When I was 16, I had a calendar pinned to my wall. (Side note: Remember when that was how we kept track of the days? Wild.) It was a surfer girl calendar, full of tanned skin and bleach blonde hair. The girl featured in July — my birthday month — was naturally my favourite. She had a mismatched bikini and was walking towards the ocean with her surfboard under her arm. My most favourite thing to stare at while I was lounging on my bed of an afternoon with my Joss Stone CD playing (time. So. Much. Spare. Time.), was the small but impossibly cool tattoo on her lower back. A Chinese symbol.
"I must have that", I thought. It's a sign! She's obviously also a Cancerian and therefore one of the best humans on the planet. So I called my bestie and off we went to the tattoo parlour. At the time, I wasn't sure if they'd actually give me a tattoo given my age. Now? That makes me LOL. I was like blonde, skinny pray. Full of ambition and naivety. I thought that getting a tattoo of the Chinese symbol for "love with all of my heart" meant I always would. Actually, that bit is probably true.
The best thing that ever happened was when the tattoo artist suggested I get the tattoo — about the size of half a Post It note — lower down. I wanted it in the middle of the dimples in my lower back because cute, but he suggested I might want to hide it sometimes. So 31-year-old me is seeing a red flag. But 16-year-old me? She let out a long sigh and said: "whatever, just give me the ink, man!"
It wasn't until I turned 24 that I really started to really hate it. That was the year I feel like, for lack of a better description, I found myself. I was truly starting to understand who I was and what I believed in. That year I found my style and the man of my dreams. But I also found myself feeling complete shame about my, now secret, tramp stamp. I went to great lengths to hide it at work. My then boyfriend and now husband thought it was sweet. He wasn't really into tattoos (although we had many laughs about an ex with a jumping dolphin wearing goggles), but he always said it was part of me. Part of the woman he fell in love with.
I dealt with it for a bit longer — Googling removal cream reviews — and then when I was offered an opportunity to get the thing lasered off, I couldn't set up an appointment soon enough. I had a total of seven treatments over 24 months. I'll be the first to admit I was a nightmare with re-booking, so the whole process shouldn't have taken as long as it did. And in the worst circumstances ever, my before and after images were accidentally deleted. So while I can't show you proof, I can tell you I no longer have a tattoo. At all. Mine was smallish and the ink was one colour (black), and I have been told both of those things helped my cause when it came to 100 percent removal. I interviewed Dr. Pico, founder and tattoo removal specialist (and actual real life emergency doctor), about the process.
POPSUGAR Australia: For a tattoo my size and colour, how many treatments does removal take, on average?
Dr. Pico: The number of sessions needed to remove a tattoo is extremely variable, but we often provide an estimate based on a few factors, with ink density (which is not always easy to read) the most important. The problem is the depth of ink, and the actual components of the ink, vary greatly. We are honest with everyone and give a very wide spectrum of treatments needed. Easy tattoos come off in four or so sessions, stubborn ones can take up to fourteen. Even then, some tattoos will simply never fully resolve — and this is using the best and most advanced laser in the world.
PS: How has the pain been described to you?
DP: Pain with the new generation lasers, such as Picosure, is half of what it used to be. The treatment is still uncomfortable, but most people leave the treatment feeling it wasn't all that bad!
PS: What does healing look like in between visits?
DP: After a session, the area is like a sunburn. We cover it to protect the skin and allow it to heal naturally with no interference. After a few sessions, the skin tends to develop a tolerance and there is minimal downtime. We ask people to keep the skin out of the sun or use sunblock between sessions for a better outcome and healthier skin.
PS: You recommend six to eight weeks between visits, could this be sped up for those who want to remove faster?
DP: For some, we can do the first few sessions four weeks apart. After a number of sessions, we recommend waiting up to 10-12 weeks apart as it gives the ink more time to clear. At the end of the day, each tattoo is different, and we treat accordingly. This is where experience comes into play. The tattoo industry isn't regulated, so some tattoos can be very dodgy and the industry needs regulation ASAP.
PS: What's the least amount of treatments someone has ever needed?
DP: Least amount of sessions is one, for very light tatts and mainly shading areas.
PS: And the most (what size tattoo)?
DP: The most sessions are required for full sleeves and full back, so can be up to 14 sessions.
PS: I've noticed you've been very busy. Do you think there's some big tattoo regret going on — post sleeve trend?
DP: Tattoo regret is only beginning. The tattoo explosion is over and the next generation is not as keen. Those with tatts will start having a change of heart (or skin!) over the coming decade.
PS: If you were going to recommend a tattoo to someone who might want to get it removed eventually, would you say thin and no colour? Or is colour harder to remove?
DP: With our PicoSure laser, all colours can be treated. If someone wants an easy tattoo to remove, I would recommend getting it light or shaded, nothing dense, and you should be fine.
PS: Can you please our readers a starting price for removal of a tattoo my size?
DP: Cost is better than ever. For small tatts and purchased in a package, we can now get people treated for around $100 per session. Larger tatts of course start costing more.
If you're thinking about getting your tattoo removed, I highly recommend just biting the bullet and doing it. I have a medium pain threshold, and I would put each treatment (about two minutes in total) at a seven out of ten. It does hurt, but not enough to not do it. Also for women, our cycle does play a part in the pain game. I found that out the hard way! So be sure to make your appointments a couple of weeks after your last period.
Visit Dr. Pico's Facebook page to see before and after pictures of his work, and even watch him removing a tattoo on video.