Tattoo removal before and after: What laser treatment is really like

Tattoo removal before and after: Is it painful? What is the cost? How effective is laser tattoo removal treatment?
Modern laser tattoo removal is effective and very rarely results in scarring. Photo credit: Newshub.

When I was 18, I was walking home from uni on allowance day and decided to spend a bunch of it on a tattoo - a Chinese symbol on the back of my neck. It had meaning for me at the time and I thought it looked cool, with the infinite wisdom of your average teen.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and the tattoo's meaningfulness has faded dramatically for me, as has its coolness.

I don't regret getting the thing, like my old mate in Hamilton probably regrets getting 'Korn' tattooed on his arm. But certainly, for a few years, I've definitely wanted my neck tattoo gone.

However, laser tattoo removal worried me for a number of reasons - I'd heard or imagined it's very expensive, very painful, leaves scars and doesn't even fully remove the ink anyway.

But then I bit the bullet, got it lasered off and those fears turned out to be almost entirely false. 

Basically, the technology of tattoo removal has advanced a lot over the last few decades and so long as you go to a decent clinic, the process isn't agonising and you won't finish it with empty pockets, scars or ugly ink remnants.

Be warned though, there are cowboys in Aotearoa's unregulated laser tattoo removal industry and it's a very good idea to research the clinic you want to use. 

"Anyone can go online and buy a $5000 laser, but the effectiveness of that laser will be far inferior to the sort of machines we have," says Briar Neville of Sacred Laser in Auckland.

"The reason why we got into the laser business is, as tattooists, we had so many people coming in and asking where to go for tattoo removal. There was literally nowhere in New Zealand we had the confidence to send people to."

Sacred Tattoo has been operating for 21 years and launched Sacred Laser six years ago. They first invested in a Medlite C6 laser and later added a PicoSure - high-tech, fast-firing lasers which Neville says are completely different from the "ancient technology" that once gave excruciating treatments and resulted in permanent scarring.

"But there are people out there in New Zealand, to this day, who are using machines that will cause scarring. There are no industry standards in this country," says Neville.

"Loads of people say they have 'Q-switched technology', but that's not enough. What I'd be looking for when researching laser clinics online is the brand of the laser they have, then I could research that online and see how it ranks."

There's another less time consuming and much more visual way to assess a laser clinic.

"People should look out for is a really steady stream of before-and-after photos the laser clinic puts online, and not just the generic ones that the laser company has supplied them," says Neville.

So, here's how my tattoo looked before treatment and how it looked after the first three Sacred Laser sessions:

Auckland Sacred Laser tattoo removal before and after results.
L-R, from pre-treatment to the results of the third, with a few sessions to come. Photo credit: Newshub.

And how about those initial laser tattoo removal worries? Let's go through them, one by one.

How much does tattoo removal cost?

It's probably cheaper than you think. The cost varies a lot depending on how much ink there is, how many sessions you need and so on, but I was wrong in thinking laser tattoo removal is very expensive.

With a little one like mine, Sacred charges $100 per session, which looks to be similar to what other places charge.

To get the tattoo fully removed would take 6 - 12 sessions, so in total that would be $600 - $1200. But those payments are staggered so you only pay per session, and those are a minimum of six weeks apart.

I thought of each $100 payment as like what I'd spend on dinner and a few drinks at a restaurant, which I usually do more often than once every six weeks. So it's very manageable.

Is laser tattoo removal painful?

Not really. It stings a bit but it's not that bad - certainly not as bad as originally getting the tattoo in the first place.

Each session starts with putting on laser-proof sunnies, getting into position and having soothing cold air blow your skin to make it nice and cool. The laser itself is then tested with one little zap, then it's used over the inked area for five to 10 seconds with a feeling like a series of tiny electric shocks.

That's it. 

Others describe the feeling like a hot rubber band snapping on your skin. It's a bit uncomfortable, but it's all over incredibly quickly.

Again, the size of the tattoo dictates how long the laser will be hitting your skin and causing discomfort for. 

Does laser tattoo removal provide effective results?

Yes. Really tricky tats might take many sessions with a longer period of time in between them; but if the treatments are kept up, the ink will eventually fade away.

A decent clinic will give you a free consultation and it's in their best interest to be honest about how well they'll be able to remove the tattoo.

Some tattoos and skin types could make 100 percent removal impossible - but this is said to be very rare.

Again, check on the clinic's social media feeds before you book to see examples of their work. If the pictures look suspicious or you want to be extra careful, reverse image search them to make sure the clinic hasn't knicked the photos from somewhere else.

Does laser tattoo removal leave a scar?

No. Unless you go to a bad clinic with an outdated laser, or if you don't follow your aftercare instructions post-treatment.

Does 'tattoo removal cream' work?

No. Seriously? Of course not.

In short, the process of getting a tattoo removed these days is simple, not very expensive, not painful and the results are very satisfying.

If you have ink you don't want any more but have been too scared to get it removed, it's almost definitely not as bad as you're thinking.

Contact Newshub with your story tips: