Regretting the Ink: The Process of Tattoo Removal

There are many ways on how people express their personalities and interests, and getting tattoos is one of them. However most often than not, when people decide to get a tattoo when they are younger, they seldom think of the consequences associated in getting an unwanted tattoo removed. There are many ways on how tattoos can be removed nowadays such as, dermabrasion, salabrasion, laser, and surgical removal; and more and more people are getting a tattoo nowadays, which suggests that tattoo removal can also get bigger as an industry in time. As a matter of fact, experts note that one in every four people in America has tattoos (Simpson, 2009). However, despite having many options on tattoo removal, the process remains a costly, painful, and time-consuming process, which makes a lot of people remain doubtful about the process despite their need to have the tattoo removed. The following discussions shall provide an overview of the tattoo culture in America as well as the growing industry of tattoo removal. This discussion shall also follow the premise that while tattooed individuals get many options on how to get their tattoos removed today, some still remain doubtful and hesitant as most methods remain costly, painful and branded with a stigma of tattoos being a mistake.

Literature Review

Tattoo and its Stigma in the Current Society

The society has undeniably grown more liberated over the years, accepting some of the prohibitions of the past and being more open about people’s freedom of self-expression. For a time, tattoos were considered taboo. Tatooed individuals were either seen to have violent tendencies or deviant. However, today, more and more people are getting tattoos and the society has apparently grown more accepting of this as a culture. As a matter of fact, approximately 15 to 20% of Americans have tattoos today (Simpson, 2009). The society’s acceptance of this culture has also been apparent in the rise of TV shows like Miami Ink, LA Ink, and Ink – among many others – that apparently makes the tattoo culture more mainstream. Overtime, more and more tattoo shops and parlors open as a clear manifestation of the society’s growing acceptance of body art.

However, despite popular acceptance, there are still environments where tattoos are frowned upon. In traditional suit-and-tie offices today for example, that deviant stigma about tattooed individuals still exists unless a person is a known part of a creative industry like music, arts, or entertainment in general. Aside from conflicts out of misjudgment and stereotyping, this stigma also erodes the confidence of people despite their abilities, as tattoos and piercings tend to trigger negative first impressions. Individuals with tattoos greatly suffer from such stigma as some of them find it hard to get their dream jobs just because they have ink on their skin. Lucky Lauren, a nurse from a tattoo removal clinic has had clients with such problem. These people usually come in the clinic complaining how they have been misjudged in applications because of their tattoos. As a result, despite liking their tattoos so much, these people are forced to have them removed just so they could land the job they want. Lauren notes, “If someone is intelligent, they’re loquacious and are able to conduct themselves in a professional manner within the workplace then I don’t think that tattoos should really be an issue” (Lauren, qtd. in Jinks, 2013).

So where does the stigma of tattoo and body piercings really come from? There are perhaps numerous factors; however, one of the most apparent reason for this impression is the sense of permanence. Having tattoos and piercings means having body modifications that cannot be reversed or taken back. Tattoos for example, are considered to stay in place for the a person’s lifetime. The electrically-powered tattoo machine injects a needle into the skin, penetrating the epidermis – outer skin layer – then depositing ink into the second layer of the skin called, dermis. Due to the permanence of tattoos and body piercings, most of the people who get them are usually misconstrued of having hasty decisions and less regard for their body.

Thinking Twice Before Getting Inked

More people are getting enticed to get a tattoo nowadays; but while getting a tattoo sounds like a good idea for some, it generally requires a great deal of thought beforehand. A tattoo’s permanence is a huge factor that people needs to consider. Getting a tattoo means scarring one’s body of permanent mark and symbol. Hence, getting a tattoo entails a particular level of affiliation or passion over something. People simply cannot irrationally get a tattoo without regretting it afterwards. In Caitlin Jinks’ article, Injecting Ink into the Workplace with Tattoo Discrimination, a nurse from a tattoo removal clinic notes how important it is to think twice before getting a tattoo. She suggests, “If they want a tattoo, they should get a picture of the tattoo and sit it by their bedside for twelve months, have look at it and say ‘I still love it,’ then get a tattoo because it’s something that’s stuck with you” (Lacey, qtd. in Jinks, 2013).

