“My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.” Johnny Depp.
Tattoos have been around for over 50,000 years. With every changing millennia, the function and purpose of tattoos have changed. Early Romans inked criminals as punishment, while Greeks used tattoos to communicate. The Egyptians and Japanese saw tattoos as protective, while Samoans used ink to denote ranks.
Today, tattoos serve a mix-n-match purpose. People get inked for reasons ranging from self-expression to attention-seeking, identification, impulsiveness, and more. For some, tattoos are meaningful and symbolic of important life events and passionate interests.
Take Angelina Jolie, for example. Shortly after marrying Billy Bob Thornton, she had his name tattooed on her arm as an expression of her love. After they split in 2003, she didn’t resonate with the tattoo anymore and had it removed.
That’s right. While at one point, tattoos were considered permanent, that is not the case today. Thanks to advancements in technology, people can completely or partially change or remove their tattoos.
If you’re stuck with earlier tattoos that no longer match your personality or have lost all meaning, here’s your first option:
Dr. Leon Goldman invented laser technology for tattoo removal in 1967. CO2 lasers came shortly after, followed by continuous-wave lasers and argon lasers. Over the years, technology has improved, and now you have Q-switched and Picosecond lasers that claim to remove your tattoo in about 6 to 7 sittings. These modern laser methods promise a reduction in recovery time as well and don’t damage your skin in the process.
How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work?
Either high or low-energy lasers are used in the tattoo removal process. These lasers emit pulses that help break ink particles into molecule size that your body’s immune system can process. If it isn’t your lymphatic system removing the ink, the skin peeling and shedding process will.
Different lasers also target other pigments. For instance, if your tattoo is predominantly black, the process of removal is easier because the black pigment immediately absorbs the laser beams. However, if your tattoo is multicolored, you will need a laser that is better equipped to treat those specific pigments.
Here’s How You Prepare For Tattoo Removal
If you’re sold on removing your old tattoo, consult a doctor at an esthetic clinic. You could try your local tattoo parlor if they advertise tattoo removal services. But do remember that a certified and experienced professional will be better equipped to remove the tattoo without damaging your skin.
What To Expect
- You won’t need general anesthesia—a topical anesthetic cream or spray to numb the area will suffice
- Eye shields are necessary to protect your eyes from the laser
- Always do a patch test to see how your skin reacts to the laser
- The treatment will span over several sittings—don’t expect to walk away tattoo-free after the first appointment
- Scabbing and itching after the procedure are normal—use a tattoo butter balm or a skin-soothing ointment for relief
- Disinfect the area post-treatment to avoid infections, and use recommended healing products
- Expect frosting—dryness, flaking, and crusting at the treated area
Downsides to Laser Removal
Many people don’t opt for laser removal of tattoos as the treatment can leave a scar. Laser treatment doesn’t remove the tattoo entirely either. While black can be removed, other colors don’t respond to lasers as well. As a result, you may still see some colored pigments.
With laser tattoo removal, you also run the risk of hypopigmentation and hyperpigmentation. Depending on your skin type and color, the treated tattoo area may turn paler or darker than your original skin tone.
This brings us to your second option!
Sometimes, tattoos go wrong. You probably had a clear vision for a tattoo once, but the artist made a mistake, and now that tattoo feels odd and incomplete. For instance, Britney Spears wanted a Chinese symbol for the term “mysterious,” but the artist got the design wrong, and she ended up with a symbol that means “strange.”
Partially or completely covering up a tattoo with a newer, fresher design is another way to deal with older tattoos that you don’t want anymore. All you need is a good idea and a great artist who can turn your vision into a good sketch.
For example, Denise Richards had the name “Charlie” tattooed across her ankle, which she later covered up with a swanky and colorful pixie design.
How Does A Cover-Up Work
A tattoo artist will work closely with you on shortlisting a design that serves a dual purpose—it should hide the unwanted tattoo and have meaning, something that will resonate with you for years to come. Expect to have your current tattoo photographed from several angles. Your tattoo artist will then import these images to photoshop so that the new design can be placed over it to determine coverage percentage.
The process isn’t simple, however. You will face some challenges along the way. For instance, if your old tattoo had colors like blue or red or green, the new tattoo’s colors will mix, and you might end up with a different shade. This means your color choices for the new tattoo will be limited to darker hues. For many, black is their only option.
Your previous tattoo’s design will also dictate the cover-up’s design. You might find that your only option is to saturate areas with black (blackout). A name in sprawling cursive might only be best hidden by a silhouette-style flower, for instance. If you got a dragon the first time around, the only way to cover such a heavily inked design is with something just as color-heavy, like another bigger animal or a blackout design.
Alternatively, you can consider a tattoo lightening procedure before a cover-up to expand your options.
Size is important when considering a cover-up. You will almost always need a bigger tattoo if you’ve opted for a complete cover-up. This also means that your cover-up tattoo will take longer, even multiple sittings, to complete. While you’re at it, brace yourself for the cost.
The benefits? There are plenty!
- You won’t need to hide tattoos that leaked and turned into blobs—say hello to sleeveless shirts and low hip jeans again!
- A fresh design might help you feel like a new you, just like the effect of a new haircut or outfit.
- You’ll still be inked.
- The new design would have transformed something you didn’t like into something you absolutely adore.
- Experimenting with cover-up tattoos might introduce you to styles you might never have considered before.
- You’ll connect with new tattoo artists and perhaps settle on one who will give you many quality tattoos to bring you joy and help you express yourself and build on your identity.
- If the old design still holds sentimental value to you, a cover-up is perfect. Yes, the old design will be hidden, but you won’t have to part ways with it.
Some Final Thoughts
Tattoos don’t have to be a death sentence. If you feel like your earlier tattoos are a miss, you can either have them removed or work with a better tattoo artist who can help you transform the design from something unwanted to something simply stunning.