I thought we'd be together forever.
March 1, 2013 9:55 AM   Subscribe

I have a small black tattoo on my sternum that I'd like to get removed. I've done some internetting to see what's out there, and have wound up more confused and worried that I was when I started. Halp!

I have this tattoo on my sternum that keeps me from wearing low-cut shirts and dresses. It also reminds me of the foolish lass I was back in the late 90's. I'd like to get it removed. The Internets tell me that there are people out there who will remove your tattoos, but the process is painful, expensive, and the results can wind up looking worse than the tattoo. I guess I'm now looking for personal experience from Formerly Tattooed MeFites.

So, the tattoo is a little stick-figure Dancing Man and some stars and stuff. He is about 2 inches tall and 1.5 inches wide. His head and one of the stars (probably the size of peas) are filled in. There is only black ink. Dancing Man is right on my sternum, between the girls. Right on the bone. I am a pale-skinned person with no skin conditions other than that I sunburn easily.

1. How much would having Dancing Man removed hurt? What does it feel like? You can be honest with me. It hurt like a motherfucker to have him put there, I imagine it'll hurt like a motherfucker to have him removed.

2. How much does having a small, black ink only tattoo removed cost? I suppose I could shop around and get some quotes, but I don't want to be showing the girls off to tattoo artists all over the upper Midwest.

3. I worry about how it'll look afterward. I've heard horror stories about tattoo removal winding up looking bad - like the tattoo melted. The whole idea is to remove the tattoo so that I can wear low-cut shirts and dresses again without having people stare at it ("You've got a bug in your cleavage!"). If there's a good chance it'll look like shit when it's "removed", I'd rather just keep the Dancing Man and spend the $$$ on some nice turtlenecks and scarves.
posted by Elly Vortex to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not exactly your question, and doesn't completely solve the issue, but a friend of mine who recently got divorced had the tattoo of her & her ex's wedding song filled in and done over as a flower... it's on her arm, not her chest, but the result is ridiculously good and does not look anything like a cover-up. I swear I sat there for a full 15 minutes examining it trying to find where they covered the original text. So if it turns out too painful or scarring to remove, you could perhaps find a really good artist to cover it over with something you like better.
posted by celtalitha at 10:02 AM on March 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

it will hurt more than the tattoo. it will blister and scab. you will have to get more than one session. it likely won't 100% disappear, but fade quite a bit. prices vary a lot by location and practitioner.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:12 AM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

No personal experience here but I do know that the people to see about tattoo removal are specialists in tattoo removal, not tattooists. So you'd be showing "the girls" to laser-wielding dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons, not tattooists (not sure if that helps or not). Also, I know that black ink is considered the best candidate for removal and the fairer the skin the easier it is to remove the tattoo--so you're in luck on both those counts. From what I've read about the process, I would think that at the very least you should be able to get the tattoo "faded" which would be an improvement--but it is a process that seems to involve multiple sessions and quite a lot of discomfort.
posted by yoink at 10:14 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

If all you want is tattoo removal, don't worry, you won't be "showing the girls off to tattoo artists all over the upper Midwest." Tattoo artists don't remove tattoos, but many of them will do a skillful job of tattooing over old or bad tattoos to hide them. If you want true tattoo removal, you should go to a dermatologist with a tattoo removal laser.

A friend of mine got an awful 90s tattoo removed by laser at a dermatologist's office. She said it did hurt at least as much as getting the tattoo, and the healing process was like taking care of a burn (blisters, peeling, etc). Her tattoo was mostly black ink as well. However, when the process was over, you could only see a faint outline where the formerly-tattooed skin was slightly paler and pinker than the surrounding skin. A few years later, you can't see it at all anymore. She is also pale and her tattoo was black ink.
posted by erst at 10:16 AM on March 1, 2013

You're not going to be showing "the girls" to tattoo artists all over the upper Midwest, because you shouldn't be asking tattoo artists how to remove your tattoo. Your first stop should be your dermatologist. He or she may have a recommendation for a laser removal place that has a good reputation. Laser tattoo removal places can be fly-by-nights, so be careful. Any aesthetician can have a laser in their office, but some are more skilled than others. Ask for portfolios.

Laser tattoo removal differs by laser type. Some target blue/green tones, which "black" ink is often made of. Red is harder to get rid of. It depends on the laser. There are no guarantees, it could just fade to gray, and you'll be out a couple hundred or thousand bucks for a blotch on your sternum.

Right on the bone, it's going to hurt a lot, but it's not going to be the rattly-hurt you experienced in getting it. More of a diffuse burning/stabbing sensation, and it will radiate out from the laser site. It will scab after sessions, so be aware of that if you anticipate needing to wear bras, low-cut shirts, etc. Summer is probably not the best time to do it.
posted by juniperesque at 10:17 AM on March 1, 2013

My understanding is that black tattoos cannot be completely removed, just faded to be less noticeable. It's best to not have unrealistic expectations -- your skin will NOT look like you never had a tattoo (though if done well, it can sort of look "natural'). Plus, multiple treatments might be necessary to maximize the fade. Laser surgery is the best removal technique. It heals in 10 days or so -- laser removal is a "controlled burn", much as a tattoo is a "controlled abrasion", and it needs to heal. If you decide to proceed with it, be sure to use someone who is extremely qualified and experienced.
posted by RRgal at 10:19 AM on March 1, 2013

