Pains, process of tattoo removal

By Nikki Kimbleton - The Morning Show anchor, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Forty-five million Americans have them, but many of them wish they didn't. We're talking about tattoos. Because so many people regret adding that ink, the tattoo removal business is booming. However, it might be even bigger if it wasn't for two things: pain and price.

Kimberly Clarke made a choice that she regrets.

"I was 18 when I got the tattoo and I picked the butterfly and the moon because I am very much of a free spirit," Kimberly said.

Clarke owns the Kimberly Clarke Salon in San Marco. She said it's not getting inked that she wishes she could take back, it's the process of having it removed. She remembers her first laser removal treatment all too well.

"The first time I went in, they put ice and numbing cream on there," Clarke explained. "I thought that was going to help, and it really didn't help. I think I was in shock the first couple of hits with the laser. It was really painful."

Clarke is a fan of tattoos but decided to have hers removed when she had her little girl.

According to laser technician Marie Coffenberry, for others, a job opportunity is by far the No. 1 reason for removal.

“I am close to finishing up my degree and realized that I didn’t want it to interfere with any career choices,” said tattoo removal patient Crystal Kelley.

Coffenberry says she's found the No. 2 reason someone wants a tattoo removed: A relationship that didn't last.

"I have tattoos, and I've always been told from the giddy-up, don't put someone's name on you. But I cannot tell you how many clients I have that do," Coffenberry said.

Coffenberry doesn't care why people want their tattoos gone, just about how they do it. Dermabrasion is an option, but comes with scarring. Laser removal is most common. Just make sure the laser is designed exclusively for taking off tattoos.

"Various lasers have different uses and you want to go for a laser that only does tattoo removal," Coffenberry explained.

Even then, buckle down for a long and painful process. Coffenberry said a black tattoo takes anywhere from eight to 10 treatments. Colored ones, eight to 20 treatments. Each are scheduled six to eight weeks apart.

"Tattoos are meant to be permanent, so we have to go gradually. We don't want to harm the skin in any way, so we want to make sure your skin is healed properly in between treatments," Coffenberry said.

Clarke has been through two treatments and dreads going back for the rest. Although now she feels like she has no choice.

"It looks worse than before. So my goal is to get through it, even if I have to do small steps," Clarke said.

According to Angie's List, statistics show 70 percent of tattoo removal patients are women, many of them in their 20s. The cost of each removal treatment is anywhere from $100 to $400. And keep in mind, not all tattoos can be fully removed.

“As long as they’re barely noticeable, I think I’ll be happy, but I’m going to do as many sessions as it takes to get ‘em as completely faded as possible,” said Kelley.

Considerations for laser tattoo removal

1. Sizing it up

At the initial consultation, your laser specialist will determine if your tattoo can be successfully removed and how many treatments you might need. You may have to wait up to eight weeks between sessions, depending on how quickly your skin heals after treatment.

You should also learn how much each session will cost based on your particular tattoo.

“Laser treatment is the most popular way to have a tattoo removed. Be sure that you research your technician that’s going to do the work for you, and also look for one that has a doctor on site,” advised Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.

2. Will it hurt?

Most people agree that laser treatments can be painful -- often more than getting the original tattoo -- and some compare the feeling to a rubber band snapping on your skin. However, applying a topical anesthetic, such as the prescription lidocaine-based cream EMLA, can help ease the sting during the procedure.

3. After the session

Your skin will be somewhat raw and there may be some blistering. Apply an antibiotic cream, such as Neosporin, and cover the area with a bandage. You should be able to remove the bandage the next day and wash the area with soap and water.

Small scabs generally form in a day or two and should come off within about a week. Be aware that some who have laser removal may experience rare side effects that include allergic reaction, change in skin color and infection.

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