While tattoos have historically had a place in rebellion, lately they’ve become fashionable for everyone from celebs to models to brides. From Thierry Mugler’s recent menswear show to Gisele’s famous star to Rihanna’s ever-growing collection of ink to Eva Longoria’s wedding tattoo (oops) it seems like everyone’s getting inked with abandon. And it’s a lot more socially acceptable, despite what you may think about the aesthetics.
But what happens when you decide that a) “it’s tacky” or b) “I hate that bastard” and want to get rid of it? Well, you’re in for some pain, a time commitment, a financial commitment, and absolutely no guarantee that it will be gone.
I spoke to Dr. Heidi Waldorf, the Director of Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, about the process of tattoo removal. You often hear people say flippantly, “Well, I can always get it removed.” How feasible is it—really?
“There is no magical eraser for tattooing,” she told me. Her take-away points?
1) Three different lasers can tackle tattoos: the Q-switched Yag, the Alexandrite, and the Ruby. They use different wavelengths to attack the ink, so to speak.
2) It’s painful. A cocktail of topical and injectable anesthetics is used before the laser is applied.
3) It’s scabby and crusty for a week, then it takes about a month to see the results, if any.
4) For a very dark professional tattoo, it can take 10-20 treatments to fade it.
5) Cost is about $200/treatment for an amateur one color tattoo, and increases as the size and complexity of the tattoo increases.
6) Be careful who treats you. Look for a dermatologist with laser experience; don’t go to estheticians. And make sure they ask if you’re on Accutane (a prescription acne medication) because it can increase your risk of scarring.
7) You can’t tan while getting treated, because the laser needs to differentiate between the color of the ink and your skin color.
So who exactly is getting tattoos removed now? Dr. Waldorf said that the tattoo removal market actually seems to be shrinking, at least in NYC. “So many more people are getting them than are taking them away now,” Dr. Waldorf told me. But common clients include brides who don’t want shoulder tattoos to be visible in their gowns, people getting a name removed, and former gang members (there are derms who will treat this group for free).
If you want to cover your tattoo temporarily there are a few makeup options out there. Dermablend and Cover FX are two brands that make heavy duty cover-ups and are great in a pinch. Both brands make foundations and concealers for a variety of skin conditions, including tattoos. Angelina Jolie has reportedly used them to cover her famous ink when she has to.
My advice? As one who has been there and has the scars to prove it, think long and hard about your tattoo.