Despite being covered in ink, Ken Sprague is a self-proclaimed sissy when it comes to needles and lasers. He nervously awaits his tattoo removal appointment, wearing an ice pack to numb the band he got around his upper left arm in the 1990s.

The tattoo, which seemed like a good idea at the time, is now in the way of Sprague’s Star Wars sleeve.

Luckily for him, he’s pretty familiar with the owner of the tattoo removal shop: she’s his wife.

Sprague has been a tattoo artist for 16 years, and his wife Jessica worked in customer service management for 15 years before changing her career path in 2016.

The couple has been married almost nine years, and their unique relationship as tattoo artist husband and tattoo removal technician wife is a concept that many have a hard time grasping.

“I get to poke her with needles, she gets to zap me with lasers,” Ken Sprague said. “It’s conducive to a healthy relationship.”

Jessica Sprague, who is also covered in ink, chose to go into tattoo removal because she felt there was not an affordable option in town. She said other removal services cost anywhere between $250 and $800 per session, whereas her appointments cost between $50 and $200.

Depending on the tattoo, removal requires three to 12 sessions, each spaced six weeks apart.

Ken and Jessica Sprague researched the venture and Jessica went through a week of training last spring before opening the doors of her practice, Oops! Laser Tattoo Removal, in December at 5655 E. Grant Road.

The career switch was risky: the laser equipment that Jessica Sprague uses cost $95,000.

SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP

Although some people might see the couple’s careers as contradictory, the two actually work together more than one might think. While they’re not business partners, Ken refers to their marriage as symbiotic.

“You’re making clean skin for me to fill and I’m making skin for you that may eventually be cleaned,” he said. “Through the process with Jessica going through her education in laser, I’ve been able to help spread the word in the tattoo community about the accuracy and efficacy about this equipment and what a professional could do.”

Most tattoo removal options in Tucson require trips to a dermatology office or medical spa that also do things like laser hair removal and Botox. Tattoo removal is all Jessica Sprague does.

Sprague mostly sees people wanting to remove names of exes, or those aspiring to join the military and need tattoos removed to meet regulations. She has removed gang symbols, and is working with an organization called Second Chance to help ex-felons remove tattoos and re-enter society.

“It’s not necessarily bad tattoos, it’s that people’s lives change,” Jessica Sprague said.

Sprague sees about three to five clients a day at her practice, which is overseen by a nurse practitioner. She compares the sensation to bacon grease splashing on your skin or the constant snap of a rubber band. Ken Sprague said it’s the same sensation as getting a tattoo, but it feels like a sunburn after.

Although Ken Sprague would rather not endure the sensation of getting a tattoo removed, he’s happy to have his wife as a resource to help erase past regrets.

“There’s always going to be those tattoos that someone just looks down and says ‘damn,’” he said. “Whether it’s me covering them up or her removing them, nobody needs to live with that.”

Leah Merrall is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@tucson.com