Over the course of three years, I went through ten very painful laser removal treatments and two tattoo excision surgeries. Here's my story.
Tattoo Excision vs. Laser Removal
I had tattoos on both my left and right arms which I wanted to have removed, and it was not easy. I got them in Richmond, VA when I was 18, and I knew almost immediately that I'd made a mistake. They originally cost me $240, and having them removed cost me a total of $3,750. Here, I share my experience and photos.
One tattoo was removed successfully with laser treatment, but the other required excision, which is a surgical removal.
I wrote this article because I could not find any helpful information regarding tattoo removal experiences when I needed it. Here, I explain my experiences with both laser removal and excision surgery to anyone who is interested. It was a lot of trouble just to find a professional who could do the treatments, much less try to find the best price. I hope I can be of any help to anyone going through the same ordeal.
My Experience With Laser Tattoo Removal
After researching possible places that offered laser removal, I decided on Immortal Images in Charlotte, NC. They offered a relatively low price and were very professional.
Did laser tattoo removal hurt?
I will say that the initial five treatments were the most painful. I had a lot of blistering and some bleeding. The experience can be described as a very painful burn, and it will take quite a lot of tolerance to get used to the pain. After about five treatments, they stopped hurting as much.
How long did it take?
The wound healed about 1-2 weeks after each treatment. I would then go back to have another treatment done after 2 months. I went back for ten treatments, which took a year and a half (18 months). After ten treatments, the tattoo on my left arm successfully faded, but the one on my right arm remained (which is why I had to try excision, instead).
How much did laser removal cost?
The price for each session was $150, and the treatment lasted about 10-20 minutes each time.
Did it work?
Not entirely. The tattoo on my left arm was successfully removed without any discoloration, but the tattoo on my right arm was not removed successfully. Not only wasn't it fading, but I also noticed discoloration of the surrounding skin from the laser.
Why didn't the laser work on both tattoos?
I was told that the type of ink that was used could have been plastic-based, which is harder to remove. Since most tattoo artists mix their own ink, there is no way to tell for sure which type they used. Also, there are no FDA standards for tattoo ink.
Right arm before excision and after ten laser treatments.
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My Experience With Tattoo Excision
After ten treatments, the tattoo still wasn't gone, so my only other option was surgery. I researched plastic surgeons, sent emails, took pictures, and requested pricing. For the most part, they all said the same thing: that the tattoo would take 2 or 3 sessions to be removed. I was given the choice of excision (removing the tattooed skin) or skin grafts (adding skin, a process that would require more anesthetic). I chose excision. Here's how it went down.
- They began by numbing the area of the tattoo.
- I was placed in a chair and was able to watch the entire procedure, which took about an hour.
- An ellipse around my tattoo was made, and the tattoo was cut away from my arm.
- The remaining area was sewn closed and stitched.
My doctor was very cool and answered any questions I had about the procedure.
Did tattoo excision hurt?
- The night after the procedure, I started to really feel my arm and there was some discomfort.
- Two days after the procedure, I felt fine and was able to extend my arm normally.
- I am going back to have the second half removed with the same procedure in 6 to 12 months when I've fully healed from this procedure and my skin has stretched back to normal.
How much did the surgery cost?
The price for each excision was $850, and the consultation was $50. Since it required two excisions for removal, the total cost for my tattoo excision was $1,750.
Right arm, one day after excision.
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How Much Did You Spend on Tattoo Removal (Total)?
The total cost from start to finish, including laser and excision, was $3,250. This does not include the gas money and the tip for each visit to North Carolina, which totaled about thirty dollars for gas each time and a $20 tip. So, add another $500 or so and that adds up to $3,750. Yeah, I wish I'd known this before I spent that original $240 to get those tattoos when I was 18. Overall, this has been a really good learning experience and hopefully, I can help anyone else understand the agonizing and drawn-out process of removing a tattoo.
One month after and still healing.
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So Was Laser Removal Worth It?
For anyone who wants to have their tattoos removed, I recommend finding somewhere—whether it's a physician or a tattoo shop—that does laser removal and trying that first. If you are like me and have problems with the laser treatments, excision is the next way to go. You will have a scar, but the results will be instant. Some things to keep in mind:
- Make sure that the plastic surgeon that you find is certified and check his or her credentials.
- Schedule a consultation and ask all the questions you have.
There are some factors that will determine whether excision is right for you, such as the size and location of the tattoo.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Terra on May 13, 2018:
Very helpful. Thank you.
Michael on April 11, 2016:
Hi Michael! Thanks for posting this. I've been researching a long time, and there are very few doctors in my area that do excision. Can I ask where you got yours done?
erica on August 26, 2014:
I have a pretty small 1x1 tattoo on the top of my foot. Is it possible to get excided considering the skin is so thin and tight? Also can you please post your surgeons info?
norah on July 19, 2014:
4 inches x 4 inches,would I even qualify? It's on my upper left bicep and I do not mind a small scar,roundabout price if you could?
Alejandro on May 09, 2014:
What color was the tattoo originally?
Andrea on March 05, 2012:
How much did the excision cost? & can you set up payment plans?
Val on February 21, 2012:
Thanks so much Michael! I just started my research into this, glad I found you!
Hammy on February 08, 2012:
Hi, I had a tattoo removed from my ankle by excision. Although in terms of the bigger picture I'm really pleased with the result (no tattoo), I do have a permanent scar that is still quite pink after a year and a half. It was made worse by the fact that the scar split open about four days after I had the stitches removed, and I was on holiday abroad so couldn't do much about it. The scar is therefore much wider than it could have been. So if anyone is thinking about excision in an area where the skin is very thin (such as the ankle) and needs to be stretched, I would recommend leaving the stitches in for longer, even when they start to itch. Other than that, excision is one of the best decisions I've made. It sounds dramatic but it's changed my life. I used to live in fear of someone seeing my tattoo because I was so ashamed of it. I'd much rather people see my scar.
