WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A desire to alleviate one form of pain – psychological – compelled Corey Raynor to endure a second session of physical pain to remove an unwanted upper-back tattoo.
Raynor, a former U.S. Marine, is spending more than $3,000 to get rid of a $200 tattoo he got in 2006. He has saved for more than seven years for the laser treatments.
Raynor, 28, said he was talked into getting the tattoo on his left shoulder by some buddies — “with alcohol involved” — before he enlisted.
“It was the first one done by that tattoo artist, so it was cheap, and I was his guinea pig,” Raynor said. “It was horrible looking, and I regretted it ever since I got it.”
Last week, Raynor went through the second session with Carolina Laser and Cosmetic Center in Winston-Salem. The first occurred in November.
“It’s a good thing it was this long before I came back,” Raynor said with a chuckle. “If it had been a few weeks, I might not have returned.”
When asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, to rate the pain in getting the tattoo, Raynor gave it a 5. Getting it removed was at times “greater than 10, almost unbearable.”
Raynor described the feeling of the laser working on his tattoo as like “the flame of a lighter being moved right above your skin.”
Rather than hang tough with the pain this time, Raynor chose to have the tattoo area numbed rather than just take a topical anesthetic.
It was clear that the first session made considerable progress in breaking down the bulk of the traditional green tattoo ink on Raynor’s back.
“It’s quite encouraging to see the results so far,” Raynor said.
The PicoSure system, available in only two medical sites in North Carolina, represents an improvement over previous tattoo-removal technology because it breaks down the pigment of the ink into much smaller particles, making it easier for the body’s immune system to absorb it.
The system delivers short pulse bursts of energy to the skin in trillionths of a second.
The second session was aimed at further removing the darker edges of the tattoo and reducing the possibility of having a “ghost” image remain on Raynor’s skin.
The PicoSure system was approved in 2013 by the Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Anne White, top executive at the Kimel Park practice, said the equipment and training represented more than a $350,000 investment for the practice, which began offering the service Nov. 18.
Because the PicoSure system produces more energy, it reduces the typical number of sessions required from 10 to five, which can help prevent the risk of overtreating the skin, causing it to become hypersensitive.
Length of the sessions varies from five to 30 minutes depending on the size, location and density of the ink used.
Reducing the number of sessions required typically doesn’t represent a lower overall out-of-pocket cost to the consumer since the PicoSure sessions are more expensive. Most insurers don’t cover tattoo removal, as they consider it as a cosmetic procedure.
The total treatment time span can be six to eight weeks, White said.
White said they have served 73 clients since launching the PicoSure system compared with 29 of the previous tattoo removal system.
“We’ve had people come from as far as West Virginia and Knoxville, Tenn.,” said Nancy Hoover, the practice’s marketing director. “There’s been several from Raleigh, Fayetteville and eastern part of the state.”
White said the most extensive project to date has been a man who wanted his double sleeves – tattoos that cover the arm from wrist to shoulder – because he was getting married.
According to CynoSure, developer of the PicoSure system and a publicly traded company, the average laser tattoo removal patients are college educated and between the ages of 24 and 39.
White said that closely reflects her demographics for tattoo removal clients, with the typical individual being a single woman wanting a small- to mid-sized tattoo removed from her hand, neck or other visible body areas.
“Some want them removed because it may hinder their ability to get a job,” White said. “Some have become mothers, and it doesn’t fit their lifestyle anymore.
“Some learn that some tattoos, especially over areas where the skin stretches more, can morph into shapes that make the tattoo less attractive. Some had someone’s name tattooed on them, and that person is no longer in their life.”
Consumer research studies have shown that nearly 20 percent of the 45 million Americans with tattoos eventually regret their decision. Some patients say they have grown tired of tattoos limiting clothing options, particularly at work, or they don’t want their children to see it.
Another cultural development working in the favor of tattoo-removal providers is the recent decision by the U.S. Army to ban soldiers from getting tattoos below the knee or the elbow.
The practice offers a 30 percent discount to military personnel, police officers and firefighters. It also provides a 50 percent price discount on the fifth of a five-session package. It provides financing through a third-party credit vendor.
When asked if his experience can serve as a “scared straight” public service announcement for not getting a tattoo, Raynor stressed his first tattoo experience didn’t turn him off having body art. He still has an eagle on his lower back and a sleeve on his left arm. He said his wife doesn’t mind his remaining tattoos.
“All I know is that I want this done, so I can walk out of this place and never have to come back,” Raynor said.