I had a stupid dime sized teal flower on kind of the upper part of one boob mostly lasered off. It was done by professionals in a doctor's office type setting. The black outline was gone after the first few sessions. The rest of it took a lot more sessions, and I finally had to quit going cause it's expensive. But even now, it's faded enough that when doctors see me naked, they point at it and ask "What's that." So barely noticeable. But yeah, the black seemed to go the easiest. A reputable place will also tell you how many sessions they estimate it will take, how much they think it can be removed, and how much it will cost and all. I asked my dermatologist for a referral.
posted by twiggy32 at 10:23 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, it felt like being snapped HARD by an elastic band each time the laser zapped me (which was a fair amount for each session), and scabbed over and required regular wound care for a while after each session.
posted by twiggy32 at 10:25 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the interim, you might try dermablend, mac, or colortration (or other stage makeup). You might do the research now and the treatments in the fall when it's easier to cover up the healing?
posted by mrs. taters at 10:26 AM on March 1, 2013

You'll probably need several sessions (8-12) before the tattoo is completely removed, or as completely as possible. It helps a lot that your tattoo is quite old and is black ink only. That should reduce the number of sessions it takes as well as the cost.

An old friend of mine had the outlines of a huge back tattoo done in black ink when, for personal reasons, she decided she wanted the whole thing gone. She described the pain as far worse than getting the tattoo itself, and this is a girl who was pretty well covered in ink. She said one nurse pinned her down while the other one held a bucket under her head (she vomited from the pain) so the dermatologist could work his magic. And work his magic he did. After it was done, you couldn't tell anything was ever on her skin, and I mean I looked with my face inches away from her skin.

So while I don't want you to get your hopes up (every tattoo is different), it is possible to remove a black tattoo completely. It'll look really ugly in the meantime, while it's all blistered and burnt looking, and you'll have to be careful to keep it out of the sun to prevent it from scarring darker than your surrounding skin.
posted by keep it under cover at 10:30 AM on March 1, 2013

Best answer: I have several friends who have had tattoos removed and a friend who runs a tattoo removal business. It hurts, likely more than the tattoo did in the first place, and if it's black and filled in, it will probably take multiple sessions to remove. Your skin will blister and look like you were burned there during the healing process. It is possible to remove completely, but it is not easy.

To give you an idea of what can be done, these are example results from laser tattoo removal, including how many sessions it took to get to the final photo. (Full disclosure: my friend owns and runs this laser tattoo removal business).
posted by bedhead at 10:43 AM on March 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everybody. I appreciate it!

Quick question - how would one find an extremely qualified, experienced person to do laser tattoo removal? Boy, I do not want to mess this up by going to someone who doesn't know what they are doing.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:49 AM on March 1, 2013

bedhead, those were fascinating! They also remind me of another consideration, though: it's easier to get shitty jailhouse-type tattoos removed, generally, because the ink wasn't put in well in the first place.

OP, you've really got the all-black-ink + very pale skin thing working for you, though. Just be prepared to possibly do a cover-up tattoo if you can't get all the ink to fade with laser treatments.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:53 AM on March 1, 2013

Elly Vortex, even if you don't have a dermatologist of your very own, you might try calling some of the very reputable dermatologists' offices in your location and asking who they send their patients to for tattoo removal.
posted by twiggy32 at 10:56 AM on March 1, 2013

I don't have any advice about tattoo removal, but in the interum can you cover it up so that you can wear the clothes you want? There are some products for exactly this.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:01 AM on March 1, 2013

PuppetMcSockerson is right. I have some tattoo-hiding concealer (that I bought to hide some, uh, bruises on my neck) and it works really nicely. If your tattoo is really big, it might look weird, but it's worth playing around with.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:02 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

FYI, here's a thread about tattoo concealing makeup if that's the path you want to take.
posted by Flamingo at 11:32 AM on March 1, 2013

I've been through tattoo-removal. I actually probably need to go back for one more removal appointment, but it hasn't been in the budget. I had a small solid black tattoo on my spine.
Removal hurts like hell. You will blister, but the blisters do not last long, and the best thing to do is ignore the blisters. Don't pop them, no matter how much you want to.

I went for removal every two months for about a year, and it was $100 a pop. As I said, I probably need to go back one more time. I've been thrilled with the removal process and I am so excited to see that the stupid mistake on my back is almost gone. I don't know if I still have a before picture, but I could probably snap an after picture to send you if you're curious.

As for how to find someone, I did a LOT of research and read a lot of reviews of different places, and looked at a lot of before and after pictures. I ended up actually going to a place in St Louis that's inside a tattoo parlor. Yes, really. I've had an amazing experience and trust them completely. So don't rule a place out just because they are not a dermatologist or a cosmetic surgeon, but do your research.
posted by whatideserve at 2:53 PM on March 1, 2013

I had a tattoo removed surgically, which left a simple straight-line scar when it healed. I'm male, and it's on my upper arm, so it's doubly different from your situation. To me, a small straight scar between a woman's breasts would in no way be unattractive--perhaps even the opposite--but of course that's not for me to say.
(When I say "surgically" I mean with a scalpel, then the wound sewn tight to heal.)
posted by fivesavagepalms at 2:58 PM on March 1, 2013

Jesus, vomited from the pain? Can't they give you some kind of anaesthetic?!
posted by exceptinsects at 3:32 PM on March 1, 2013

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