Ink-B-Gone client Before After laser tattoo removal from Ink-B-Gone

Tattoo

Full sleeve

Four layers of ink 1-5 years old

Black, red, and orange ink

Professionally done

Cost

$1,000 per treatment

10 treatments

Total cost = $10,000

Timeline

3 years from first treatment to final results

“Shelley and her staff did such a great job removing my entire sleeve! I never thought it could be done, but there is absolutely nothing left. My young daughters will never know their dad once had an arm covered with skulls, flames, and a bunch of junk. The work they do is outstanding and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else.”

So you’ve decided it’s time to remove that tattoo sleeve. Whether it’s due to a lifestyle change, regret over the tattoo itself, or another personal reason, getting rid of a full sleeve tattoo is a major decision. Removing an unwanted tattoo sleeve is possible, but it requires careful consideration, preparation, and an understanding of the process.

Why Remove a Tattoo Sleeve?

There are many reasons why someone may opt to remove a tattoo sleeve. Personal growth, changing beliefs or affiliations, and workplace restrictions are just a few common motivators. For some, a tattoo sleeve may simply no longer align with their current identity or aesthetics. Regardless of the reason, tattoo removal can provide a fresh start.

Methods for Tattoo Sleeve Removal

When it comes to removing a full sleeve tattoo, there are a few main options:

Laser Removal

Laser removal is the most common and effective method for eliminating unwanted tattoos. During this process, a specialized laser targets the ink particles in the tattoo, breaking them down so they can be absorbed and flushed out by the body’s immune system.

Most tattoo removal specialists use Q-switched lasers, which release powerful bursts of energy to break up the ink without damaging the surrounding skin. The number of treatments required depends on factors like tattoo age, ink density, colors used, and your skin type.

Surgical Removal

In some cases, surgical techniques like excision may be recommended to remove particularly large or treatment-resistant tattoos. This involves cutting out the tattooed skin and closing the area with stitches. Surgical removal leaves a scar but can quickly eliminate the tattoo in one procedure.

Other Removal Methods

Less common methods include dermabrasion (sanding down the skin), salabrasion (freezing then sanding skin), and tattoo removal creams that claim to slowly fade tattoos. However, these methods tend to be less effective, especially for sleeve tattoos. They may also cause more scarring and skin damage.

What to Expect During Tattoo Sleeve Removal

Preparing for Removal

Before beginning tattoo removal treatments, your practitioner will likely have you stop certain medications that could affect healing. It’s also recommended to avoid excessive sun exposure in the treatment area.

The Removal Process

Laser tattoo removal is an outpatient procedure, so each treatment session will take place at your dermatologist’s office or laser removal clinic. You’ll need to wear protective eye shields throughout to guard against the laser’s bright flashes.

Once you are prepped and the area is cleaned, a topical anesthetic cream will be smoothed over your sleeve tattoo. This numbing cream helps minimize discomfort during the laser pulses. You may feel a light stinging sensation as the cream is applied to your skin.

After the anesthetic sets in (usually 20-30 minutes), the laser removal process begins. The technician will use a handheld device to pulse highly concentrated laser light directly onto the tattooed areas of your sleeve.

The laser sends powerful bursts of energy to break up the tattoo pigment beneath the skin. As the laser targets the ink particles, you’ll feel sensations similar to a rubber band snapping or light zaps against your skin. Many describe it as short bursts of moderate to moderately intense stinging pain.

To cover the full sleeve area, the technician will systematically work their way across your arm pulsing the laser beam section-by-section. The feeling is often compared to dollops of hot oil hitting your skin, followed by a mild burning sensation that lasts a fraction of a second.

Larger areas will be divided into grids to ensure complete, even coverage. Deep, concentrated inks may require higher laser intensity and more passes over those areas to sufficiently break up the pigment particles.

While generally tolerable, a combination of the laser pulses and anesthetic cream can result in swelling or reddening of the treated area by the end of the 30-60 minute session. Cold air or an ice pack may be used to minimize discomfort.

After the full sleeve is treated, an antibacterial ointment and sterile dressing will be applied to protect the area as it begins healing. You’ll receive thorough aftercare instructions to encourage proper healing before your next laser session in 6-8 weeks.

 

Recovery and Results

After each laser session, you’ll experience swelling, redness, blistering and scabbing in the treated area as it heals over the next 1-2 weeks. Keeping the area moisturized and avoiding sun exposure is important.

It typically takes 6-12 laser treatments spaced 6-8 weeks apart to completely remove a tattoo sleeve. Lighter inks tend to fade faster than darker, denser inks and colors like blue and green. Your tattoo will gradually look lighter and lighter with each treatment until it’s gone.

