Inside an air-conditioned laboratory off Richmond, I anxiously wait in a common area filled with tattoo removal pamphlets, laser brochures and a fancy bowl of Werther’s Original caramel candies. Sitting quietly behind the secretary’s desk, a smiling doctor with a white lab coat sorts through release papers for me to sign before my tattoo removal consultation. Tacky acrylic paintings hang on the wall in a desperate effort to make the room look less sterilized and white. Sitting across from me, a fidgety woman in her early thirties nervously sings along to Janet Jackson while signing her name across the dotted line. In a matter of minutes, I’ll be undergoing my first of twelve laser appointments to remove a tattoo I thought I’d have forever. This is my tattoo removal story.
IT ALL STARTED WHEN I WAS A 17-YEAR-OLD POTHEAD
When I was a dumb 17 year old, my brother and I thought it would be a “sick” idea to get tattoos of popular logos on our legs (wow, such a smart and long-term idea, guys). As a west coast degenerate going through puberty, I obviously picked the Sitka logo. (Side note: In British Columbia, everyone wears Lululemon, MEC or fashionable athletic /skater brands such as Nike, Roxy or Billabong. My darling brother told me he had chosen the Ipath logo, another v. hip skateboard brand. Together, we would be the cool “down-to-earth” siblings with tree logos – or so I imagined in my future. The problem with this happy ending is that after I got my tattoo, my brother decided he didn’t want his anymore. So just like that, he never got his and I was stuck with mine forever. LOL.
STUPID DECISIONS (PART II): THE COVER UP
No, but the story doesn’t end there. Years later, when I turned 21, a friend of mine recommended I try a cover-up tattoo. So I did. The tattoo artist gave me two options to cover up the tree tattoo: feather or tiger. Thankfully, I chose the feather. Not so thankfully, I ended up with a big, black feather that was double the size of my first tattoo. Don’t get me wrong, the tattoo cover up is fantastic. Some people tell me they really like it, and that’s great and all. But it’s my body and my rules, and I personally don’t like it much. I kept imagining myself as a stranger looking at future Sarah Brown in a pencil skirt and blazer and thinking, “Wow, that feather tattoo really ruins her outfit.” Basically, my worst nightmare if I ever started to take myself seriously. And plus, aside from collecting disease-riddled seagull feathers off the beach when I was five, I had no particular relationship or symbolism to associate with a big black feather. I felt like Criss Angel’s ex-girlfriend. And this was a big problem.
THE TATTOO REMOVAL CONSULTATION: HOW MUCH IS THIS GOING TO HURT? LIKE REALLY?
There are a whole lot of things to consider before getting a tattoo removed. For one, your skin tone is the very first thing to consider. With darker skin tones, tattoo removal will lighten the pigment of the treatment area. Second, the location and size of the tattoo. If the tattoo is closer to your heart, then it will be easier for lymphatic drainage (this is how your body will naturally remove the ink that’s zapped into pieces by the laser). Third, how well you care for your laser treated tattoo will help move the process along and ensure there’s no scarring, as each treatment is spaced 6 to 8 weeks apart to ensure the area is fully healed before the next laser session. (Tip: Don’t Google “tattoo removal before and after.” The results are all over the place and most of the pictures are outdated from Nowheresville, USA, population: 75.)
TELL ME THE PRICE BEFORE I PASS OUT AND PEE ON THE FLOOR
I’ll tell you the truth. When the doctor told me how much my tattoo removal would cost, I wanted to cry into my ($10) Forever 21 t-shirt. Given my two tattoos, one with bright blue and the other with dark black ink on top, the total cost of my removal would be: $1,300 over 6 sessions. Almost half of my monthly salary, double my monthly rent, and equivalent to 433 Vanilla almond milks. My heart sank to the floor, but I knew I had to do this. My future wardrobe would thank me for it (and I was tired of emotionally associating myself with Criss Angel). So I paid upfront and tried to be positive. I had made it this far, it was time to get it over with.
LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE LASER TREATMENT THO
Tattoo laser treatment is like being zapped by a space alien with flaming hot miniature teeth. I tried to keep cool and composed, but it’s the sort of pain that you discover religion in when you’re experiencing an out-of-body physical experience. The good news is that they offer you topical cream and a cooling air treatment that freezes the area before they zap you. Dr. Karen was as cool as a cucumber, and I debated giving her a hug after the treatment because she was so nice and sweet. The treatment itself only lasted 15 minutes, and while the pain was pretty uncomfortable, it wasn’t so bad after she applied the Polysporin and bandage on it. All in all, it was painful, but manageable. I’m a grown woman, and I like to pretend I have the pain threshold of a heavy weight champion. No big deal. The pain was nothing. I swear.
THE HEALING PROCESS IS SO MUCH FUN! JK JK JK
Depending on your skin type and the size and location of the tattoo, the healing time will range from 1 to 2 weeks. Some will blister (like mine did), and most will have a little redness around the treated area for a few weeks. Tanning is a no-no, and until your tattoo is fully healed, there’s absolutely no chance in hell they’re going to give you your next treatment. Currently, I’m wearing a white bandage around my leg with a thick layer or Polysporon to protect it. Every morning I wash it with cold water and some plain soap like I’m treating a war injury. Consequently, everyone will ask, “What happened?” and you’ll get to tell them all about tattoo removal and why you never liked big black feather tattoos.
As a single woman, I’m trying the broken little bird approach to flirting and it’s really doing wonders! Hot men are descending from all corridors of the universe, and I’m like: “Let me tell you about my tattoo,” in my flirty, cool voice. Let’s get real, the healing process is so much fun when you’re single and bandaged up like a warrior.
FINAL WORDS OF WISDOM
In exactly one year from now, my tattoo will be *cross fingers* entirely removed. Like a fresh untouched baby angel, my leg will be naked again and I’ll be able to wear power woman heels without feeling like an imposter. If there’s one piece of wisdom that comforted me during the entire process it was what Dr. Karen said: “One thing is for certain – you’ll never regret tattoo removal!”
Amen to that.