I Tried It: What It Really Feels Like to Get a Tattoo Removed

The tattoo Sarah Brown once thought was "so effin’ rad," isn't so effin’ rad anymore. Here, she shares her experience with laser tattoo removal

Let’s face it, you probably know someone who has a tattoo they regret. Like Johnny Depp’s “Winona Forever” or Ruby Rose’s Pantone colour chart back tat, there’s no shortage of regrettable ink that’s been spilled in the name of turning skin into a canvas of open interpretation.

A photo posted by Ruby Rose (@rubyrose) on

We’re a living, loving and laughing generation, and the sad truth is, we’re mostly regretting. But now, thanks to modern technology and the help of intrusive skin treatments like dermabrasion, Trichloroacetic acid (fun!), experimental skin grafts (ouch?), cryosurgery and laser removal (RIP Angelina’s Billy Bob tat)–there’s more than one way to forget the past!

According to an Ipsos Reid poll in 2012, two in ten Canadians regret their tattoos. Five years later, it’s safe to say the stat has probably multiplied in the aftermath of hipster trends and the rise of the ironically cute stick-and-poke. That’s not to say that EVERYBODY with a hideous tattoo feels bedridden with paralyzing shame. It just means that at least 22 percent of formerly rebellious teenagers are secretly mortified about their knuckle tat from 1999. Millennials can’t be trusted to make permanent body-altering decisions that are supposed to last forever. Seriously, does anybody even know what F-O-R-E-V-E-R is? Hell no.

Now that I’m a dog’s age smarter than I was when I got my first ankle tattoo (a spruce tree logo of skateboarding brand Sitka when I was sweet sixteen), I decided it was time to bite the bullet and begin laser tattoo removal at Precision Laser, a Toronto clinic recommended to me by a friend who zapped off a mean-lookin’ octopus on his bicep. In the years since I permanently inked myself with a logo I don’t wear anymore, I’ve also made the questionable decision of covering it up with an even bigger, bolder tattoo: a majestically ugly black feather. Big mistake.

Now as a grown woman with a sensible head on her shoulders, I’m ready to come to terms with the fact that I’m truly ashamed by the awful and er… more permanent choices of my past. The tattoos I once thought were so effin’ rad, aren’t so effin’ rad anymore.

When I arrived at my first consultation, I was introduced to the PecoSure, a state-of-the-art laser that uses bursts of energy to tear apart the ink deep within the skin tissue. Surveying the damage—a 4-in. by 4-in. treatment area splattered in black and blue pigments—the technician suggested 10 to 20 appointments, each of which would involve a 15-minute laser treatment with six weeks of healing between sessions. The price, as I’m sure you’re curious, is TRIPLE (that’s right, multiply by three) the price of a Cadillac facial treatment. Roughly $257 per session, or $1,800 to purchase a bundle of sessions upfront to “save money.” Even then, with eight treatments covered, the full removal of the tattoo isn’t guaranteed. Talk about a crazy good deal with no guaranteed positive outcome! Being a freelance writer, I can barely afford second-hand mom jeans and almond milk, so I opted for the old school laser machine at a reduced (still expensive) rate. The price is worth it if you hate your tattoo as much as I do. So yes, please, for the love of your mother’s advice: DO EVERYTHING IT TAKES TO REMOVE IT, SWEETIE.


Here today… gone after 20 sessions: Sarah Brown, during one of her laser tattoo removal sessions

Now, let me tell you about the pain. You may have heard rumours that tattoo removal stings like a thousand sharp needles or conversely that it’s “really not that bad” from a person with a rare genetic congenital sensitivity disorder. So I’m going to tell you the cold hard truth here–laser tattoo removal is like a first degree burn, bikini wax and beach bum burn all in one session. Some say it’s like being snapped by an elastic band, but really, it’s like paying money to be tortured for intense periods of throbbing physical pain.

I’ll admit, I wanted to burst into tears. But the thought of weeping in front of a laser technician felt humiliating. Ten minutes later, it was over, and my ankle was dripping with Polysporin and a Band-Aid the size of an ultra-thick menstrual pad. Hobbling away, I felt a little dizzy, like I was walking out of a flaming building with heat stroke and an ice pack. Blisters, redness and burning sensation aside, the six weeks that followed were alright, I guess. The tattoo was even faded… a little.

Now one year after my first treatment, I’m proud to say that my former tattoo is a huge hideous grey blob (or as I like to say, “a homage to Fifty Shades of Grey”). If there’s anything you can learn from my personal experience with laser tattoo removal, it’s that it’s pricey, considerably excruciating and a very serious commitment. Sure, my tattoo is less recognizable than it was when I started, and I’m willing to see this through because I’m an adult woman with questionable logic. Even if it takes me 10 years to remove and a lifetime supply of Polysporin, I’ll do it.

To anyone considering it, laser tattoo removal is a long and treacherous journey that will burn a hole in your pocket so deep, you’ll wonder if your money is better spent on a two year backpacking trip across the globe. It sucks, but I’ve since learned to accept my ugly tattoo in its most recent form. Sadly, it’s nowhere close to being removed, but at least it’s sort of blurry in an obscure kind of alternative goth girl way.

In the optimistic words of my laser technician, “You’ll never regret tattoo removal, Sarah!” And as it turns out, she’s right. I don’t regret it. I just wish it was free and didn’t take a million appointments to remove. C’est la vie.

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