Ah, the humble tattoo. No longer a sign of tribal membership or a mark that you've served time; every man, woman and even some dogs (yes, people have been known to get their dogs tattooed) is getting inked these days.
What's more surprising about this trend is that not a lot of thought is going into that decision.
A British survey found that 65% of females and 54% of males spent less than a few days deciding whether to get a tattoo before getting it done. Of those numbers, 21% of both genders spent literally no time at all.
So it seems some people spend longer choosing a piece of salmon than whether or not to get a tattoo. Which leaves us in the unsurprising situation where more and more people are turning to tattoo removal as they regret that impulsive choice.
Fortunately, the results (when done properly) can be amazing.
Regrets, I've Had a Few
In the same study, the reasons people gave for changing their mind about their tattoos are many and varied: 'I no longer value that symbol as much as I once did (24% women/28% men)' and 'poor line work' (20% women/19% men) are two of the most common, and 28% of women say they 'just got bored with it'.
Another of the most frequent regrets (22% of women and 18% of men) is that their tattoo relates to a former partner. Remember Johnny Depp and his 'Winona Forever' tatt?
Stuart Henshall, 33, from Sydney is one such person. He's in the process of having a 23cm x 8cm black Thai script tattoo removed that stretches the entire width of his lower back (the most common place people regret getting their tattoo).
"It’s a delightful mid-sized tramp stamp that I designed when I lived in Thailand as an English teacher when I was 18 back in the early 2000s," says Stuart. "I got it to mark the 10th anniversary of my mum’s death and thought it would be a fitting permanent tribute. It was a poor choice made by 18-year-old me that 33-year-old me is now regretting. And I’m pretty sure my mum hated tattoos so there’s that too."
Stuart's story is common. But the good news is, tattoo removal is extremely effective albeit a lengthy process. "Luckily mine is black ink which is easy to breakdown," says Stuart. "It will take about a year and a half to fully disappear."
Different Types of Tattoo Removal
Peter Poulos, director of Disappear Ink Tattoo Removal Clinic in Kogarah, NSW, explains there are a number of ways to remove tattoos: surgical excision, salt rubs, chemical peels, chemical injections and dermabrasion. "These methods all involve a physical interaction with the skin to remove ink, which in the process damages the skin and leave scars."
Laser, it seems is the only way to go if you want permanent removal and no scars. "The use of lasers in tattoo removal is the only method, when correctly applied, that will not cause scarring in the vast majority of cases," says Poulos. "And it should only ever be undertaken by a trained clinician using a Class 4 medical grade Q-switched laser."
How Long Does it Take To Remove a Tattoo?
- The volume and depth of the ink in the tattoo.
- The colours of ink within the tattoo. Black ink is the easiest colour to remove.
- The location of the tattoo. Hands and feet are slow to fade because of the distance from the lymph nodes.
- The age of the person. Younger people have a faster metabolism.
- The overall health of the person.
- The level of activity, exercise and movement. The more you move, the more you fade.
- The amount of water consumed. The more water, the faster the fading.
It Takes Time
What Does it Cost?
Stuart Henshall paid $40 to get his Thai script tattoo and is now looking at a $2500 bill to have it removed.
"I’m having between 10-12 sessions in total and am on session number four so there is a while to go," he says. "To allow time for my skin to heal properly and the body to remove the broken down ink there is 6-8 weeks down time between each session."
"I wish it was a quicker fix, but I knew it wouldn't be and thought about it for a while before I actually booked in. Looking at the bigger picture, 18 months is an OK period of time when it means I'll be more comfortable taking my top off at the beach and not be the 33 year old with the tacky tramp stamp, let alone a 70 year old."
The cost will vary depending on the clinic and places like Disappearink have created a payment policy that they believe best suits their business ethics and benefits their clients.
Does it Hurt?
Short answer: yes. Just like the tattoo did in the first place. Only a bit worse.
Numbing cream which is applied about 30 minutes before the treatment is recommended and if Henshall's experience is anything to go by it's worth it: "I didn’t use it properly for my first session so it felt like I had burning needles rammed into my spine. That pain was a 12/10. Now I use the numbing cream properly it’s around an 7/10."
What about eyebrow tattoos?
No doubt about it, the face, ears and neck are some of the most delicate (and painful) areas to get a tattoo. And the removal is no different. Eyebrow tattoos are generally considered to be semi-permanent, due to two reasons:
1) The tattoo doesn't go as deep
2) The ink used on eyebrow tattoos degrades more quickly
Both of these reasons mean your eyebrow tattoo will fade within 2-3 years, which means you'll need a yearly touch up, or you can just let it go. However, if you're really unhappy with them and don't want to wait, laser removal is possible for the eyebrow area too.
The Girl Who No Longer Has The Dragon Tattoo
To summarise: tattoo removal is really effective when the correct laser is used and you have the budget to finish the job. When done well, you'll have smooth, clear skin with little to no sign of that barbed wire armband, bulldog or strategically placed rose with your ex-wife's name that only your massage therapist can see.
It'll be gone forever.
Once you make the choice, finding a clinic that will explain the procedure to you and be clear on cost will help. Remember: it's a lengthy and relatively painful procedure, but the results are clearly worth it.
If only we spent a bit longer deciding whether to get one in the first place …