Last summer I posted something on Twitter about finding a laser removal place whose website was riddled with misspellings. Do the egregious typos matter, I joked, if the tattoo is coming off your body?

It turns out the answer (as many pointed out to me at the time) was probably a resounding YES. Or maybe it’s not the fault of the business at all, but rather my skin. I don’t know, but I do know that after a hefty payment and one session, my attempt to begin erasing an ancient, unwanted tattoo left me with something worse than what I had before.

I shared a photo of it once — it’s a super-cheesy rose on my chest that has stretched and faded to look even uglier than it did immediately after it was inked into my skin, which was frankly pretty ugly. I spent years avoiding deep necklines and mostly ignoring it, but over the summer I decided I was sick to death of trying to keep it covered (the tip of it even peeks out of my super-modest swimsuit) and it was time to say goodbye.

So I called around and found a place that maybe wasn’t so great at spelling but seemed relatively affordable, and I did the consultation and all that. I paid the required fees for exactly one treatment, and after a few weeks of healing I had … a scar.

A really weird, raised scar that has never improved after five months or so. It looks like a blister, but it’s keloid scar tissue. It’s unattractive, but worse, it’s wildly sensitive — even the lightest feeling of cloth against it feels bothersome, and something like a sports bra is downright painful. If I get goosebumps, that part of my chest feels like it’s being stabbed with needles.

I followed the post-treatment care instructions to a T, it never seemed infected or anything like that, so why it scarred so badly (and faded NOT ONE BIT, by the way) is beyond me. A bad treatment? A fluke reaction? Who knows. I doubt there’s much that can be done at this point, aside from having it surgically removed.

I’m sure there’s some sort of deeper lesson here — you can’t erase your past? Don’t let a business shoot powerful lasers into your skin if they can’t use spellcheck? — but the bottom line is whenever I see it now, or experience the discomfort of something rubbing against it, I have this feeling of having screwed up. Of having made a really dumb, permanent decision. Which, you know, is exactly the feeling I was trying to get rid of.

Screen shot 2012-12-12 at 3.59.42 PM


44 Responses to “Erasing lead with a Sharpie”

  1. Nikki on December 12th, 2012 5:32 pm

    I have a tattoo in that same spot, a little higher up and a good 4 square inches. It is… Are you ready for it? A gothic, angry looking moon with a face thing, black and a little blue with some shading and hey! A subtle Saturn in the shading. All I can say is that I was 19 and madly in love with a guy who owned a tattoo shop and who was, himself, a tattoo artist. It was one if his designs, so I had to have it. (I also had a hunched over gargoyle clutching a goblet on my back that has since been covered with a pair of wings.) There’s no hiding it but I don’t really try to. I get comments on it and when someone stutters and says its really cool, I laugh. I couldn’t have it removed, the process itself created scar tissue so I can’t get it covered, either. I have several large tattoos, all spontaneous. This is the most noticeable.

    I have no shame in it, I don’t try to hide it, I do t care to remove it. It is a reminder of that part of my life and some lessons learned. It’s an amusing story to tell when someone asks and I have time to tell it. I’ve never been one to try to forget any of my past (and there is A LOT that most would want to forget). It’s all part if who I am now and a reminder that I am still, at times, wildly spontaneous. I love all my tattoos, no matter how ugly or ridiculous!

    My latest tattoo artist told stories of people who would have tattoos removed and be left with bad scarring as
    you described… And then got new tattoos right over it! I’d maybe find a really reputable tattoo artist to ask about the scarring and pain because they often know as much, if not more, about removal than the doctors do. They might have some suggestions?

  2. Laura M. on December 12th, 2012 5:32 pm

    Awww dang. Shoot. Nuts. Dude, that is just no fun. I’m sorry that you are in pain as well as still dealing with the tat you wanted gone. Have you tried Mederma or something like it for the scarring? I have a few keloids on my back and they have only really ‘gone down with time’. I wasn’t consistent with the Mederma stuff. And maybe this is frying pan into the fire, but have you thought about getting a Very Pretty tattoo to cover the not so pretty one?
    Also, Mommypotomus got talked about regarding collagen and gelatin (the real stuff, not Jello) and how it makes your skin all healthy and stretchy. Worth a shot. :)

  3. Deb on December 12th, 2012 5:43 pm

    I have to vote for a Real Dermatologist for this. Firstly, they can help you with the scar; secondly, they can recommend someone to remove what’s left of the tattoo.

    good luck, man.

