In the weeks leading up to your laser treatment, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for the big day. The most helpful thing to do is to stock up on supplies to help you heal in the weeks after your treatment.
After the procedure, your skin will likely be raw, oozing, and possibly bleeding. It is best to have a stockpile of supplies at home ready for the aftermath, instead of needing to run out to the store to buy supplies when you are in pain.
Your needs will vary depending on the size of your tattoo. In general, a very small tattoo is easier to manage in the healing phase than a large one. However, for all sizes of tattoos, there are a few staples you will greatly appreciate having on hand.
First of all, you will want to have a good stash of gauze pads available to you and medical-grade tape. There are many different kinds of gauze pads and tape on the market, and not all are equally effective! Some kinds of medical tape are very difficult to remove, causing unnecessary pain and leaving a residue behind.
Other kinds of tape will not stand up against an outpouring of blood, puss, and other bodily fluids that may be present after your treatment. If you can, try out a few different kinds of gauze pads and medical tape to see what works for you.
You will want several boxes of gauze pads to treat your wound in the weeks following your treatment. As a general rule, the gauze dressing should be slightly larger than your tattoo. If your tattoo is fairly large, you may have to tape together several gauze squares to make a dressing large enough to cover your entire tattoo.
You want the gauze dressing to be large enough so that you have space to place the tape on it without touching the edges of your tattoo.
In the weeks following your laser treatment, your tattoo will be raw and exposed. You do not want to feel the pain of applying medical tape to it or exposing it unnecessarily, so a gauze pad large enough to cover the entire area is a necessity. Gauze pads and medical tape can be found at any drugstore. Try to find a store that has a wide selection so you can compare the sizes of the gauze pads and the types of tape to find one that is right for you.
In the weeks prior to your treatment, it is also a good idea to stock up on topical bacitracin, which your doctor will likely recommend to keep the area moist and to help with healing.
Depending on the size of your tattoo and how painful your healing process is, you may want to think about clearing off your calendar to help you heal in the weeks following your treatment.
If your tattoo is large or in an inconvenient place where it will rub against your clothing when you move (such as your lower back, where your tattoo will rub against your pant line), you will most likely want to take it easy after your treatment.
See if you can get the rest of the day off of work to go home and relax. You will want to avoid exposing your treated tattoo to sunlight, so make sure that you have protective clothing ready to cover-up when you’re outdoors.
Swimming is not recommended in the weeks immediately following a laser treatment, so make sure your upcoming social calendar does not involve any outdoor activities involving swimming or spending time in water, such as in a hot tub.
Some doctors will prescribe numbing medication, such as a topical anesthetic, to be applied approximately one hour before your treatment. If your doctor has approved this and has written you a prescription, make sure to have it filled well in advance of the day of your treatment.
In my own experience, topical anesthetics were not that effective in eliminating the pain of my laser treatments. Although they helped somewhat, the tattoo removal laser treatments were still pretty painful even with the topical numbing cream.
Some people find they respond much better to pain relief administered at the doctor’s office just before treatment. Some doctors treat patients by injecting a painkiller, such as lidocaine, into the area where the procedure will be performed, thereby completely numbing the area just prior to treatment. This usually results in virtually no pain during the procedure.
However, some patients have adverse side effects to this type of pain relief, so it is important to talk to your doctor about it and have him determine whether or not this is a good choice for you.
One of the downsides to receiving pain medication via injection is that, depending on the size of your tattoo, you might have to endure many painful needle pricks in order to fully numb the area. But, given the pain involved in the laser treatment itself, it can be a small price to pay for pain relief!
The Day of Your Procedure
On the day of your procedure, make sure you are well-rested and hydrated. Wear comfortable clothing that will be easy to remove and will not rub against your tattoo after the laser treatment. If the doctor has prescribed a numbing medication for you to apply topically before your treatment, make sure that you have done so and it has had time to take effect.
If you can, try to have a friend come with you to your appointment to help you afterwards and to drive you home. You never know how you will react to the treatment, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. This is especially important if your doctor gives you pain medication or locally injects a painkiller into the area of the tattoo just prior to your treatment.
You may have a reaction to the medication your doctor gives you, including becoming drowsy or less alert. You don’t want to drive after receiving a medication that may make you impaired. The trauma of the laser treatment may make it difficult for you to walk or drive, depending on the size or the location of your tattoo.
