Tattoos no longer permanent

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How permanent is a tattoo?

Depends on how much a person is willing to spend.

“We get about three or four removal customers each week,” said Kevin Chiasson, certified tattoo removal specialist and piercer at Black Pearl Tattoo in Houma. “Most of them usually come in to have a name tattoo removed or have a tattoo faded enough to cover it up with another tattoo. People also come in to have tattoos of houses removed.”

Laser tattoo removal became commercially available in the early 1990s, and Black Pearl, formerly Skin Lab, has been offering tattoo removal services for three years. While tattoos at the shop can start at around $50 for something small, laser removal services start at $250 a session, depending on the size and colors used in the tattoo.

According to Chiasson, a tattoo usually takes about five sessions to completely remove, and colors like black and red are the easiest to remove while old tattoos, usually limited to blue and green, are hardest to remove.

“Most people who come in with old tattoos just want to have the tattoo lightened to cover it with something else,” he said. “What took three hours to put on, I can sometimes get off in (a few) 15 minute (sessions) with the laser.”

“Getting laser treatment feels like being snapped with a rubber band 10 times in one second. Most people handle it well. If you can handle getting the tattoo, you can handle this,” Chiasson said, speaking from his own experience as he explained the sensation caused by the laser.

He has used the device on himself for lightening purposes and is currently in the process of lightening an old tattoo – a little guy with fire coming out of his mouth – on the inside of his right calf. Once Chiasson lightens the tattoo enough, he will have a Puppet Master-themed sleeve inked onto his lower leg.

When it comes to removing a tattoo, customers may undergo a session once every four to seven weeks, and possible side effects from the removal include temporary changes in skin pigmentation, which usually subside in six to 12 months, and are rarely permanent. Permanent textural changes to the skin and scarring are also possible, but rarely occur.

“I’ve got about 40 tattoos, and I got my first one, a rabbit, for luck, in 1998,” said Karey Gottman of Houma as he lay on his stomach while tattoo artist Jared Ardoyne of Thibodaux began inking a design on the back of his right leg. “The one I’m getting today is probably number 20 from Black Pearl. I’m going to keep getting more, and I’ve never had any removed and don’t plan on it.”

Gottman’s way of thinking is apparently the way most of the shop’s customers and even workers think about the form of art. The business’ six full-time artists ink on roughly 100-150 tattoos each week compared to the handful of customers coming in for removal services.

“Tattoo art is never going to go away,” said fellow Black Pearl Tattoo artist Butch, who declined to give his last name. “I’ve never had a removal done, and I don’t plan on it either. I would just cover it up if I wanted something else.”

Even though Butch, who has been permanently etching people’s skin for nine years, has a number of tattoos on his arms, legs, neck and face, he still recalled getting his first tattoo at 16 and had no trouble pointing out his favorite tattoo – a bottle of gypsy tears on his leg.

According to Butch, who enjoyed art classes in high school and has created an estimated 1,000 tattoos, each day at the shop is different, and customers come in for tattoos in a variety of colors and themes.

“Infinity symbols and birds and feathers are really trendy right now, but we encourage people not to do what everyone else is doing,” Butch said. “Be yourself and show your personality.”

“Tattooing is a job, like any other job,” he said. “You just get a little more freedom with this job.”

While Black Pearl Tattoo is a one-stop shop for those looking to both gain and lose body art, they are not the only place in town to receive laser removal services.

“We used to rent the laser we used to remove tattoos, and we would see all the removal patients, usually around 30 people, one day each month,” said Ann Bourgeois, office manager at Grafton Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. “We purchased our own machine in the last few years, and we now see the same number of patients throughout the month.”

The business has been removing tattoos since 1999, and all three of the office’s doctors are certified to remove tattoos. Many of the customers come in to have name tattoos removed, and several also come in to have neck and facial tattoos erased.

“We get a few people each month who got a tattoo on a Friday, and, by Monday, they want it off,” Bourgeois said. “Some just come in to get rid of old tattoos that they are tired of or don’t want anymore. There is definitely a market for it here.”

Like Black Pearl, each laser removal session runs about $250 a pop, depending on the size of the tattoos and the colors used, and each session lasts an average of 30 minutes, also dependent on the size and colors of the tattoo. Patients are seen once a month to give the treated area time to heal, and some must even go two months between rounds if the tattoo is large.

According to Melody Bourg, LPN and medical assistant at Grafton Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, many of their customers, including some professional tattoo artists, come in to remove more than one tattoo at time, but there are some tattoos that are simply not removable.

“There are some new tattoo inks on the market now that are metallic and others that only glow under a black light,” Bourg said. “These are pretty much impossible to get out because they just refract the light from the laser.”

Roy Foret works on a tattoo at the Black Pearl Tattoo shop in Houma. Foret has been working at Black Pearl Tattoo, formerly Skin Lab, for five years. Kevin Chiasson, piercer and tattoo removal specialist at Black Pearl Tattoo, prepares the shop’s laser before a tattoo removal session. The shop is the only tattoo shop in Houma that offers both tattoo application and removal.