  4. Pete on December 12th, 2012 5:58 pm

    Depending on your insurance I would think at this point removal should be covered (health issue). If it is then you can go Deb’s route.

  5. Alexandra on December 12th, 2012 6:03 pm

    I had the outline of a star tattooed on the back of my neck and I absolutely loved it; it was my “Northern Star” (as far North on my body as I could put it without having to shave my head). Back in 2007, I opted to join the Air Force. However, they had just passed a new requirement saying that you couldn’t have any ink above the collar. Since I was determined to go, I had to look into having it lasered off. I ended up going to 2 different places for a total of 8 sessions costing me $2800 (roughly). The tattoo definitely faded, not completely, but it ended up looking like a raised brand. It was horribly scarred and I lost all feelng in that area (and the treatments themselves hurt like a bitch and I could SMELL my skin/hair burning). Fast-forward several months and I was being medically discharged from the Air Force because of a pre-existing heart condition. So not only did my dream of joining the Air Force come to a halt, but I was a few thousand dollars short because of the tattoo removal. And you know what? As soon as I got all that paid off, I said to hell with it and had the star re-done because the brand looked like shit. I have since come to the conclusion that if I ever decide I don’t like a tattoo, I’ll just cover it up with something else. No more lasers.

  6. ChrisB on December 12th, 2012 6:22 pm

    Keloid scars are random and have nothing to do with wound care. Some people are more prone to get them than others. I tend to get them on my torso and had cortisone injections for one which flattened it out completely. Pure Vitamin E oil helps as well

  7. Noelle on December 12th, 2012 7:43 pm

    A good dermatologist can inject the keloid with cortisone and make it much less obvious. Know that those who keloid once can do it again. (Something to consider with any future removal attempts, I guess.)

  8. Ashley on December 12th, 2012 7:50 pm

    I had mine removed. It was on my upper back. Find a reputable place. A doctor did mine. It took 5 sessions and each one hurt like a son of a bitch. It scarred and healed. Mine was a skull with a rose in its mouth. \^^/

  9. Felicia on December 12th, 2012 7:51 pm

    I really don’t have much helpful information to contribute, but I did read another blog post about tattoo removal recently. She was very happy with hers – so maybe she might have some advice? I don’t know. It seems like she did at least 10 sessions and hers was fairly small to begin with.

  10. Clare on December 12th, 2012 7:59 pm

    I agree with the suggestion of a dermatologist. They can help with the scarring with cortisone (as mentioned). Also agree with Vitamin E as a stop-gap measure. Don’t bother with creams… get some of the vitamin E capsules you’re supposed to swallow, break them open and massage directly into the skin. Much more concentrated.
    I’ve had tattoos removed and even with my tendancy to get keloid scarring, that looks like the result of someone wielding a laser who really had no business being near one.

    Good luck!

  11. Redbecca on December 12th, 2012 8:38 pm

    I don’t have tattoo advice but will caution that if you do tend to sensitive skin be sure to test straight vitamin e in a place you don’t mind getting an itchy inflamed rash first. Everyone told me to use it on my thyroid surgery scar and that sucker flared up like hell after three days. It was adding insult to injury! I ended up with a topical cortisone cream that worked like a charm (although i had to apply it daily for a few weeks). You can barely see the scar now. Good luck!

  12. Victoria on December 12th, 2012 10:17 pm

    Aww man, I’m sorry this is making you feel icky.

