The full-back elephant with its trunk wrapped around your neck has to go. You've moved on and it's time Jumbo moved on, too. For those who have experienced tattoo regret and gone the route of laser tattoo removal, just like the aftercare instructions you followed when you were inked, getting de-inked comes with its own set of protocols.
Aftercare for Laser Removal
Laser removal has improved to the point where you may not see anything in the spot where you ix-nayed that tattoo but clean, clear skin. Follow instructions for caring for your removal area and you'll increase your chances of a perfect finish.
The treated area may feel like a mild burn at first but standard aftercare will soothe it and protect the wound from germs. You may notice a sudden whitening of the area but it quickly subsides. Bruising or swelling happen for some people. Crusty patches, blisters or scabs can form within the first eight to 72 hours and last up to two weeks or more. All traces of the procedure are typically healed in about four weeks.
Here's how to stay healthy and speed healing:
- Keep a sterile gauze bandage over the treated area for the next three days. (UC San Francisco Medical Center recommends covering the treated area with a bandage for one week.)
- Reapply a very thin coating of antibiotic ointment or a healing salve recommended by your laser technician or doctor should each time you change the gauze. Some clinics advise you to use a petroleum jelly or moisture barrier ointment such as Aquaphor. Others suggest Aloe Vera Gel.
- Aim for ointment re-application three times a day for the first three days.
- If you are really uncomfortable or the area shows signs of being inflamed or slightly swollen, apply cool compresses and take an acetaminophen (like Tylenol).
- Skip the aspirin. Aspirin can pose a risk of bleeding or bruising.
- You may shower, if necessary, after two or more hours post-treatment.
- No high-pressure blasts of water and no soaking - no baths, saunas, hot tubs, or swimming until the area has completely healed.
Days Two and Three
- Resume normal activities but ease up on any extreme exertions that will twist or stretch the affected skin.
- Don't shave, wear make-up, or apply creams on or near the treated area.
- Laser treatments are drying and the area may become itchy. Apply Vitamin E ointment, Aquaphor, hydrocortisone cream or a similar product as a moisturizer to prevent and soothe itching.
- Blisters can erupt anytime from eight to 72 hours after laser treatment. Don't touch them, but do keep applying the antibiotic or moisture barrier cream.
- Remove the bandage and clean the treated area with mild soap and water, patting it dry.
- Keep the area dry and clean while it heals.
- Avoid extra-sweaty or dirty activities and overexertion that could stress the area and prevent scabbing and healing.
- If you develop blisters at any point (likely), hands off. Blisters are part of the healing process.
- Keep popped blisters covered in a light film of protective ointment for at least 24 hours after they pop to prevent infection.
- Never scratch or scrape a scab. That's asking for scarring and it could lead to infection.
- Once the gauze bandage is off, use sunscreen over the treated area every time you are outdoors for at least three months. Even cloudy days are too much sun exposure for a lasered-away tattoo. SPF 25 is the absolute minimum strength for sunblock, but higher is better.
- Check for signs of infection. Redness, tenderness and heat around the treated area could signal a problem. If the area is oozing, crusted over with a yellow or honey-colored crust, or shows spreading redness, you should see your doctor.
- If you have any unusual reaction to the treatment or during aftercare, check in with your medical provider.
Four Weeks and Beyond
After four weeks you should be entirely healed - or very near. It can take up to eight weeks for the area to be completely healed, depending on your physical health and how elaborate the removal was. If you follow aftercare instructions meticulously, you will speed the healing and ensure the area looks as pristine as possible, But complete removal usually involves multiple sessions - five to ten or more for smaller faded (old) tattoos. How many treatments you'll need depends on the age of the tattoo, the colors of the inks used, the size and location of the tat, and other factors. If you're lucky, the whole process results in little to no trace that there was once a tattoo. However, you may need to schedule repeat visits at eight-week intervals to get there.
Be aware that some people are prone to keloids (raised scar tissue) and black skin tends to scar more easily than lighter skin. Take extra precautions if you have delicate skin and ask your laser technician about any additional salves or healing treatments you might employ.
Thoughts and Afterthoughts
A rash tattoo is a future expense-in-waiting. Laser removal, while advanced, effective, relatively simple, and common, is an involved process. Laser removal is uncomfortable - you'll likely get a local anesthetic to numb the area to be worked on - and it costs way more than that glorious Mardi Gras sugar skull with vivid Japanese carp half-sleeve set you back in the first place. It's almost always a cosmetic procedure so insurance won't cover it.
There are perfectly good reasons to have a tattoo removed, and laser removal is a popular option. There are also perfectly good reasons to hesitate about that major elephant with the neck/trunk wrap-around, and you should explore them. The most flawless laser removal aftercare strategy is to avoid the probable regret in the first place. However, if you've experienced tattoo regret and considered laser tattoo removal, you can rest assured that the proper aftercare can ensure effective results and help minimize risk of infection.