You’re ready to have a tattoo removed—you think. Maybe a certain tattoo is not meaningful to you any longer, perhaps it’s faded over time, or you realize it’s just not “you” anymore. You’ve decided the time has come to move on and have the tattoo removed. But you can’t help but wonder, is the removal process going to hurt? (Physically, that is, not emotionally. You’ve already moved past the potential emotional trauma). And if it is going to hurt, how much?

Tattoo Removal Basics

Removing a tattoo is going to cause some level of discomfort—that’s just the simple truth. You may have heard or read scary stories of extremely painful tattoo removal, but the level of pain you, as an individual, the experience will depend on a few different factors. These factors include the size and location of your tattoo, your own individual pain threshold, and whether the tattoo is being totally removed or simply faded.

Some people find that having a tattoo removed is more painful than getting a tattoo. Still, others say that the removal process is not at all that uncomfortable—so reactions run the gamut. Generally, people find the removal process to be uncomfortable, yes, but tolerable and manageable.  On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most painful- the average answer is a 6

What Makes Tattoo Removal Painful?

The removal process involves particles of ink being shattered beneath the skin in short bursts through a laser.  As the light from the laser is absorbed by the ink particles in the form of heat, they burst and break up the pigment with a high-intensity light beam.

Also contributing to the level of pain is the color and the amount of ink being removed. Some ink colors, like black, readily absorb the laser wavelengths and are easier—and therefore less painful—to remove. But other colors, such as green, for example, absorb the laser light selectively and are more difficult and painful to remove.

As far as areas of the body and the level of pain, keep in mind that these areas may be the most painful for tattoo removal: joints and areas close to the bone, armpit areas, ribs, the head, fingers, and feet. Areas of the body which typically have more fat, such as the upper arms, buttocks, or legs, will likely make for a less painful removal experience. The more sensitive a body area, the greater the potential for a painful removal experience. Areas of the body with lots of nerve endings, like the wrist and lower back, understandably make for a more painful removal experience. Skin Renew uses the Cryo Chiller to infuse cold air on the tattoo area to be lasered.  This simple act of numbing the area lessons the pain.

What Does Laser Tattoo Removal Feel Like?

Having a tattoo removed is described by different people in different ways. Some people say it feels like a small splatter of bacon grease hitting the skin—or having a rubber band snapped very quickly in succession against the skin. Still, others compare it to a quick series of small pricks to the skin or to scratching a sensitive sunburn.

There may be some discomfort after the tattoo removal treatments, as well. After the initial removal treatment, for example, some people experience a tight, painful skin—somewhat like a sunburn. Post-treatment discomfort may include skin blistering and general sensitivity in the affected area.

Ways to Cope

People cope with the discomfort of having a tattoo removed in many different ways. You should try to prepare yourself mentally in advance of the process and be ready to do what works for you. If you need to grab hold of a friend or family member’s hand, that can work. If you cope more effectively by finding your calm center and breathing deeply, try that. If you need to scream (only a little, hopefully), that can work, too. Mental preparation can go a long way in easing any anxiety and, ultimately, the physical pain, as well.

Your tattoo removal specialist at Skin Renew will recommend options for pain relief and greater comfort. Any type of pain relief method must be properly used as recommended by the specialist. Your removal specialist will let you know whether a non-aspirin pain reliever is advisable.

In the end, removing a tattoo will involve some level of pain, it’s true. But it’s a pain that most people feel is tolerable and worth the effort when it’s time to say goodbye to a tattoo that’s served its purpose in your life.