Proper Aftercare for Laser Sleeve Tattoo Removal

Following the correct aftercare protocol is crucial for safe and effective healing between laser tattoo removal treatments. Here’s what to expect and how to care for the treated areas during the 4-8 week recovery process:

Immediately After Treatment

  • The treated area will look raised, swollen, and red – similar to a severe sunburn
  • You may experience stinging, burning, or throbbing sensations
  • Application of an antibiotic ointment and sterile dressing will help protect the area

24-72 Hours After

  • The swelling and redness will intensify as bruising and blistering begins to develop
  • Fluid or ink may drain from the blistered areas – do not puncture blisters
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication as needed for discomfort
  • Gently wash the area twice daily with cool water and fragrance-free soap
  • Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment and cover with a non-stick dressing

3-14 Days After

  • Blistered areas will weep and ooze during this stage as they start scabbing over
  • Let any scabbing happen naturally – do not pick or pull off scabs
  • Gently wash daily, apply antibiotic ointment, and keep covered with dressing
  • The area may itch as it heals, but avoid scratching scabs
  • Stay out of direct sun exposure which can cause pigment issues

2-4 Weeks After

  • Scabs will start flaking and falling off naturally to reveal new pink skin underneath
  • Slight swelling, redness, and tenderness may still occur
  • Switch to a fragrance-free moisturizer once skin is no longer oozing
  • Avoid picking any remaining scabs and don’t soak in water
  • Use gentle, fragrance-free skincare and no exfoliating

4-8 Weeks After

  • The skin should now be relatively healed from the laser treatment
  • You may notice slight redness, hyperpigmentation, or scarring initially
  • Continue using fragrance-free, gentle moisturizer and SPF protection
  • Avoid intentional sun exposure which can cause pigment issues
  • You’ll likely have your next laser treatment scheduled in this timeframe

Following these multi-phase aftercare steps closely is crucial to allowing the sleeve area to properly heal after the trauma of laser tattoo removal. Be patient, avoid picking, and care for the skin gently between sessions for optimal results.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

All tattoo removal methods carry some risks like infection, scarring and changes in skin texture or pigmentation. With laser removal specifically, you may experience:

  • Hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin)
  • Hypopigmentation (lightening of the skin)
  • Reoccurring skin texture changes
  • Paradoxical darkening of certain ink colors

The most skilled, experienced providers have techniques to minimize these risks. Following all pre-and-post care instructions is also crucial.

Costs of Tattoo Sleeve Removal

Removing a full sleeve tattoo is a major investment, both financially and time-wise. 

When budgeting for tattoo sleeve removal, be sure to factor in the total number of treatments recommended and any potential follow-up costs.

Tattoo sleeve removal is a major undertaking, but a worthwhile one for those seeking a fresh start. By understanding the process, costs, and finding a skilled provider, you can finally get rid of that unwanted ink once and for all.

FAQs About Tattoo Sleeve Removal

How long does it take to remove a full sleeve tattoo?

Most sleeves require 6-12 laser treatments spaced 6-8 weeks apart for complete removal. Larger, denser tattoos may need closer to 12 sessions or more. The process usually takes 1-2 years from start to finish.

Is tattoo sleeve removal permanent?

Yes, professional laser and surgical tattoo removal methods provide permanent results. The tattoo pigment is fragmented and flushed out by the body, so it cannot resurface once fully removed.

What are the most common side effects?

The treated area will swell, redden, blister and scab after each laser session as it heals over 1-2 weeks. Other potential side effects include hypopigmentation (light spots), hyperpigmentation (dark spots), and textural skin changes.

Does tattoo removal leave scars?

Laser removal may leave some minor scarring for some patients, but this is less common with the advanced lasers used today. Following aftercare instructions helps minimize scarring. Surgical excision does leave a linear scar.

Can you get color tattoos removed?

Laser removal works for all colors of tattoo ink, but some pigments are more stubborn than others. Lighter colors like green tend to fade fastest, while blues and purples are very resistant. Black and red inks are somewhere in between. More treatments are needed for stubborn colors.

Is tattoo removal more difficult after a tattoo has been covered up?

Yes, having a tattoo that has been covered up or re-worked does make laser removal more challenging. The inks are layered on top of each other, requiring more laser energy and sessions.

Does tattoo removal hurt?

While relatively tolerable, laser tattoo removal does cause moderate discomfort during the procedure. The sensation is often compared to snapping rubber bands against the skin. Numbing creams help minimize pain.

Can you get tattoo removal while pregnant or breastfeeding?

Reputable clinics will not perform laser treatments during pregnancy or while breastfeeding due to potential risks to the baby. You’ll need to wait until you are done breastfeeding.

What's the difference between laser removal and surgical removal?

Laser removal uses light energy to break up the ink pigments over multiple sessions. Surgical removal cuts out the tattooed skin to remove the ink in one procedure, leaving a linear scar.

Remember, when it comes to tattoo sleeve removal, it’s always best to consult with a qualified and experienced professional who specializes in this intricate process. They have the expertise to address the unique challenges and considerations involved in removing extensive tattoo work, particularly on different skin tones. Don’t hesitate to voice your concerns or ask questions – their guidance can help ensure a safe, effective, and personalized tattoo sleeve removal journey tailored to your specific needs.

Take Back Your Skin – Free Tattoo Sleeve Removal Consultation

Had enough of that tattoo sleeve? It’s time to get your skin back. Click the button below to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our industry-leading tattoo removal specialists. During your private evaluation, we’ll assess your tattoos and lay out a customized removal plan to help you achieve your goals.

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Don’t let those old ink regrets hold you back any longer. Take the first step today towards revealing your true self by booking a free consultation.