People who get tattoos are usually expecting some amount of discomfort during the process. Tattoo application involves varying levels of pain depending on the tattoo artist’s skill, the location of the tattoo, the complexity and size of the piece, and the individual’s pain tolerance. Discomfort from the tattooing process has been described as similar to a few different sensations, such as a bee sting or a mild sunburn. Unfortunately, the process itself is not always the end of the matter. Should the tattoo become an annoyance or an embarrassment, laser tattoo removal is the usual remedy. But how uncomfortable is this process, and how does the pain compare to the tattooing itself?
Discomfort During the Removal Procedure
Patients are generally given a topical anesthetic before the tattoo removal procedure to make the process more comfortable. Because the treatments are short, lasting only about 10 to 15 minutes, most patients find the discomfort tolerable. The tattoo removal sensation has been described as similar to a series of snaps with a rubber band, or being flecked with hot grease.
Controlling discomfort after the procedure is straightforward. Patients will use the prescribed topical medications and can manage the pain from the treatment (often compared to a bad sunburn) with ordinary over-the-counter painkillers and ice. Blistering and slight bleeding may occur, and patients should refrain from strenuous activity until the area is dry. Sun damage is also a concern, as hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin) can occur in the lasered area, so patients need to protect the skin during the healing phase.
Prescribed Topical Treatments
Usually, a dressing called Tegaderm will be administered immediately following treatment, which should be kept on for several days following the procedure. Other creams may be prescribed or recommended, such as Aquaphor and/or burn creams. The laser reaches the skin to the depth of a second degree burn, so it is important for patients to take care of their skin following treatment.
Unfortunately, tattoo removal is not a quick solution. Almost no tattoo can be removed with one session, as it takes time for the pigment to be absorbed by the body once it has been broken up by the laser. Some tattoos require as many as 15 treatments for satisfactory results. The number of treatments required depends greatly on the colors in the tattoo, the size, and the type of ink used. There is no regulation on tattoo inks in the United States, and some are more difficult to remove than others.
Treatments must be spaced far enough apart to allow the skin to heal. Typically, each session is spaced about two months apart. There is a technique available known as R-20 that allows the tattoo to be treated several times in a single day, spaced about 20 minutes apart, but this is more expensive and only works for some patients. It may be a good choice for some patients who wish to speed up the process, however.
Your Treatment Plan
If you would like to move forward with tattoo removal, your first responsibility is to find a reputable plastic surgeon to perform your procedure. While there are a number of tattoo removal clinics that have opened in recent years in response to the demand for the services, these are often run by people who have little training in laser use, making them a gamble for treatment. It is better to be safe and reduce your risk for scarring or other poor outcomes by going to an experienced surgeon with expertise in laser treatments.
During your consultation, prospective surgeons will evaluate your tattoo and discuss any concerns or questions you may have. You will be seeing your provider several times over months, or even years for complex tattoos, so it is important to choose someone who is skilled and with whom you have a rapport.
If you are looking into tattoo removal in Massachusetts, consider consulting with tattoo removal expert Dr. Stuart Bentkover, a board certified facial plastic surgeon. Dr. Bentkover is very experienced in laser application and is able to give consistently good results to the majority of patients. For more information and to schedule your consultation, call Dr. Bentkover’s offices in Worcester(508-363-6500) or Stoneham(617-247-0033), MA.