Laser tattoo removal: the good, the bad and the itchy
The origin story
Hello! My name's Rosemary and I am a walking, talking cliché – a 30-something woman with a tribal tattoo she regrets on her lower back, starting her laser tattoo removal journey at Sensius Laser Clinic*.
My tattoo story is probably quite like a lot of other people's; having wanted one for what felt like aaaaaages, I got my first tatt shortly after my 18th birthday. I remember going in to have my tattoo done and leafing through the book to choose the design I wanted – I chose this, because I liked the shape of it and, er, that's it.
To be honest, I spent at least a decade of my life being perfectly happy with my tattoo. For the first six or seven years, I really liked it; for the following three or four, I just thought, well, who's going to see it anyway?
It was only in the last year or two that I started to feel an unfamiliar emotion related to my tattoo: regret. In general, I try not to regret things. What's the point? Without the ability to time travel, dwelling on feelings of regret results only in unhappiness. But this started to really niggle at me. It was just so... ugly.
And I started to hate, more than anything else, what this tattoo said about me. On holidays especially, I felt like it put me in a category of sorts; the other women I saw around the pool with similar tattoos drank cans at 11am and listened to really, really bad dance music. (I know that's incredibly shallow, but I'm just being honest. I felt like I was judging myself because of what the rest of the world saw as a "tramp stamp".)
Then there was my weight loss. As I slowly stopped hating my body, for the first time in my life, I started to think about how much I was looking forward to wearing a bikini this summer. Until I remembered: the tattoo.
So I started researching laser tattoo removal and, a few weeks ago, decided to take the leap with Sensius Laser Clinic* in the Ilac Centre.
Laser tattoo removal: the process
There are so many horror stories people will tell you once you say you're having laser tattoo removal. It's incredibly painful; it takes a huge number of sessions; it doesn't always work... My personal trainer, Niamh at Lift Training Studios, who plays rugby and seems to enjoy testing how much pain her body can endure, gave up after four sessions because she decided it was too painful. So I was prepared for serious agony.
Obviously I can't yet say whether it'll work, and how many sessions it'll take, but damn, is it painful. I'd describe it as feeling a bit like being flicked, over and over again, with elastic bands made out of metal. So, y'know: pretty effing sore. That being said, I laughed a lot during my first session. Laura, my lovely laser therapist – who made me feel so at ease, talked me through every part of the process and did a lot of proverbial hand-holding – said she'd never had anyone laugh before, but I just couldn't help it.
I was lying there, on my front, enduring this awful pain, and there was nothing I could do. I couldn't leave; I couldn't get her to stop (well, I could, but I'd committed at that stage); I couldn't punch her; and I felt like crying would be a bit OTT. So I did the only other thing my body could think to do: I laughed.
Here's what it looked like at the 10% mark – when I hopefully asked Laura if we were nearly finished. Each of those white marks you see is one laser "hit", as the laser targets the ink and breaks it down beneath the skin. The white effect is water vapour, rising to the skin's surface, and disappeared within about an hour.
Here it was right afterwards – I felt like I was turning into Khaleesi, which would have been a pretty good result! I was sent off with instructions to keep it covered for the first 2-3 days, and to use Aloe Vera gel to soothe the skin. What I wasn't expecting was, within about five minutes, it felt like I had an incredibly intense burn on my lower back. Luckily, I'd worn soft, comfy leggings (two pairs, to prevent VPL, natch), but even sitting into the car was painful; later, I sat in an armchair with an ice pack on my back, breathing angrily like a heavily pregnant bear.
That pain did subside slightly over the next few days – with the aid of some Nurofen plus – but it was sore for at least a week. Again, it felt like a bad burn that was healing: sensitive and very raw. I'd flinch if my boyfriend unwittingly laid his hand on it, and jeans were absolutely out of the question for at least seven days. (Thank crunchie for gym gear!)
One week later
It took a full week for the pain to disappear completely – here's what the area looked like as it started to scab and heal – but then came the real torture: the itch. According to the wisdom of the internet, the itching is caused by the skin being dehydrated; the laser removes all water from the skin in that area, and the skin itself contracts. It's unlike an itch I've ever experienced – a bit like chicken pox, if all of your chicken pox were concentrated in one small area, and you couldn't scratch them because it was agony. So, y'know, not nice.
Things that help? Aloe Vera gel, kept in the fridge so it's super cold; Waxperts Beautiful Body Oil, applied copiously at night-time; and, er, having the area smacked, hard, by a willing helper. (If this doesn't make my relationship stronger, I don't know what will...)
It was at this point – mid-slap – that my boyfriend suggested: "This isn't worth it – you should just live with it."
Three weeks later
But he's forgetting just how stubborn I am; three weeks later, the itch is almost completely gone (yes, it's lasted a full three weeks) and the area looks, well, kind of gross and scaly (above). But it has definitely faded ever so slightly, which gives me a lot of hope for a successful process.
I can't say yet whether I'd recommend it, because I can't say whether or not it will work – and it is an incredibly sore process, with a pain that doesn't end when the machine is switched off. I endured a whole week of a pretty damn sore lower back (what I wouldn't give for a lovely shoulder tattoo right about now...), and two weeks of begging my boyfriend to smack me to relieve an unbearable itch.
The one thing getting me through is probably as immature as the tattoo selection process itself – I'm kind of amazed that I'm big and brave enough to do it. I'm impressed with the fact that I laughed throughout. I'm delighted that I haven't scratched it until it bled, or cried into my pillow with frustration. So, essentially, I've found another way to feel seriously smug – which might just make it worth it!
Laser tattoo removal is a long process. It'll take eight sessions, each eight weeks apart – so we're talking the guts of a year and a half. I'll be doing updates on my Instagram and talking about my sessions on Snapchat (@rosemarymaccabe), and I'll probably do two more blog posts – one at the halfway point, and one at the end. If you've any questions, don't hesitate to ask!
*Sensius Laser Clinic is providing me with laser tattoo removal in exchange for coverage on my blog and social media channels. For a 10% discount on the price of a course of six laser tattoo removal sessions at Sensius (starting from €500), say Rosemary sent you.