  13. val on December 12th, 2012 11:56 pm

    I’d go cover up. There has to be some inspiring image you can think of to cover it. A good artist can do some amazing things. If you have more than one and are keeping the rest, it seems kind of weird to me to get rid of the one alone. Mine are all or none. I have 14, a couple I’d like re-done and the itch to get more. That said, I’m not anyone’s mom and know they will look terrible when I am old but have a generation of kindred spirits. :)

  14. Thursday on December 13th, 2012 12:30 am

    I’m in the process of having a tattoo lasered from my upper arm. Had the first session a week or so ago and it’s looking splotchy but more faded than it was. I was told that I need to keep it out of the sun for some while (the consultant only removes tattoos over the winter months) or the place where it was will go white, like a negative photo. Also, some years ago I had a lump removed from my face (I picked a spot so badly it ended up looking like a chickpea on my face) and the surgeon said to keep the scar out of the sun for at least a year or it would go pink and stay that way. Don’t give up with this yet, it may be impossible to remove totally but I’m sure you could get a better result than you’ve got now, with the help of a dermatologist.

  15. NancyB on December 13th, 2012 5:18 am

    I remember writing about a tattoo you wanted removed – that sucks! The sensitivity would drive me nuts!
    Maybe with time that feeling will go away? No advice for you just sympathy!
    I have 3 – one on my foot, on my wrist and a big one on my back but it can get as saggy as it wants cus I can’t see it except in a mirror!

  16. Karen on December 13th, 2012 5:32 am

    These are the moments that I wish I was a successful plastic surgeon so I could say, “Linda! Come to my office in Beverly Hills!” (I don’t live there, but if I was a plastic surgeon I totally would.) “Come, and I will fix it!”

  17. Ris on December 13th, 2012 6:09 am

    Aww Linda I’m sorry–that really sucks. I agree with everyone else and say get thee to a highly regarded dermatologist, stat. Even if it’s just to get a cream or an evaluation, or better yet a “You’re not the only one and I’ve seen much worse.” Good luck!

  18. Molly on December 13th, 2012 7:09 am

    Oof – that’s no fun. I can’t say I’ve ever seen an “after” picture of tattoo removal that didn’t look like a branding or just a big gnarly scar. I’ve never seen what looks like “normal skin” after laser removal. Am I alone or is that the usual result?

    I am almost 37 and have several very large tattoos (full sleeve and others). They are all well-done and most comments I get are positive but there are days when I don’t want to talk about them with random strangers at the beach, on the bus, at the doctors office, etc. Removal is not an option for me (and I don’t think I would want to remove them anyway) but I understand your desire to have it gone.

    Maybe there will be a better method of removal sometime in the not-too-distant future…seems like laser removal is like slicing a ham with a chainsaw. I hope you can get the scar under control. Good luck!

  19. melanie on December 13th, 2012 8:01 am

    My only experience with lasers is thru my daughters hemangioma removal on her forehead, her hemangioma was very deep red/maroon in color as an infant but faded somewhat on its own for a few years to a more dull red/pink… then her dermatologist recommended lasers, only one doc in the big children’s hospital was qualified to do it, so it took quite some time to get in, and in the end we did 3 sessions and honestly it didnt get rid of it all, there is still a little bit of pink and the middle of what was the hemangioma the skin is VERY white, but my girl is pretty pale as it is so its not that noticeable. From what my dermatologist said the scarring risk goes up depending on the strength of the laser setting, we opted for a lighter touch with the laser, even though it meant more $$ and more sessions… she never seemed to have any discomfort though it bruised slightly and no blistering or scarring. Anyway my long-winded way of saying, I’d see another dermatologist.

  20. Mare on December 13th, 2012 8:08 am

    A steroid injection will get rid of that. Keloid scars tend to happen on the chest area, but they’re easily gotten rid of, thank gods.

  21. Rebecca on December 13th, 2012 8:48 am

    Absolutely go to a dermatologist – I had a terrible keloid on my foot, and after the cortisone injection it is now barely noticeable.

  22. Kate on December 13th, 2012 8:57 am

    I know it sounds extreme, but I had a bad keloid scar – that I got from a horrible sunburn of all things – surgically removed from my upper chest. I had it for years, and it really bothered the hell out of me, so finally I just went to a really good plastic surgeon and paid to have it removed. I can’t remember how much it cost, but I think maybe somewhere in the area of $1,500? I’m sure it’s gone up since then, but it might be worth looking into, at least.