Josh on March 06, 2011:
Any chance at some one year update photos? Curious how much the color in the scar has changed.
mburton23 (author) on November 01, 2010:
Jacob, you will have to get a doctor to look at your tattoos to get a definite answer. Mine required two procedures. This is what i mean by painstaking process of removing tattoos. There is no quick and easy way to removing tattoos. It just takes a lot of time. The reason i wrote this is because there is nothing on tattoo removal anywhere online that describes the process. I cannot beleive that isn't more in depth material on the subject. This made me so frustratedand i just went through the painful process and hope i have explained everything in the best way possible. I have to reiterate that tattoo excision is radical and it should be the last resort if you really just want you tattoos to be gone. good luck and take care.
mburton23 (author) on November 01, 2010:
Randy, the last picture is what my scar looks like; except a little more faded. As i said excision should be the last resort because you will have a scar. There are procedures after the excison heals for scar revision. Which i think is just excising the scarred area and redefining the scar line as neatly as possible. If you have the money and are unhappy with the scar this is the way to fix that.
Jacob on October 22, 2010:
First off I would like to say thanks for taking the time to post this and reply to people. I have been going insane trying to figure out a way of removing 2 tattoos I got when I was in a very bad place on both my forearms.
My question to you is about the size of both the tattoos you show above. The one on my left arm is 2.5x2.5 and other is 3.5x.3.5 I believe the smaller one will be able to be taken care of in one going but I am not so sure of the other. Do you have any input (from your doctor or in relation to size of yours) if this larger one will be able to only take one procedure?
Again thanks for writing this and reading, I have not been sleeping and researching all over and this is the only worthwhile account I have been able to find.
randy on October 19, 2010:
Hey do you have any updated photos? I had my excison done 3 months ago and I can still see where my stiches were.
mburton23 (author) on September 18, 2010:
stretched a little bit and gots widers
randy on July 29, 2010:
Hey thanks for the quick response! Do you have any updated photos? Also when you got your stitches out did your scar stretch?(get widers)
mburton23 (author) on July 28, 2010:
don't think a lot of movement with the scar is a good idea but its your call. you want to try not to disturb the healing process as much as possible to have the best results.
randy on July 28, 2010:
I had a tattoo removed in about the same place as you but not it was longer and not as wide (5in long and .25 in wide) it has been two and a half weeks and all is well. I am supposed to do some wakeboard in a week and a half, so that will mean 1 month after the surgery, think the scar could reopen?
mburton23 (author) on July 24, 2010:
have to go back and have them taken out.
agb on July 23, 2010:
Did you have to go back to have the stitches removed or did they just dissolve for themselves. Thanks
Kay on July 11, 2010:
I just had a tattoo on my ankle removed by getting it cut out. I would be more than happy to send the photos they allowed me to take throughout the procedure.
Brandon formerly very interested on June 06, 2010:
Looks pretty darn good for just over a month. I'm definitely going to check this doctor out. I really appreciate it Michael. Excellent info.
mburton23 (author) on June 06, 2010:
The doctor made sure i had researched all other options and had seeked several opinions from different sources. Plastic surgeons offer unique services like this and most will determine whether the surgery is in your best interest. It was simple if you go to an independent practiceing surgeon. For the scar I am using mederma atleast 5 times a day.
Very interested on June 04, 2010:
Would love to see update pictures. If it looks any good at all I may make the 6 hour trip for a consultation. Was it hard to get it done or was it a pretty simple "This is what I want to do" sort of thing? I know plenty of surgeons WILL NOT do this surgery. I wouldn't mind the scar at all as long as my motion wouldn't be limited.
mburton23 (author) on May 25, 2010:
I want to say a little more than 2X2. The surgeon was Norman Harris. I will post some more pictures of the healing and the second procedure after july. There is a nice size scar but i can live with it and it is still healing. There are no limitations and my arm stretches like normal again. I think you should try laser before excision because it is pretty radical experience and might not turn out like you want because you will have a scar. good luck
Joe on May 25, 2010:
One more question. How is the healing going. Any limitations? Does the area feel tight or are you able to stretch that part of your arm like you usedvtoo? Thanks
Joe on May 25, 2010:
Hey Michael just curious do you know the dimenions of the skin they took out. I have a tat on my tricep I want out that is about 2x2 inches. Also what surgeon did you go to I live in nc and it looks like he did a great job. Thanks for the info. You know how frustrating info on tat removal is
can'twait on May 21, 2010:
I'm going for my consultation today to talk about excision. Thank you so much for the post, I feel a lot better about going in.
Bristrom on April 16, 2010:
Thank you so much for posting this! I am seriously considering having a tattoo on my forearm excised as I am going to school to become a teacher. This is literally the only site I have found that relates a personal experience with this procedure.
mburton23 (author) on March 26, 2010:
My excision was done on March 23, 2010. I don't have an answer for long how long it will take to heal. My pictures don't show it but my excision goes almost all the way around the top of my arm. I could only find one other site that says the healing process doesn't take very long. I am going back to have the second half removed in about 8 months. If i could do it all over again i would have just done the excision. The laser treatments were no fun. If you don't mind having a scar just go with the excision and save yourself a lot of trouble.
some girl on March 26, 2010:
I have a small tattoo behind my ear that says Faith and I need to have it removed within 6 weeks. I'm going into the military and they don't allow tattoos above the collar. I'm really considering excision because the results are immediate and I don't have to wait for it to heal for another procedure. However, how long was the healing process for your excision? I have about 6 weeks until I leave for training. Any suggestions??