Tag Archives: tattoo healing

Tattoo Removal

When I think of tattoo removal, I think of Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother getting his lower-back butterfly tattoo removed and meeting the infamous Stella in the process. Also this: 

From “We’re the Millers”

I think a lot of us have heard that getting a tattoo removed is even more painful than getting the tattoo in the first place. Other than that, it’s likely you don’t know that much about how a dermatologist actually removes a tattoo.

Tattoo removal specialists are more likely be able to remove a tattoo – and remove the entire design – if:

  • The tattoo was professionally done (not homemade – yikes)
  • The tattoo includes less of the deep black/blue inks
  • More time has passed since getting the tattoo

Even under the most perfect circumstances, scarring, skin color variation, and incomplete removal of the tattoo often result. As it is considered a “aesthetic” or “cosmetic” procedure, tattoo removals are usually not covered by medical insurance. The cost of a tattoo removal procedure will depend on the type of procedure and the type/size/location/age of the tattoo.

There are three main types of tattoo removal according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

Dermabrasion

Like I explained in a past blog, tattoo ink only permeates into the epidermis and dermis. The idea behind dermabrasion is to remove these layers of the skin affected by tattoo ink in order to remove the tattoo. This approach is lauded for its low costs, outpatient experience, and well-tested assurance. Like other approaches to tattoo removal, dermabrasion is accompanied by a risk of skin color changes and potential scarring. Patients receiving dermabrasion for tattoo removal should expect to experience a two-three week healing time and a feeling of being “wind-burned.” During recovery, patients should avoid exposure to the sun.

Laser surgery

Laser therapy (also called laser surgery or laser rejuvenation) is the preferred treatment for tattoo removal (low-risk, minimal side effects). This treatment option involves targeting a tattoo’s pigment with high-intensity laser beams. Based on what type and how many lasers used as well as various laser settings, this approach can work for different color and size tattoos. Laser therapy limits the amount of scarring that results from tattoo removal because of the laser’s ability to selectively target the tattooed skin without damaging un-tattooed skin.

Surgical excision

Surgical excision is as invasive as it sounds. The dermatologists uses a scalpel to surgically remove the tattoo (this option is rarely used and usually only for small tattoos in special cases). The wound is closed with stitches.

References and sources to learn more

Layers of the skin

Classifications of burns

Science of tattooing

Healing

Removal

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Tattoo Healing

30 states require tattoo artists to provide aftercare instructions, and rightly so. Proper aftercare is super important for maintaining the integrity of the design and preventing infections.

Saniderm Tattoo Healing

Every tattoo artist has their own preference for tattoo healing, and the shop I went to – Canvas Tattoo & Art Gallery in Charlotte – prefers tattoo aftercare via Saniderm, an adhesive bandage that lets the tattoo “breathe” while protecting the healing skin from environmental exposure at the same time. Interestingly, similar bandages are used for burn victims.

The folks at Saniderm explain that because recently tattooed skin is indeed an “open wound,” appropriate aftercare is essential to not only make sure the quality of your new ink stays intact, but also to prevent unwanted infections that could ruin your tattoo and be really dangerous. The Saniderm bandage keeps newly tattooed skin moist and clean during the first few days after the initial tattooing when the skin is the most vulnerable.

After completing the tattoo, the fabulous Grace Jang at Canvas (who also designed my tattoo, check out her insta) put a Saniderm bandage on my arm and gave me these instructions:

  • Remove Saniderm bandage after 12-24 hours, gently clean tattoo with antibiotic soap, and pat dry with a paper towel.
  • Put another Saniderm bandage on and leave it on for five days.
  • No scratching or soaking my arm (no baths, but showers okay) for 3 weeks.
  • After removing Saniderm, keep tattoo moist with moisturizing lotion to prevent scarring, which could affect the tattoo design.

I followed her instructions meticulously, and three weeks later, my tattoo looks fabulous. There was a bit of (expected) peeling and it was a little itchy, but I kept it clean and moisturized and everything was fine.

So why is it imperative to keep a new tattoo moisturized? The healing wound will dry up and form a scab (like wounds tend to do) if you don’t keep it moist. While scab formation is a normal part of topical wound healing, excessive scabbing can warp the design of a tattoo as the body gets rid of “damaged” skin cells (in this case, tattooed skin cells likely important to the integrity of your design) and replaces them with new skin cells. Together, using Saniderm immediately after getting a tattoo and relying on moisturizing lotion in days after that is a great way to compromise with your immune system – protecting skin cells without ruining your new tattoo.

Other types of tattoo healing

General advice from MedlinePlus recommends covering a fresh tattoo with petroleum ointment followed with plastic wrap/bandage for at least a few hours. After removing the bandage, wash the tattoo with soap and water and apply more petroleum ointment. After this point, you’re essentially letting the wound heal naturally, keeping it moisturized and protected from the sun. Most experts will advise not scratching the tattoo while it heals and not soaking it in water.

Getting the Tattoo

What’s happening to your skin when you’re getting a tattoo?

Getting a tattoo is like getting multiple injections of ink in a concentrated location on the skin – of course usually in a meaningful pattern according to the tattoo design. Tattoo needles take the ink through the epidermis (outer layer) into the dermis (second layer).

  • The epidermis is responsible for new skin cell production. Think about your skin peeling after a sunburn and scabs forming when you get a cut. This layer of the skin also produces melanin, dictating what color your skin is. Additionally, protective immune cells live in the epidermis. Think about how much nasty stuff your skin is exposed to on a regular basis. These immune cells are hard at work 24/7. First-degree burns are those that affect the epidermis.
  • The dermis has its own set of duties, including sweat production, sensation, hair growing, oil-making, and ferrying blood to and from the epidermis. Second-degree burns are those that affect the epidermis and part of the dermis.