    From my perspective, vanity driven though it may have been, it was totally totally worth it. In and out surgical procedure, followed by a couple of months of Mederma and there’s pretty much no sign that it ever existed.

  23. Gaby on December 13th, 2012 9:56 am

    I have a keloid scar from having an abnormal mole removed from my shoulder (wear sunscreen, kids!), and it hurt like hell/was extremely sensitive for a very long time. I think it had to do with the nerve endings regrowing. It took time,I don’t recall how long exactly, but I don’t even feel it anymore. Of course, it’s still ugly and big, but I can apparently look into cortisone injections (thanks, other commenters!). I hope you have some success with resolving this.

  24. Randy on December 13th, 2012 10:04 am

    Thank you for the reminder not to get any tats.

  25. christina on December 13th, 2012 10:43 am

    To me it looks like you still need more treatments. I work with ex-gang members who have had 4 or 5 treatments for one tattoo. Through a program called Ink Out that runs through st petes in oly wa. Yours looks like theirs in the beginning. I have definitely seen healed skin that doesn’t look like a tattoo was ever there. I have seen some really huge tats successfully removed. Good luck, sorry its so itchy!

  26. Linda on December 13th, 2012 10:49 am

    Christina: yeah, in theory it would need several (many?) treatments to remove the tattoo, I’d planned on that. Of course, that was before I developed a big weird scar from *one* treatment.

    Thanks for the advice re: cortisone, etc, you guys! I am making a dermatologist appt ASAP.

  27. Jennifer on December 13th, 2012 10:58 am

    That’s a bummer, I’m sorry you have to go through that! Here’s a good article on the topic:

  28. Shannon on December 13th, 2012 11:30 am

    That sucks. I had my astrological sign tattooed on my right breast the day I graduated university as a rite of passage and have been through a few times in my life when I considered removing it. I’m sorry the treatment didn’t work for you- while you await dermalogist etc you might also try Bio Oil, an OTC product that is supposed to be very good for scars and stretch marks. I have used it with some success on a prominent scar on my daughters temple. Good luck.

  29. Anonymous on December 13th, 2012 2:31 pm

    Just get it covered with something you can live with. Instead of erasing your past, reshape and work it into who you are now. Like everything else in life ;)

    This is, I think, exactly what tattoos are for and exactly why they’re awesome. They don’t allow to you forget who you were, that person that grew into who you are.

  30. Stephanie Precourt on December 13th, 2012 2:51 pm

    Oh man, same spot here, only it’s my own hand-drawing of a comedy & tragedy mask. I was majoring in theatre, ok, and while I try to convince myself it was “me” back then, I’d love to remove it. But, thankfully it can be covered up, and sometimes I do think back to that time and it’s not so painful.


  31. Mo on December 13th, 2012 3:12 pm

    I had the same issue with laser removal of a tattoo on the top of my foot. I had a bad reaction to the laser where the ink was colored (red, I think), and I got keloid scarring after 1 or 2 treatments. I had my treatments at a cosmetic dermatology office, and the doctor injected my foot with steroids after the 3rd and 4th treatments, but I discontinued the removal treatments at that point because the process wasn’t going well even though the skin flattened out and healed OK. I opted to get the old tattoo covered after about a year, which is the minimum healing period that my doctor recommended. Good luck with the dermatologist!

  32. ginger on December 13th, 2012 3:32 pm

    If you were still in B’vue, I could recommend an excellent dermatologist for you! But you’re not. Honestly, though, a good dermo will be totally sympathetic about the depressing irony piece of this and will help you get it all squared away. As everyone said, it’s nothing you did – some people are just prone to keloids.

  33. scantee on December 13th, 2012 7:11 pm

    I’m with some of the other commenters; get it covered up with something you like. It’s probably the easiest and cheapest solution.

    I’m getting a tattoo “removed” right now but only to lighten it so I can get it covered with something that fits the sleeve design I am going with. Mine has also not healed as I expected but I don’t care much since something else is going there anyway. Yours looks faded enough that it could be easily covered with almost anything.

