So You Wanna Undo Your Dodgy Tattoo…

I have many scars from my rebellious youth. There’s the pretty gravel painting on my knee from falling down a drain in primary school, twice. There’s the well-stitched slit on my forehead from swinging (and falling) between the bunk beds at camp, and the should-have-been-stitched top lip (chip fight, bowl included) and backside (human bowling, don’t ask).

Then, there’s the I’m-15-and-I’ll-have-a-tramp-stamp-if-I-want-to symbol for ‘desire’ (ooooh, sexy) and the I’m-19-and-so-in-love-I-need-to-literally-write-love-on-my-body-to-prove-it matchy-matchy symbol with the love of my young life. You’re right, the relationship didn’t last, but as promised – the ink did. Prime trampy lower back real estate? Check. Japanese symbols? You betcha. Being told that the two symbols combined effectively mean ‘love sex’ by a Japanese shop assistant? FML.

According to Australian research from last year, I’m far from alone. One in five of us get inked, and for chicks it’s almost in one in four. Of those, almost half (48%) only have one, 30% have two to three, 15% have between four and nine, and the remaining 7% have 10 or more tattoos. The majority go with a picture or symbol but for around one in five it’s a phrase or word, perhaps to honour someone we’ve loved or lost, to mark a memorable moment, or to simply remind us to ‘breathe’.

Many of us make misguided tattoo decisions when we’re young, dumb and full of fun, which can see us older, wiser and shelling out big bucks in a vain attempt to get clean. 27% of Australians with tattoos say that they regret it to some extent, and 15% have either commenced the removal process or looked into it. Last year I joined the club with a laser tattoo removal session and interviewed the practitioner while she burned my indiscretions away.

Here’s what I learned in a nutshell:

Yep, it’s painful

About the same as getting it done, to be honest – but over in less than a minute for a tattoo of my size (a couple of stamps worth).

Yep, it’s expensive

Between $220 – $1700 a session according to my lady, but it’s listed online as between $100 and $450 a session on a quick Google search. Package deals tend to bring the price down.

You get what you pay for

The industry standard is Q-switched laser technology which costs around $150,000 a machine for the practitioner to purchase. Other cowboys offer the services of IPL lasers because it’s cheaper for them to get into the booming industry at $10,000-$15,000 a machine. This has seemingly poorer results for the distressed sod trying to de-ink, so buyer beware.

Patience will need to be your friend

The lasers break up the tattoo ink and then the immune system has to get rid of the dispersed particles, so you have to wait six to eight weeks between sessions for that clean up to occur. Fun!

The tattoo mightn’t ‘go’ completely

With good technology and a knowledgeable practitioner you should be unlikely to end up with side effects such as scarring and hyperpigmentation, but it mightn’t see you baby-skinned and sin free – something to prepare yourself for so you aren’t disappointed. Have a solid chat with the practitioner before you start treatment so you can manage your expectations.

Not all tattoos are made the same

Amateur’ tattoos and those in simple black may require fewer treatment sessions than professional multi-coloured tattoos. Other factors play a role in how easy or hard it’ll be to remove too, like location, your age and skin type as well as what ink was used, with some inks lifting more easily than others.

Still thinking about that unicorn you’ve always wanted on your hip? Wait until you’re 35 and if you’re still dreaming of the horny mythical creature, then be my guest. And if you’re ready to say sayonara to the anchor on your ankle, choose a removal therapist carefully and strap yourself in sailor – it’s not an easy voyage. Getting your tattoo removed when you inevitably change your mind (or break up, wake up or grow up) sucks on all fronts.

Casey is an established health journalist, producer, TV presenter and wellbeing glutton/expert.