“The artist had some trouble conveying it to my body,” said Alter, himself a tattoo artist at Exile in the Hall Mall, 1141?2 E. College St. “I might get [the space] cleared for something else.”
Peel it off, rub it out with salt water, cut it off, or beam it with a laser – removing a tattoo is unpleasant indeed. But the history of tattooing – dating back thousands of years – is undoubtedly sprinkled with those who suffered tattoo remorse. Sixteen percent of adults have at least one tattoo, and 17 percent eventually regret getting them, a 2003 Harris Poll shows.
In recent decades, tattoos have moved away from their traditional stigma via celebrity exposure and visibility, said Rob Howard, the owner and artist at Class Act Tattooing and Body Piercing, 314 E. Burlington St. And across the nation, tattoo-removal parlors – some complete with nursing staff – have emerged to keep up. Modern laser removal rates increased 17 percent from 2001 to 2005, according to WebMD.
Without such private clinics in the area, locals look to the UI Hospitals and Clinics, which has offered laser removal since 1998.
Chris Arpey, a professor in the UI dermatology department, gets around 50 patients seeking tattoo removal each year, mostly between ages 20 and 40.
Arpey said “name tattoos” – often a tribute to past lovers – are the most common targets for removal. Tattoos that are not easily concealed, such as those on hands, forearms, or lower legs, are also frequently purged.
Howard said “amateur” or home-made tattoos are often removed as well.
“What takes half an hour to get can take one and a half years to remove,” Arpey said.
And he’s not kidding. The high-energy Q-switched laser blasts pigments into smaller fragments, which are slowly digested by the body. A tattoo may require eight to 10 treatments at two-month intervals and can come with a bill of $200 to $500 per session, according to infoplasticsurgery.com. Scarring and lightening of surrounding skin are common side effects, Arpey said.
Diane Overbye said she made sure to get her three tattoos in places easily covered by clothing. She has two stars and an embellished letter “D” inked on her pelvis and lower back.
The UI junior said stereotypes can influence some to remove their tattoos.
“I understand some prisoners remove their tattoos once they enter society,” she said. “[Otherwise] they’ll be unlikely to find a better job.”
UI alumna Kristin Wieland also sports three tattoos on her back and right foot, with symbols representing her family and faith.
She designed all three tattoos, but she said the Japanese trinity symbol on her upper back was a bit disappointing.
“It’s the only one I’m a little bummed out about,” Wieland said. “An older guy did it, and he wasn’t as steady. The lines are kind of squiggly.”
But Wieland, a lifeguard, does not want to remove any, even though her employers were “not happy about it.”
“They have so much meaning that I wouldn’t want to remove them,” Wieland said. “Plus, I heard removing one hurts worse than getting it.”
Arpey described the sensation as “similar to being snapped with a rubber band.”
Alter said one alternative is for another artist to do a “cover-up” of an unsatisfactory tattoo. But if he can’t find someone to do the job, he is also considering laser removal, despite the complicated process.
To avoid future regret and a painful, costly process of removing a tattoo, Howard said it’s important to “do your homework” before getting one – looking at an artist’s credentials and putting thought into a design, for example.
“It’s a big, big step to mark the body permanently,” he said. “But if it’s a quality piece of work and they wanted it, most people don’t want to remove them.”