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'I Had Laser Tattoo Removal—And This Is What It's Actually Like'

laser tattoo removal
PHOTO: Pulse Light Clinic/Cosmopolitan
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Shortly after turning eighteen, I made a rookie error: I rushed out to get a tattoo... without really thinking it through. Whilst the idea behind my tattoo is meaningful (it's a significant set up of letters and numbers) and it's in my mum and dad's handwriting, unfortunately, the tattoo artist who did it for me said I'd have to get my design blown up a little bigger – otherwise all 'the numbers and letters would melt into one another later down the line', he said. My dreams of having a thin-line, Tumblr aesthetic tatt were dashed in an instant. Annoyingly, I've since been told by other tattoo artists that this isn't true, but when you're a naive teenager and new to tattoos, you kind of feel like you have to go with what the 'expert' says.

I should've walked out the door at that point, knowing I wasn't fully sold on this much bigger tattoo being drawn onto my ribcage on a forever basis, but sadly I didn't. And so, for over a decade now I've been stuck with what looks like the Euromillions tatted onto my side... and I've long dreamed of getting the slate wiped clean. Especially when I'm on the beach and someone asks "Is that your phone number?" (I mean, I have to laugh, it's entirely my own fault).

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So, when the team at Pulse Light Clinic kindly invited me to one of their four London locations (they offer everything from tattoo removal to laser hair blitzing) to learn more about the PicoSure lasers they have (they're one of just two clinics in Europe to have PicoSure), I jumped at the chance. After chatting the process through with a clinician, I was sold.

Here's my honest review of the PicoSure laser tattoo removal experience so far, along with answers to some commonly asked questions, and before and after photos of the tattoo removal process:

How does laser tattoo removal work?

Basically, a laser targets the ink and breaks the particles down, which are then absorbed into your body and naturally flushed out (a process sped along by massaging the area yourself at home on the regular – more on this later). I opted for a PicoSure laser to remove my tattoo, a highly-praised breakthrough technology that uses ultrashort (one-trillionth of a second) pressurized pulses to shatter the ink into dust-like particles, which are then absorbed quickly and effectively. It's been called the best on the market.

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What qualifications should a laser tattoo removal practitioner have?

Your clinician should have an NVQ Beauty Level 3 and manufacturer's training, at an absolute minimum. My Pulse Light Clinic (near Oxford Street) has all relevant employee certificates displayed in the waiting area (which is always a good sign) and the team couldn't have been more helpful in answering all my questions. The clinic is also spotless.

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Is laser tattoo removal painful?

Usually, I'm pretty good when it comes to pain. I can happily chat away during a bikini wax, so I wasn't too worried about being able to stomach the actual zapping bit. After heading into the clinic for my test patch (which needs to be done 24 to 48 hours in advance, before committing to a full eight sessions), I got chatting with one of the women who works there – and when I asked her about the sensation, she said a lot of people "liken it to being splashed with hot oil". Gulp!

At first, I still thought 'Ah, I'll be fine – I'll "yoga breath" my way through it', but truth be told, that's a pretty accurate description. The lasering was up there with some of the worst pain I've ever experienced. But at least one silver lining is that the patch test took under a minute, so it's all over pretty fast.

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Following the patch test, I pinned all my hopes on a numbing cream - Emla 5% - for the first proper session, recommended by the clinician and a friend of mine, who loves getting tattooed. You have to apply it an hour or so before your appointment, then keep it covered with clingfilm or an appropriate stick-on bandage. Happily, I'm pleased to report it had an effect and although getting my first full PicoSure laser session still wasn't the nicest experience, again, it was super quick (two, three minutes max – I didn't even have time to untangle my headphones and put distracting music on before it was over).

After the initial lasering appointment, my clinician told me to look down and I could see my skin had turned white. She helpfully explained that it was just because the laser draws water in the skin to the surface and that it'd fade in a few minutes. A few days later, the lettering turned a pretty angry red but that's normal and soon fades.

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I'd say using the numbing cream ahead of the laser tattoo appointment dropped the pain from a solid 9.5 to a 7, and as I've continued to have more sessions it's dropped down further to a five or six some days. Regardless of the pain though, it's worth it to be getting my embarrassing inking removed.

Shop Emla numbing cream here.

Here's my laser tattoo removal before and after photos so far, showing the tattoo before session one (left) and where it is today after eight sessions (right). I've been told I still have another two or three appointments to go:

laser tattoo removal
Pulse Light Clinic/Cosmopolitan ?UK
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How long does laser tattoo removal take?

The actual appointment time will vary depending on how big the tattoo is and how much surface area the laser has to cover, but mine takes just a few minutes a go. The overall process however is lengthier than that – you have to wait 6 to 8 weeks between sessions, meaning unfortunately it's not a one-zap-and-you're-done situation. I've been chipping away at my tatt for over a year now.

What is the laser tattoo removal aftercare process like?

Following each lasering, the tattoo area is then covered in a medical-grade gauze and wrap, which I was told to keep on for as long as possible (48 hours at least, but if it comes off sooner it's not the end of the world). Oh, and no workouts for a couple of days.

For the first seven days post-bandage, you're advised to keep the tattoo well covered with a layer of Vaseline to help with healing, and then afterwards, to massage Bio-Oil (a scar softening treatment) in for a couple of minutes daily. This all helps to break down the ink particles, which are then flushed out of your body.

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Is there a chance laser tattoo removal can fail?

Unfortunately, there's never a guarantee that your tattoo will be removed entirely, it depends on a whole host of things from the ink color to how old it is and more. How on it you are with the aftercare also makes a big difference. Most tattoos will fade off a good amount though, if not entirely, and a clinician will be better able to advise you on this after seeing your tattoo in person.

How much does laser tattoo removal cost?

This is a tricky one to give a stock answer to, as there are a lot of variables involved when it comes to laser tattoo removal, such as which clinic you visit, how many sessions will be required, how big the tattoo is, and whether or not it's made up of black or colored inks (which again can impact how long it'll take to shift). For my tattoo removal experience at Pulse Light Clinic, using the super advanced and recommended PicoSure process, the cost was £960 (that's approximately P65,000) for 8 sessions (however they kindly gifted me the experience in exchange for an honest review). The clinics offer various payment options, including paying in installments and ones with 0% interest. They also run seasonal offers, which are worth keeping an eye out for.

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For context, my tattoo is about the length and thickness of my index and middle finger combined.

Can you go in the sun whilst getting laser tattoo removal?

The team at Pulse Light Clinic says it's still fine to go on holiday and enjoy the sun (hurrah!), so long as you're able to keep your tattoo area covered up with plaster or clothing.

To learn more about laser tattoo removal at Pulse Light Clinic, London, visit their website to find your nearest clinic and the appropriate phone number. You can also book appointments online.

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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.

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