything though — all achievements require sacrifice. For me, the pain was worth the outcome. It just depends how much you care.
Does Laser Tattoo Removal Cause Scarring? Do You Have Scars Now?
At my initial consultation before starting treatments, my aesthetician warned of potential scarring. I said that was fine — not ideal, but an understandable casualty.
The places where I had black ink are completely scar-free. Where I had red ink, it is now white, and the photos definitely show scarring. This could be a result of where I chose to go and the laser they used, or it could be that my skin was already scarred from when I got the tattoo rather than the removal process. Either way, I don’t really care.
If it’s important to you, I would spend a long time vetting the places where you’re considering getting laser tattoo removal, and still understand that scarring may be inevitable. Tattoos are supposed to be permanent. It’s unreasonable to expect zero traces after removing them.
On the same topic as scarring, I also experienced hyperpigmentation (the skin surrounding my tattoos darkened). After my second to last session, I started using a serious pigment corrector to reduce some of the hyperpigmentation that happened. Day to day, it felt like I wasn’t making any progress, but when I look back at the before and after photos, I can see a big difference. The discoloration is much less pronounced, and with less contrast, the scars are even less noticeable.
How Long Does Laser Tattoo Removal Take?
From my first laser tattoo removal session to the day my tattoos were completely gone, it took me six years and five months, or 24 total sessions to remove my tattoos.
Some of the biggest factors impacting how long it will take to remove a tattoo seem to be the quality, location, and frequency of sessions. My tattoos were professionally done, in a relatively private place on my body, and I usually went two months (at least) between sessions. The closer your sessions are together, the more you increase your risk of scarring.
My aesthetician was willing to do only a month between sessions if I was ok with the risk, so if I had wanted to, I could have removed my tattoos in half the time. However, that would have also meant monthly payments instead of every other month. When I started the process, I couldn’t afford that.
As for the sessions themselves, I was always done in less than five minutes. I spent more time in the waiting room. If I had to compare it to something, it’s like jumping into a chilly pool — by the time you reassess your senses, the worst part is over.
How Much Does Laser Tattoo Removal Cost?
In total, I paid $6,900 to have my tattoos removed. That doesn’t include commuting costs (I drove four hours, round trip, every time), recovery ointments / creams like Aquaphor, or the pigment corrector I used for hyperpigmentation.
Judging by what other people on the internet say, this is high, but I don’t know anyone who has stayed through the process long enough to fully remove their tattoos like I did. I’m happy to pay a high premium for a job done right. As a bonus, since the place I got my tattoos removed doubled as a swanky spa, I had several nice conversations with stay-at-home moms while I waited for my appointments and they waited for their Botox.
My Advice for People Who Want Tattoos / Want Their Tattoos Removed
I’ve had a few moms want me to talk to their kids who want tattoos.
If you want tattoos, I think the best thing you can do is imagine your life 20 years from now. Picture the kind of person you’ve become — where you live and work, what your family and home life looks like, your hobbies, relationships, etc. Does the person you intend to become have the tattoos you want right now? That’s what I ask them.
If you already have tattoos and want them removed, the most important thing in my experience is committing to the process and forgetting about the outcome. Once you start laser treatments, promise yourself that you’ll keep going even when you don’t see progress. Not every session is a banger, so stay disciplined and you’ll see results over time.
Before and After Pictures
Here’s my journey in pictures (at least the ones worth sharing). Enjoy!