  34. scantee on December 13th, 2012 7:17 pm

    Also, I went through a period of hating the tattoo I’m having lightened and wanting it gone so much. I ended up saying, fuck it, going the other way and getting a tattoo so enormous that this other one would be barely noticeable even if I wasn’t covering it up.

  35. Danell on December 13th, 2012 7:59 pm

    I’ve used Dermablend a few times recently to cover up some stuff and have been surprisingly pleased with it. It’s basically makeup, but it actually works really well. I used it under a formal dress the other night and it didn’t rub of onto it at all! The tricky part was finding just the right shade to match skin tone.

  36. Mass Hole on December 14th, 2012 9:01 am

    That blows. You should have gone with my cover up portrait recommendation.
    (JB Meerkat)

  37. Honore on December 14th, 2012 10:17 am

    So sorry that this went from a bad experience to an even worse one. I’ve been involved in the body modification culture for some time and I would like to suggest that you check out They have a section called ” Ask BME” where professional body modification artists provide feedback. They might be able to provide some insight as to what happened and alternative methods for removing it.

  38. Lindsey on December 14th, 2012 10:42 pm

    I have a keloid scar right in the middle of my chest after a melanoma scare. An asshole once asked if it was my third eye and asked if I wanted to see his third eye.

    It used to be very red and raised. Then I had about 4 or 5 steroid injections at a dermatologist’s office, they mixed in some pain killer/number with the steroid because injecting in that area hurt like a mother. Every time I got injected the scar turned blue and looked like it was trying to go inside out…

    Anyway, five years later, it is much better. The redness has gone down and it is flatter. I’m not sure how much of that is from the time that has passed or how much is from those steroid injections.

    Now that you know you are prone to keloid formation, I would be careful about who you let stitch you up in the future if you ever need stitches. I’m always getting things removed from my body to check for another melanoma and I only let specific plastic surgeons do it, hoping that the keloid won’t be as bad. I also ask them to immediately inject the scar area with steroids when they’re stitching me up to try to prevent keloid formation to begin with. So far I’ve only gotten one more on my calf, so I’ve started to calm down a bit…

  39. Olivia on December 16th, 2012 9:00 am

    What a bummer. It seems that it’s easier, and cheaper, to cover a tattoo than remove it. My first tattoo was not well done and faded after a few years. I ended up getting it completely redone by a different artist. Hurt like a sonofabitch, but it looks so much better.

  40. Andrea on December 16th, 2012 9:24 pm

    If it helps… I just had surgery and am using a silicone gel once to twice a day to help the scar heal. It apparently helps keloid scars too. The product is called Dermatix ( and so far it’s been quite effective on my post-surgery scar on my neck, which is about 6 cm in length.

    Apparently scars also heal more quickly if you massage them gently for a few minutes each day (with pure vitamin E or just dry).

  41. Jennifer on December 16th, 2012 9:49 pm

    I’ve been getting laser for a birthmark for several years now. It has become a white spot, rather than a birthmark, which to me is better. I go to a plastic surgeon for it. It’s about $350 per treatment and is not covered by insurance. I think I’ve had about 9 treatments since 2008. Boy, do I know what it’s like to not want some of your skin to show. This is the first year I may wear a bikini instead of board shorts. Good luck.

  42. januaryinjune on December 18th, 2012 8:20 am

    Man that sucks, I’m sorry. :( I have a keloid on my back from a mole removal. If you go to a dermatologist, they might be able to give you steroid injections into the keloid. Mine used to itch like a mofo and now it doesn’t, and it’s slightly less raised. Good luck!

  43. Debs on December 18th, 2012 9:48 am

    Oh gosh, I remember I knew a girl who got “**** Life” drunkenly tattooed on her knuckles. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes! She was a rich, preppy girl too and last I saw of her she was also undergoing laser removal. I can only hope she was successful! I hope you do find someone who can help.

  44. Nicole on December 23rd, 2012 5:15 pm

    The curad scar therapy silicone pads worked about the best of anything I tried for keloid scars.

    I bought my last box off of amazon as they have disappeared from the grocery stores. I takes a bit for the scars to flatten out and the coloring to get better.

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