Aside from having a permanent mark on their skin, people need to think through getting a tattoo due to its associated risks. In the article, Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe? the Food and Drug Administration cites different risks associated to getting a tattoo:

  • Infection – individuals face the risk of acquiring hepatitis and HIV by getting tattoos from unsanitary tattoo parlors. Dirty needles can pass these infections easily from one client to another
  • Allergies – much like any cosmetic or skin product, the ink pigments that are injected on a person’s skin when getting a tattoo could cause different types of allergic reactions and has been reported to cause more serious problems
  • Scarring – unwanted scarring on the skin may also happen when undergoing a tattoo removal procedure
  • Granulomas – tattoo pigments can be perceived by the body’s immune system as foreign; this may cause small bumps and knots to form around it as a result of an accumulation of antibodies
  • MRI complications – patients may also experience swelling and burning sensation when going through a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), though this has been reported to happen rarely (FDA, 2009)

These risks does not always happen to everyone who decides to get inked; however, the effects of these risks can be very serious to one’s health. FDA notes that while most ink pigments today are safe, some pigments have not yet gone through the tests FDA initiated. With the aid of the Arkansas-based National center for Toxicological Research, FDA is trying to find out a few things about ink pigments that could possibly be harmful to human health, such as the ink’s chemical composition, short-term and long-term safety of pigments, as well as the usual body reaction to when light interacts with ink (FDA, 2009). Linda Katz, Director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition further notes, “Our hope is to get a better understanding of the body’s response to tattoos and their impact on human health, and to identify products at greatest risk” (Katz, qtd. in FDA, 2009). Moreover, FDA says they have yet to approve any tattoo pigments for injection into the skin. This applies to all tattoo pigments, including those used for ultraviolet (UV) and glow-in-the-dark tattoos.

What does the Bible Say about Tattoos?

When speaking of taboos and prohibitions, the Bible is often a reference point for many. Hence, in light of this discussion about tattoos and body piercings, is there something mentioned in the Holy Scriptures prohibiting people of being inked? Perhaps the most related passage to tattoos from the Bible is this: “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:29 – New American Standard). At a glance, this passage can be easily interpreted as a prohibition for having tattoos as creative expression; however, in order to understand the passage’s real intent and purpose, one must first read through the context of the chapter that it is in. In analyzing the context of this verse from its chapter, it actually speaks about cutting or marking the body for dead relatives. This was said to be the practice of people who worshipped pagan gods, therefore veering them away from God’s guidance and protection (Gerwig, 2007). Today, people get a tattoo as means of self-expression; either the symbol has a deeper meaning to the owner, or it represents a particular truth about the wearer. Tattooed Christians do not actually mark themselves to rebel or pay tribute to false idols or anti-Christian gods. A lot of these people even mark themselves permanently with symbols that represent their devotion to Christ; but in reality, tattoos are not for everybody. Many will still question it relevance and meaning, hence Christians – and people from other belief systems with very strict rules about self-expression through the body – who are planning to get inked must think it through deeply and weigh all the pros and repercussions.


Obsolete Tattoo Removal Procedures: Dermabrasion

Once a person regrets a tattoo, s/he will naturally go for the easiest method there is to remove it. Luckily for these people, there are actually ointments being sold online that are said remove tattoos without the assistance of a professional dermatologist. Unluckily for them though, these products are yet to be approved by the FDA. There are also several other methods of tattoo removal that have been prohibited in the United States due to the risks involved in them. For one, physicians note dermabrasion with metal or diamond-coated fraises or abrasive sakts (salabration). This process uses a diamond fraise wheel or wire brush to destroy the surface of the skin, which had been frozen with a typical cryogen (Bernstein, 2007). In an article entitled, Lasers in Plastic Surgery: Laser Tattoo Removal by Eric Bernstein, the author says that “there is virtually always some scarring [in dermabrasion], loss of normal skin pigment, and residual tattoo when using this method of tattoo removal” (Bernstein, 2007). The author also notes that using salt or other rough surfaces such as sand paper can also remove the surface of the skin in the attempt to remove a tattoo; however, it is the inflammation that actually removes some of the tattoo pigment the reason why this method has already considered obsolete.

Tattoo Removal by Laser

Tattoo removal through laser is perhaps the most trusted method there is. However, despite being a reliable method for tattoo removal, this process remains to be a tedious and very expensive procedure.

