I ended up getting laser tattoo removal at several different locations around the United States, using all of the latest and greatest lasers. I researched each and every laser tattoo removal technique, laser, and practitioner I visited. I poured over hundreds of "before and after" laser tattoo removal photos. I spent MANY thousands of dollars (this amount is not reflected in the cost I spent for my tattoo excision procedure). Each clinic promised to be better than the last and to have the latest and best technology / lasers.
After nearly 2 years of treatments the lasers had ALMOST removed the smallest and lightest of my tattoos (the single color ones done with needle and thread) which could literally be measured in millimeters. The larger tattoos had barely been touched (even the single color ones), however I had developed third degree burn scars due to the laser treatments. This happened despite waiting the recommended times between treatments (everyone recommends different wait times - from several weeks to several months - and I experimented with different times).
I was extremely frustrated and wanted my tattoos gone. In addition, I now had ugly scars mixed with residual tattoo ink which were definitely NOT part anyone's laser tattoo removal advertisements. Despite everything I read about laser tattoo removal being the "safest and most efficient method" of removing tattoos (not to mention all of the "before and after" photos posted online) - I had been left with not only LOTS of residual tattoo ink but LOTS of scarring.
It was at this time that I began to consider other methods of tattoo removal. After going to one last laser tattoo removal appointment and being extremely disappointed with the results, I began my research anew. I searched for everything from "scarification" to "tattoo excision" as a solution. I decided that if I was going to have scars - I at least wanted my tattoos completely removed in the process.
In the end I decided on tattoo excision done by the best doctor I could find. I searched for Plastic Surgeons around the United States (and even in other countries) who did tattoo excision. Many surgeons do not perform this procedure in the USA - especially on tattoos as large as mine. I was willing to travel anywhere and spend whatever necessary to get what I wanted. This was to be my most exhaustive research.
In the end I decided on Dr. Norman Harris in Roanoke, Virginia. Dr. Harris is, in my opinion, the premier Cosmetic Surgeon for anything skin related in the United States. Of my original 6 tattoos, I decided to have 3 excised - the others I left alone.
My "before" photos are from immediately before the first set of excisions done in March 2013 and taken in Dr. Harris' office. At the time, my skin was still healing from the last laser removal treatment I had endured (that is what all those scabs and blood blisters are). You can also clearly see in the "before" photos the third degree burn scars I got as a result of the lasers.
I ended up getting the tribal band (which wrapped completely around my left bicep) and the "Andrea" on my right upper chest excised on the same visit. One month later I had the grim reaper and flames excised from my right upper arm.
The healing for the first two excisions was relatively simple and painless - I even removed the stitches for them myself. For the largest of the 3, since the tattoo encompassed my entire right upper arm, it was impossible to use sutures to close the wound. I opted to let the wound heal "spontaneously" rather than to get a skin graft - and it took nearly 1 year to close completely. I cannot begin to describe in words the pain, complications, and misery I dealt with while this wound was healing, but in the end I am EXTREMELY pleased that I chose to do what I did.
As a side benefit, because I chose to let the wound heal in this way, the scar is now approximately half the size of the original tattoo. This would not have been possible with a graft - which would have left me with additional scarring at the donor site.
My "after" photos are from 9 days ago (more than 2 years after the excisions were performed). My scars are still SLOWLY changing in size and appearance and are getting noticeably lighter, smoother, and smaller over time. All of the scars are a lot smaller than the original tattoos - and the ink has been COMPLETELY removed from the excision sites.
The entire tattoo removal process from beginning to end was an exercise in pain tolerance, patience, and overall mental / physical endurance. I had most of the tattoos for more than a decade before getting them removed, and I fully expect the scars to change in appearance (getting lighter and smoother) for at least that long. For persons who are planning for the LONG HAUL, I would definitely recommend tattoo excision over laser tattoo removal hands down.
I would NOT recommend laser tattoo removal to anyone with a tattoo larger than a few inches in overall diameter - and even then you must realize that it is VERY LIKELY you will be left with scarring and residual tattoo ink. There are different layers to the skin and in most cases the laser fails to penetrate deeply or consistently enough to achieve complete removal of the tattoo. Since there are a variety of methods and materials used in tattoos, (and laser tattoo removal) every case is going to be different - but suffice to say if you are trying to remove an extremely large and colorful tattoo and are expecting complete removal or scar free removal - you are VERY LIKELY to be disappointed. One thing that most everyone who practices laser tattoo removal has in common is that each will promise their way is the "best of the best," or the "latest and greatest", etc. They may even have "before and after" photos - or testimonial videos to "prove" that they are the "best." I would avoid these persons / places like the plague.
All of the information on biological makeup of the skin, burns, scars, wound healing, tattooing methods, and even many cases of disappointed laser tattoo removal patients (many of whom were left with residual ink and scarring like me), can be verified using any search engine for Free.
As a side note - the best way I can describe the pain associated with laser tattoo removal is having boiling hot grease poured directly on the skin - the healing from which comes with its own set of pain and complications.