The Rise of Tattoo Remorse: Heavy Cost to Erase What’s Often an Impulse Decision

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Most fads are relatively harmless, inexpensive, and, by their very nature, short-lived. Tattoos, however, have become remarkably trendy at the same time they’re as long-lasting as purchases get. If and when you have that sweet $80 tattoo you got on a whim in college removed because it now looks silly, the procedure will wind up being far more painful (“like getting burnt with hot baking grease”) and way more expensive ($3,600!) than when you got tattooed in the first place.

The Boston Globe recently profiled a few of the many tattooed Americans who regret their decisions to go under the needle and now just wish their skin was ink-free. According to a 2008 poll, 16% of the inked suffer from “tattoo remorse,” and the number of people electing to have tattoos removed—like the number of people choosing to get tattoos, by no coincidence—has been on the rise in recent years. In 2009, there were 61,535 surgical procedures performed to remove tattoos.

That doesn’t necessarily mean 61,535 tattoos were actually removed that year. In some cases, it takes 15 or more sessions to remove a single tattoo. Each of these sessions can be an ordeal. In order to scare his kids away from getting tattoos, actor Mark Wahlberg had them observe when a few of his tattoos were removed. This is how Wahlberg described the experience:

“It’s like getting burnt with hot baking grease,” he told Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” in February. “There’s blood coming up, it looks like somebody welded your skin. Hopefully that will deter them.”

Of all the tattoos that can be later regretted, perhaps none is worse than the name of one’s ex. One 25-year-old student told the Globe that, naturally, he wished he didn’t have the name of his now ex-girlfriend (Kate) tattooed on his buttocks:

“I was in love,” he explained, a warm smile spreading across his face as he recalled how he felt when he impulsively went to the tattoo parlor. Now? The smile disappeared. “It reminds me of her.”

And obviously not in a good way. Talk about a pain in the butt.

Some tattoos don’t age well for other reasons. The 31-year-old marketing director described in the story’s introduction got her ankle tattoo—a Chinese symbol supposed to symbolize a warrior and scholar—when it seemed like the cool thing to do in college. Later, she found out the mark translated as something like “mud pie.” Embarrassed—because the mark was basically meaningless, and because the tattoo was a mismatch for the professional world she now worked in—she wound up spending $3,600 to have the tattoo removed over the course of two years. She too is spoken of as a cautionary tale:

“At work, I’m the poster child for not getting a tattoo,” she said. “One of my colleagues has told her children all about me.”

Where some see fads and regret, others sense opportunity. This month’s Money magazine profiles Marci Zimmerman, who had an idea while scanning a crowd of tattooed fans at a 2003 baseball game:

Surrounded by sweaty fans shedding their shirts, and “looking around at all the bad tattoos, I thought, ‘Someday, tattoo removal is going to be a huge business,’” she says.

After researching tattoo removal as a business, she leased space in downtown Phoenix, purchased a $100,000 laser, contracted with a doctor to operate that laser, and opened up Delete—Tattoo Removal & Laser Studio last year. This year, the salon expects revenues of $400,000, and Zimmerman plans on one day running some 50 tattoo-removal studios.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

1 comments
ObadiaruEseosa
ObadiaruEseosa

It is a necessarily necessary to THINK before You INK because the pain of removing it can make You SHRINK like a SHRIMP.