Kosoglu explains laser removal being a highly sensitive procedure involving high-intensity laser energy absorption by the skin. The expert notes that what happens is pulses of high-intensity laser energy passes through the epidermis and are selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment. The laser then breaks the pigment into smaller particles, which then is excreted by the body the way the body gets rid of bacteria (Kosoglu, qtd. in FDA, 2014). Kosoglu also notes that because every color of ink absorbs different wavelengths of light, multi-colored tattoos will require the use of multiple lasers. The expert further notes that, “lighter colors such as green, red, and yellow are the hardest to remove, while blue and black are the easiest to remove” (FDA, 2014). Hence, tattoo laser removal cannot be effective in a single treatment. Depending on the tattoo’s size and colors, it could require multiple visits to the dermatologist’s clinic and a few weeks of healing time between procedures. Moreover, this procedure may also entail some side effects like, pinpoint bleeding, redness, or soreness (FDA, 2014). On the average, tattoo laser removals could take over six to ten treatments, and this procedure is usually spread over six to eight weeks; and a patient would have to wait over a year for the tattoo to be completely removed from the skin. On the average, doctors also charge around fifty dollars per square inch for laser removals – a price that obviously not everybody can afford, considering the extent of tattoo coverage people have nowadays. As a result, the easiest tattoo removal procedure remains a tedious and a very expensive treatment. While it has been available for tattooed people for a long time, many still hesitate availing the service because of its cost and complexity.

Surgical Excision

Tattoos vary in size, shapes and inspiration. In some cultures, the larger the tattoo, the greater the honor and impression are on the person. Generally, tattoos signify strength and confidence to have a lifetime body modification; and apparently, larger tattoos give people greater pride. However, the problem with larger tattoos is, obviously, it will be harder to remove one the wearer regrets it. Fortunately though, there is a surgical procedure recommended for removing larger tattoos. Surgical excision is a series of multiple surgeries performed in a staged manner for removing a tattoo completely. It is recommended for larger tattoos as these marks would often take a very long time to remove by laser or dermabrasion. The problem with surgical excision though is, there is a significant risk of producing scars that can actually be debilitating because of the often varied locations of tattoos (Bernstein, 2007). Bernstein observes, “Tattoos that are placed on acral locations may have insufficient loose skin for easy removal. In addition, tattoos in these locations may result in scars that restrict movement due to contraction” (Bernstein, 2007). This is one factor that makes people hesitant about undergoing the procedure as they are torn between retaining the tattoo and acquiring scars that are most likely to last their lifetimes too. Surgical excision has been mostly recommended for people who are having allergic reactions to their tattoos. Laser removal is generally not allowed on people with allergic reactions to pigments as this may cause more severe reactions. Surgical excision also appear to be as expensive (even more in some cases) as laser removal. Furthermore, patients will be required to spend on post-operative medication and antibiotics, which is another relevant factor on why people are second-guessing undergoing the procedure.

Medical technology is coping up with the growing tattoo industry, which is a good thing. However for some reason, tattoo removal procedures remain risky and costly. Sure getting a tattoo is a big decision that everybody needs to think through very carefully – some people say that having a tattoo removed is more painful than getting a tattoo itself; but considering factors such as allergic reactions and the inevitable workplace discrimination, these people also deserve convenient options on how to remove marks that nonetheless make their lives more difficult.


While a significant number of people in America has a tattoo and wants to get one, among this population, a significant number of wearer also regret having one (FDA). Getting a tattoo is part of an individual’s right to self-expression. However, as apparent by the current proliferation of the tattoo removal industry, more people are seeking the chance to get a reverse a bad decision they once made. But while there are several options available to the public today, these procedures remain risky and very expensive. Because of this, a lot of people remain hesitant to undergo such procedure despite the desire to get a mark taken off their skin. It is true; the public deserves convenient and safe options on how to get their tattoos removes. But perhaps the unavailability of these convenient and safe procedure is the society’s way of telling that getting a tattoo is a huge life decision everybody needs to think through carefully. It cannot be denied that there remains a stigma about tattooed people; and while this cannot be eliminated that easily, people who want to get a tattoo needs to consider this too as the emotional effects of negative impressions on tattooed people could hurt more than any removal procedure.

Works Cited

Bernstein, Eric. “Laser Tattoo Removal.” Seminars in Plastic Surgery, Thieme Medical Publishers. Aug 2007. 1 Apr 2014. <;. Web

Food and Drug Administration. “Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe?” FDA Consumer Health Information, 21 Mar 2014. 11 Apr 2014. < >. Web

Gerwig, Chuck. “Tattoo and The Bible | Sacred Ink” Sacred Digital, Brough Communications. 7 Apr 2007. 30 Mar 2014. < >. Web

Jinks, Caitlin. “Injecting Ink into the Workplace with Tattoo Discrimination”. ABC Illawarra NSW. 22 Apr 2013. 30 Mar 2014. <;. Web

Simpson, Summer. “Tattoos in the Workplace [Inquiring Minds]”. The Creative Coast, Savannah Economic Development Authority. 18 May 2009. 30 Mar 2014. <;. Web

Urdang, Michael, Mallek, Jennifer, and Mallon, William. “Tattoos and Piercings: A Review for the Emergency Physician.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine. 02 May 2006. 1 Apr 2014. <;. Web

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