The immune cells living in the epidermis don’t know that the needle piercing the skin is something you’ve voluntarily agreed to do (actually paying someone to do). They react as if the body is under attack, triggering the inflammatory response. You’re familiar with the immune response if you’ve ever cut yourself, scratched a bug bite, or gotten a sunburn. I’m going to go out on a not-to-flimsy limb here and say you’ve definitely experienced the inflammatory response during your lifetime.

When immune cells in the epidermis trigger the inflammatory response, the immune system goes on high alert, sending troops of specialized immune cells to the wound site. This is also why you feel pain during a tattoo (and other wounds) – your body is telling you that you’re under attack and you need to GTFO.

The ink delivered by the tattoo is taken up by immune cells called macrophages, which specialize in engulfing particles and digesting them to “clean up debris” at a wound site. Skin cells called fibroblasts also take up ink. Whichever way the ink goes, those cells stay in the dermis permanently, providing the “a tattoo is forever” quality that makes grandmothers everywhere furrow the brows and purse their lips in disapproval.

Let’s Talk About Tattoos

Well folks… #ScienceKara got a tattoo and (obviously) was very intrigued about the process of getting a tattoo and how it heals afterward (I’m a low-level hypochondriac) and thus, a blog post was born. I started writing this and realized that there’s a lot of interesting stuff in the realm of tattoo science, so I’m splitting it into a series of couple of articles.

The Art (and Science) of…

Tattooing

Tattoo Healing

Tattoo Removal

Plus…

What Can Go Seriously Wrong if You Get a Low-quality Tattoo

 

To begin, I want to take a few paragraphs to talk about why I got a tattoo and the social implications of having a tattoo in 2018. I’ve thought about getting a tattoo for a long time, as I am very passionate about self-expression and constant reminders of strength and meaning. But as someone who, realistically, also has to consider what my tattoo will say about me in the workplace, I did some thinking and some serious research on more than just the tattoo healing process before getting my ink.

Social Implications of Getting a Tattoo: How Things Have Changed

There are plenty of Business Insider, Forbes, and Huffington Post articles discussing tattoos and changing social norms, but I scored an even better source: a peer-reviewed journal article from a journal called Human Relations. Let’s chat about the highlights.

The main question: is it still true that people with tattoos are less “employable” than people without tattoos?

Researchers say that discrimination based on an individual having tattoos is a form of “lookism,” which also includes discrimination based on clothing, attractiveness, and body weight. Authors of the 2018 study cited other studies from 1995, 2006, and 2011 that suggested employers are less likely to hire applicants with tattoos. This of course excludes a few specific occupations, like a tattoo artist.

However, the authors also mention a 2016 study that showed that “the prevailing view that body art is associated with both employment and earnings discrimination was challenged by a recent study finding that having a tattoo is not significantly related to employment conditional on labor force participation, nor with earnings conditional on employment.”

The author from the 2018 Human Resources study build a more robust study design as a follow-up to the referenced 2016 study, factoring in a more diverse set of metrics like:

  • Tattoo prevalence and characteristics
  • Labor force participation
  • Labor supply and earnings
  • Socio-demographics
  • Risky behaviors
  • Health status

Ultimately, their study confirmed that they could find “no evidence that tattoos are significantly associated with employment or earnings discrimination.”

I’m not an expert on the evolution of social norms in American culture so I can’t say for sure why tattoos are becoming increasingly accepted in the working world. I’d like to think that Americans are becoming increasingly accepting of all forms of self-expression – in addition to tattoos, things like gender and sexuality. What do you think?

A Sign of Self-expression

Transitioning into talking about why I decided to get my tattoo, I think the easiest way to explain to people why I got my tattoo (a cat looking into a mirror and seeing a lion as his reflection) is to talk about self-expression.

The older I get, the more I feel this gravitational pull of monotony, the transition into the habitual activities of the working world: Wake up, get ready. Eat breakfast, take the dog out. Go to work, do my job. Come home, make dinner. Watch TV or read a book. Go to bed. Repeat.

Add in a few weekends, a few doctor’s appointments, and some fun outings with friends. Nonetheless, I was only a few months in at my new job (my first “real” job working 8-5), and I was feeling apprehensive about falling into the rhythm and waking up in 20 years wondering where the time had gone.

Now, I’m not saying that getting a tattoo is going to solve all my existential philosophical issues, but this single act of permanent self-expression definitely helped me stake my claim that I would not be giving into the monotony. You have to work for a living – I understand that this is how the world works – but I can also devote as much time as I can to bettering myself, learning about the world and about its people, and enjoying all the aspects of life. This is (partly) what my tattoo means to me, reminds me of.

Bettering Myself

As much as I talk (and write) about health, nutrition, exercise, etc., I’m really not as healthy as I can be in my own life. The second part of what my tattoo means to me is that promise to myself that I will devote myself to staying healthy – mind and body – with eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and building my strength, and taking care of my anxiety.

I hope that when I look at my tattoo and see the cat and the lion, I can gain inspiration from either character based on what situation I’m in. When I feel like the cat, I’m looking for strength from the lion to be strong or make a hard choice. And when I feel like the lion, I need the cat to help me stay grounded and remember how far I’ve come. I hope that if you’re reading this and you’ve been considering getting a tattoo or some other form of self-expression, that you’ll follow through with it despite any nay-sayers discouraging you. You know what you want and what you need, and life’s too short not to do the things that bring you joy, purpose, and strength.

Stay tuned for the next episode in this series about tattoos.