For example, a tattoo on the lower back may make walking painful and it may be very difficult to lean back in a chair after treatment. Driving under such circumstances can be dangerous, so it’s best to have a trusted friend or family member with you to help you out in case you need it.
Try to arrive at the doctor’s office a little early, so you are not stressed out trying to find a parking spot or worried you’re going to be late. You want to feel completely relaxed before your procedure and you don’t want to be in a heightened state of worry. If you have any last minute questions for your doctor, make sure you write them down and have them handy so you can ask him when you see him.
The receptionist will probably have you fill out paperwork beforehand, so have your driver’s license and your medical history with you to speed up the process.
The doctor’s office may ask for your health insurance information. Most health insurance companies will not pay for tattoo removal, as it is considered a cosmetic procedure. Be sure to check with your insurance company to see if any portion of your treatment will be covered by insurance.
Many doctors require payment at the time of service, so make sure to have your checkbook or credit card with you to pay for the treatment. Some offices will allow you to pay upfront before you receive your treatment.
This can be helpful when the doctor’s office is busy because the last thing you want to do after undergoing a laser treatment is to have to stand in line and wait to pay your bill.
It’s better to finish your treatment and be able to leave the office quickly without having to wait in line to pay so you can go home and rest!
Once you have filled out all the forms and have done your fair share of flipping through magazines in the waiting room, one of the doctor’s assistants or nurses will call you back to the examination room.
In some offices, the nurse or assistant will ask you if you would like to receive any pain medication prior to your treatment. If so, you may receive numbing shots in the area that will be treated. The doctor will then come in to examine your tattoo, if he hasn’t already. He should note the size and location of the tattoo, as well as whether it has faded since your last visit.
If this is your first laser treatment, the doctor will probably ask you if he can photograph your tattoo for your medical file. The doctor will then take either Polaroid or digital photos of your tattoo to be placed in your file. Some doctors take photographs after each treatment to mark the progression of your tattoo removal, some doctors only take pictures before the first treatment, and some do not take any photos at all.
The treatment itself involves a large machine equipped with a laser that will be adjusted to meet your individual needs. The intensity of the laser is usually set by a technician who will adjust the machine to the level your doctor recommends.
Another person, either the doctor or one of his assistants, will use an instrument that looks like wand to apply the laser to your tattoo. The technician or the doctor will trace your tattoo using the wand, making sure the laser reaches each part of the ink that is to be removed.
After examining you and discussing the procedure, the doctor will tell the technician to set the appropriate level for your treatment. The doctor will then give you protective eyewear to wear during the procedure to protect your eyes from being damaged by the laser.
Once you are wearing protective goggles, the doctor or his assistant will begin the procedure by testing out a small section of your tattoo. He will probably ask you if you are feeling a lot of pain. If you have received pain medication prior to treatment, you may not be feeling much of anything.
On the other hand, if you have not received any pain medication, chances are good that you will be feeling some discomfort. The pain caused by the laser hitting the skin varies from person to person. Most of the people I have talked to about their laser treatments describe the treatment as intensely painful and have found the pain nearly unbearable without pain medication. Depending on the size of your tattoo, you may want to talk to your doctor about pain medication.
For a very small tattoo, the pain may be more manageable since the procedure will be over quickly. However, for a large tattoo, the laser treatment will likely be more uncomfortable since it will take longer and will cover more surface area.
The pain of laser treatment has been described by doctors, technicians, and patients as a sensation feeling much like bacon grease hitting the skin.
Now, I don’t really recommend that you do this, but if you want to get the sensation of what the laser will feel like, stand in front of the oven and let bacon grease hit you over and over.
Now imagine that happening hundreds, maybe thousands of times in a row in a single session. Others have compared the feeling of laser treatment to being hit by a rubber band over and over again. If you’re feeling masochistic and want to try this out, by all means, feel free, but don’t blame me for your bruises!
Healing and Care After Laser Tattoo Removal
Your doctor should provide you with detailed instructions on how to best care for the affected area after a laser tattoo removal treatment. Many times, however, all the after-care talk consists of is a nurse slapping a bandage and some ointment on the wound and telling you not to remove the bandage for 24 hours.
Not removing the bandage applied in the doctor’s office for at least 24 hours is just the start of caring for your tattoo. Many doctors recommend that the patient reapply bacitracin and a fresh bandage until the wound has healed completely, which may take up to a few weeks.
