At 16, I was free-spirited, rebellious and fearless in the face of adrenaline. At a local tattoo parlor, I searched for a design that represented my current thoughts about life. I decided on a phrase etched in deep, black ink across my upper back. I wanted to show the world what I was about, and the only way I thought that was possible was through means of inflicting pain on my body.
As the years passed, I’ve matured, mentally and emotionally, and the tattoo that once symbolized my nonconforming response to society now reminds me of painful memories from my past. Instead of showing off a beautiful piece of artwork, I hide it from the world.
Today, those words – “you only live once” – no longer have the same power. Luckily, the ink is fading away significantly more each day. I found a solution to what I once thought was a permanent problem: I’m having my tattoo removed.
I have scheduled my laser tattoo removal appointments with Dr. Janet O’Leary at the Diablo Regional Laser Center every two months for the past two years. Yes, the process is timely and expensive, but contrary to what some may say, it is not painful. With the right attitude, motivation and support system, an ugly, distracting tattoo can be history; gone with no trace.
According to the American Society of Dermatological Surgery, over 50 percent of the 10 million Americans who have a tattoo would like it removed.
Afterall, the skull and crossbone tattoos that once seemed fashionable or tough are not always perceived well by employers or family members and it certainly will look different on the skin in 30 years.
Today, laser tattoo removal treatment is widely performed, with centers all over the United States. Previous removal methods such as excision, dermabrasion, salabrasion, chemical removal and early lasers caused scarring. New, technologically advanced lasers are gentle, effective and prevent harmful side effects.
A few hours before treatment, the patient must apply a high-topical anesthetic numbing cream to the site (believe me, this is the important part). The procedure lasts 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the tattoo. The laser beam passes through the skin and attacks the dried ink particles inside. The blood stream then absorbs the ink and processes it through the kidneys and liver to remove it as waste in a natural body process for the next two months. It’s nice to collect before and after photos to track the progress.
The laser beam releases heat, which can irritate the skin, so ice packs are applied to the area during treatment and for two hours afterward. In order to achieve maximum results, all instructions must be followed properly to prevent the skin from becoming scarred.
An evaluation is needed to estimate the amount of ink in the tattoo. On average, a tattoo removal costs $1,500 to $2,000. Every tattoo artist’s style is different, so every tattoo is different. The tattoo artist that created mine went over it twice, resulting in additional ink to be removed, meaning more money and time. Just because a tattoo is larger doesn’t necessarily mean it has more ink than a smaller tattoo.
Most insurance companies will not cover the tattoo removal procedure because it is considered cosmetic and a personal option in most cases.
I have witnessed the growing trend of tattoos, including parlors arising in smaller suburban areas and even small knit communities in California. Years ago, Berkeley or San Francisco were the most well-known places to go for body work. But now, tattoo parlors like Zebra, Inc. are opening shop in places like Walnut Creek, Calif., an East Bay town of business, entertainment and wealth. The shop’s arrival is rumored to attract the “soccer moms” in the area, who may be conveniently located to an escape from a middle-life crisis or be unfortunate enough to have a media-hyped “tramp stamp” done.
The TV show “L.A. Ink” is extremely popular, revealing the emotional aspects of tattoos and the reasons people permanently ink their bare skin. I don’t mean to offend tattoo lovers or possible candidates of tattoos. I am definitely not one to judge. I have seen many people become addicted. I just find it ironic that tattoos were once considered non-conforming and unique marks.
TattooFinder.com has a pretty interesting list of questions to ask before making a a life-changing tattoo decision:
1) There will be some level of pain involved. Am I OK with that?
2) Am I comfortable knowing that a tattoo will become a permanent part of my body?
3) Do I accept that, even under ideal circumstances, there may be some health risks?
4) Whether people love my tattoo or hate it, can I accept potential tattoo criticisms and other “tattoo attention” as part of my life?
5) What are my reasons for wanting a tattoo?
6) Do I understand that my tattoo will change in appearance over time?
7) Am I willing to educate myself and do the required research needed for the best tattoo experience?
8) Am I willing to take full responsibility for the final outcome of my tattoo and experience?
9) Does the decision to get tattooed feel like my own, or are there other influences that might be pressuring me?
10)Are there alternatives to a tattoo that would better satisfy my desire to get one?
Over time I have realized that I don’t want my life to be affected negatively by society’s views on tattoos, and I came to the conclusion that I am young enough to reverse any preconceived misconceptions of my personality.
I have been fortunate to watch my tattoo significantly fade. I predict that there will be no trace of ink by this summer, and I’m excited to wear tank tops that will reveal my inkless upper back. I am now able to appreciate unlimited possibilities for opportunities in the future, and blessed to live during a time of technological advancement where seemingly permanent mistakes can be erased. At least I didn’t have anyone’s name tattooed on my skin.
This story has been updated since its publication.
Ashley Ciullo is a journalism senior and a Mustang Daily reporter.