Rethink Ink: New tech takes the sting out of tattoos

By Linzy Novotny

Tattoos have always been identified with pain, and for good reason; there’s nothing comfortable about a needle shoving pigment repeatedly into your skin, and removing an unwanted tat can be an ordeal. However, recent innovations in this millennia-old art form are changing the way we get tattoos, and get rid of them.

Scott Jaramillo, 18, of Denver, Colo., got his first tattoo in March 2011 at the annual Tattoofest in Tampa, Fla. At the suggestion of his tattoo artist, Art Hazell, Jaramillo used a numbing cream and spray by Ink-eeze. “I had never heard of Ink-eeze before and my artist is actually the one who found it,” Jaramillo said. “The founder of the product was attending the convention and my artist wanted to try the product out to see if he wanted it for his shop so he bought some to use on me.”

Ink-Eeze founder Sean Hoy

Ink-Eeze founder Sean Hoy

Founded in late 2009 by Sean Hoy, Ink-eeze is a company devoted to developing tattoo lifestyle products that reduce the pain and inconvenience of tattoos. Their numbing cream is a trio of common, local, and topical anesthetics benzocaine, lidocaine, and tetracaine.

How to use Ink-Eeze on your next tattoo

The lucky tattooee applies the cream to the area that needs to be numbed, then wraps the area in plastic wrap to form an airtight seal. The cream takes 90 minutes to absorb into the skin and to numb the area fully, but air will reduce the effect. On average, the skin will stay numb for one to two hours. “After my chest was numb and he began tattooing it felt as if someone was simply drawing on me with an ink pen,” Jaramillo said. “At some points I couldn’t feel [the needle] at all, just the vibrations of the tattoo gun.”

Of course, the anesthetic will eventually wear off, so Ink-Eeze offers a spray-on version. The numbing spray can only be applied after the tattoo has been started and the cream can only be applied to skin that has not yet been tattooed.

“The cream had to be sealed airtight and sit for about an hour and a half before it would work, but it was worth the wait,” Jaramillo said. “After my chest was numb and we began, I only had to use the spray once towards the end of our five-hour-or-so session because I started to feel pain.”

Tattooist Hazell, who has 21 years experience, believes in the product and suggests it to his clients. “I only use it for sensitive areas or on big tattoos,” he said. “I usually know if a client’s pain threshold has been reached and I suggest it.” Sensitive areas include the stomach, sides, feet and under the arms, Hazell said.

As a reaction to the pain of getting tattooed, clients may move as a means to deal with the pain. “It is way easier to work on a client who is numbed [because there is] less movement and I absorb less of the painful energy while I am working,” Hazell said.

Jaramillo said he would use the product the next time he is tattooed, “I would love to use it again, [but the] only problem is that since it’s new I’m not all too sure which shops will have it,” he said. “I definitely recommend others use it if they don’t want to worry about the pain. Just keep in mind it will take another hour and a half to get your tattoo.” With the cream, “It made the whole experience a lot more bearable,” Jaramillo said.

If you want to grab your own supply, the cream and spray (and a host of other tattoo-care products) are available at the Ink-eeze website, Inkeeze.com.

InkEeze logo tattoo lifestyle products

Of course, relationships fail, tastes change, or someone tells you that Japanese symbol doesn’t mean what you thought it did. In the past, changing a tattoo was long, expensive, and painful process. Thankfully, technology is taking some of the sting out of getting a tattoo removed.

The company InfinitInk has developed a different kind of ink. “Our scientists have perfected the dissolution of the pigment so that, when passed over with a laser, the tattoo will be removed with fewer laser treatments than a conventional tattoo,” the company claims on its website. The way the ink rests in the skin is what sets InfinitInk apart from traditional inks.

Infinitink removable tattoo ink

Typical tattoo removal takes seven to nine treatments, depending on the size and color of the tattoo being removed. However, InfinitInk claims their special ink will disappear in as little as three laser treatments, but still equal conventional tattoos in every other way. The ink works by encapsulating the dye in small beads specially designed to rupture under a removal laser. The dye itself is designed to be carried away by your body’s natural waste removal processes.

The catch? With apologies to Henry Ford, you can get InfinitInk in any color you like, so long as it’s black or red. The company is working on ways to make the ink available in more colors. Another caveat: although the product hit shelves in 2009, the ink is still hard to find. A list of shops that use it can be found on the company’s website Infinitink.com.

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