Torrential rain hammers George Street as I exit Wynyard Station. I’m headed across the road to Next Level Clinic, a luxury tattoo-removal boutique where I’ll be having one of my tattoos blasted off by revolutionary laser technology from Italy – the Quanta Systems Discovery Pico.
I have three tattoos and they’re all shit. Each one represents an erroneous life choice by a much younger, dumber version of myself. And by erroneous, I mean giving a friend – then a newly apprenticed tattoo artist – carte-blanche upon my pale epidermis when we were in our early twenties.
That friend is now an accomplished artist but his earlier work remains shoddily etched upon my body. The “artwork” I’m having removed is a leaf, planted smack-bang on my left wrist – the insignia of early-noughties indie-rock artist, the Album Leaf. The legend went that if you had such a tattoo, you’d be granted free entry to any of the artist’s concerts. By the time the Album Leaf came to Sydney, I’d completely lost interest in his music and didn’t bother seeing the show.
When I arrive at the clinic, the friendly staff offer me a free drink to ease in. I decide it’s too early for a stiff beverage, so I opt for a collagen-boosting liquid instead (Next Level has a selection of Beauty Chef elixirs, soft drinks and yes, alcohol). Calming music and the scent of essential oils permeate the wood-veneered space. So far, so good.
I’m ushered into a room where I receive an LED light facial and a soothing neck massage. It’s all part of the experience – a relaxing precursor to the main event, as I wait for a gel-based, local anesthetic to kick in and numb the delicate skin on my wrist.
Feeling very relaxed, I ask my technician for the day, Kate Antoniou, about the tattoo-removal process.
“So how many treatments do you think it will take to remove this silly thing?” I ask naively.
“Well it’s been done with black ink, which is much easier to remove than colour,” she replies. “I’d say about six to eight sessions. But we need to allow a few weeks between each session for the area to heal.”
A little unnerved by the time commitment, I ask if the pain factor is comparable to getting tattooed in the first place.
“Look, I’m not going to lie,” says Kate, somewhat gravely. “Getting a tattoo removed can be way more painful.”
I immediately break out into a cold sweat, but my arm is now suitably numb. We proceed to a different room, where the Discovery Pico sits idly, looking like a space-age washing machine with a robotic arm attached. It’s actually a wildly expensive laser capable of emitting laser pulses to the picosecond (one-trillionth of a second). This speed creates a photoacoustic effect that obliterates tattoo ink faster than anything currently on the market.
I lie down on the examination bed and position my left wrist, as Kate dials in a low-frequency wavelength on the Discovery Pico. She says this wavelength smashes the ink into “rock-like” particles, and on subsequent visits, a high-frequency wavelength will be used to decimate those particles into the equivalent of “sand”. Once the ink is broken down sufficiently, the detritus can be safely absorbed by the body’s lymphatic system.
Kate does a test fire to gauge my pain threshold and the correct intensity. It feels like being flicked hard with a rubber band – annoying, but not unbearable. This is the common description of the sensation, and it’s spot on. In my free hand, I hold a hose that directs clean, cool air onto the tattoo to help manage the pain.
I say I’m ready, but I’m not ready. I’m generally super squeamish and faint often. Kate fires up the laser and my agony is instant. Blinding pain throttles my wrist as she works deftly over the tattoo. I consider tapping out but manage to endure for all of five minutes.
Then it’s over. Five measly minutes is all it takes to complete the treatment. Kate wraps the tattoo in a sterile gauze and we head out to reception. I’m booked for my next session and given a wellness pack with moisturizer, cool packs and aftercare instructions.
“Just remember not to get it wet,” says Kate, as I step into the lift. Outside on George Street, the rain is still pouring down.
Next Level Clinic
Watson House, Level 5/300 George Street, Sydney
(02) 8282 0269
Mon to Wed 9am–7.30pm