Some doctors recommend Neosporin to keep the wound free of bacteria and moist. Some people find that they are allergic to the pain-numbing ingredient found in Neosporin, and that that plain old bacitracin works much better for them. If you decide to use a medication like Neosporin or bacitracin, follow the instructions and if you develop a rash or experience excessive itching, it is wise to stop using it and talk to your doctor.
I had an unexplained rash through several treatments until I switched to a plain version of bacitracin. Miraculously, my rash and most of my itching, discomfort disappeared once I switched ointments. If only I had known that the products you use in aftercare can have such a dramatic effect on the healing process, I could have saved myself a lot of time, money, and needless pain!
Sun exposure is a big no-no while healing from laser removal. Think about it: your skin is raw, sensitive, and has just endured an intense procedure. Therefore, it should not be exposed to direct sunlight during the healing process.
If you must expose the area to the sun, make sure that you slather on sunscreen and cover the tattoo with clothing whenever possible to avoid burning the area and causing damage.
The time it takes to heal from a laser procedure depends on many factors, including the intensity of the treatment, the size of the tattoo, and its placement on your body. When I was starting the tattoo removal process, my doctor told me that the area would form a scab and that it would flake off in a few days to a week. No biggie, I thought. Well, it did not happen like that. Instead, my back oozed blood and puss for about a week, large boils appeared, and finally, everything crusted into a giant scab that flaked off after about two and a half weeks. Even then, the skin was sore to the touch. Full recovery took closer to three to three and a half weeks for me.
How long it takes to heal will depend on your skin type and how well you take care of the area after treatment. If you take it easy the first few days after treatment, your recovery process will go much more smoothly. Especially try to avoid having the area needlessly rubbed against clothing and keep away from anything else that might be irritating.
Sometimes laser removal can lead to changes in the skin’s texture and color. Many patients report that their tattoo takes on a lighter, sometimes gray or whitish cast after a laser treatment. This lightening of the skin’s pigment, called hypopigmentation, is usually temporary, and the normal color of the skin will return with time. However, sometimes hypopigmentation is permanent and the skin never returns its original color.
Laser treatment is not an exact science and in the removal of the ink, sometimes the underlying skin is also permanently affected. So, don’t go into tattoo removal thinking that your skin will end up in the exact condition it was before you got the tattoo. This expectation may set you up for disappointment on down the line.
The use of lasers can also occasionally skin indentation in the place where the tattoo was treated, or may cause a raised scar to occur. A lot of people who get their tattoos removed report that their skin texture does not change. The laser treatment may make the skin feel smoother over time, or it may not affect the skin’s texture at all.
The indentation that can be caused by laser treatments usually takes several treatments to begin to occur, although it may happen after just one treatment. The bottom line is that your skin is unique and, unfortunately, you won’t know how it’s going to react to treatment until you’ve had the laser treatment.
Is Laser Tattoo Removal Worth the Trouble?
Deciding whether or not to start the laser tattoo removal process is a big decision and one that should not be entered into lightly. There are many factors to consider, starting with cost. Laser tattoo removal is a procedure that your insurance likely won’t cover, so chances are good that the cost will have to be covered out of pocket by you.
There is no guarantee of how many treatments you will need to remove your tattoo, so the costs can mount quickly if you need more than a few treatments. Costs can escalate into thousands of dollars when you factor in the cost of treatment, time away from work, and the cost of aftercare supplies such as bandages, tape, and antibacterial ointment.
If you want to save money, you might consider buying a Neatcell Laser Pen. It is a tattoo removal laser pen that you can use at home.
While many doctors will assure you that the procedure is painless and without complications, don’t count on it. Until science creates a fool-proof method of tattoo removal, there is no guarantee that any method of tattoo removal you choose will be without problems.
Even though laser treatment is considered by many to be the best form of tattoo removal, having your tattoo removed by laser may take longer than you expect—years longer, even—and you may ultimately find that the costs outweigh the benefits.
Ultimately, it will be up to you alone to decide whether or not to undergo laser treatment for your tattoo. Well-meaning family members or friends should not make the decision for you. If you really want to remove your tattoo, consider how hard it’s going to be before you start down the long road of removal. Be prepared to endure many painful treatments before you start to see progress.
Although your removal may go off with ease, having the right expectations about your removal will help keep you from being disappointed with your results.