I've got a bunch of tattoos and have never considered removing any of them. Even if a few do look a little silly, the way I see it, they represent moments in my life that, for whatever reason, meant something.
Other tattoo bearers don't necessarily feel the same. Some estimate that 15 to 50 per cent of folks who get art needled into their skin later regret it.
Unfortunately, the removal process is not fun. Neither is it easy or cheap.
A Web search makes it look as though you have myriad options. But upon closer inspection, a lot of marketers make promises they can't necessarily deliver on.
Laser, it appears, is the most effective and trusted method. Intense pulsed light therapy (IPL) is often mentioned as another.
Home removal systems are available, but some are offered by companies with P.O. boxes only.
Do you really want to trust a company with no public relations officer?
Still, you'd better be as sure as possible before getting inked.
What the experts say
"Intense pulse light therapy is not the preferred treatment. It's more effective when the tattoo is not deep. Laser is my preferred method. I charge by the size of the tattoo. I start at $100 a treatment, and it takes five to 10. I can't tell you how many until after the first one because every artist uses a different pigment. The inks now are different from the iron oxides used years ago. With a laser you are blasting the pigment and expecting your body to absorb it. Your body doesn't want to absorb toxic ink, whereas with iron oxide the body sees as iron and thinks, 'Oh, I can use that.' Those pigments were easier to remove. Every tattoo is different. You have to be careful with reds because they could contain mercury, and people have allergic reactions. I don't think the creams work."
JANICE REGAN , director, Lasting Looks Clinic, intradermal specialist, Toronto
"Freedom-2 ink is engineered to be permanent, but if you want to have it off, it can be removed with one or two passes of a laser. Durability studies show it's just as permanent as any traditional ink on the market. If you were to ask the Academy of Dermatology, they would say laser is the most effective method of removal and most likely to leave clear skin and have no side effects. The efficacy of topical treatments is questionable, and the potential for damage is pretty high."
MARTIN SCHMIEG , president and CEO, Freedom-2 Inc., Cherry Hill, New Jersey
"Ours is a tattoo-over process that basically accomplishes an extraction of the pigment previously put into the skin. Tat Gone Ink is very similar to tattoo inks, which are largely mineral-based pigments. These are inert. They don't dissolve into body fluids. Our product allows the pigment to exit the skin. We leave it on the skin, and as it sits there it will act almost like a sponge. The Tat Gone will peel off in a week or two like a scab. The ink is a beige colour, but it's not a flesh-tone cover-up. It removes the tattoo in half the treatments required for laser. Some inks are more stubborn than others. Small and new is easier to remove than large and old."
DAVID ROSPRIM , manager, Tat Gone Ink, Petaluma, California
"Ask yourself before you get a tattoo whether you want it on your body forever. Half the people who come in get a tattoo that means something and half get one because they like the way it looks. Understand that removal is very difficult. We usually suggest covering the tattoo with a new one or redoing it if the issue is that it's faded and ugly . Sometimes the meaning is not there any more. The legal age is 16, but a photo ID and parent's or guardian's consent are needed until 18. It's up to our artists to use discretion on placement of tattoos. Often we will not tattoo the sides of the neck, the face or the hands.-
AMANDA D. , tattoo artist, Way Cool Tattoos, Toronto
"Dermasal, a [home removal kit, one-month supply: $82.95], is a dermabrasion treatment . You use the topical solution to prep the skin, then the dermabrasion and the healing agent, which is colloidal silver. Basically you take off a little bit of ink and a little bit of skin every time you use it. It's effective, but it's hard to say how long it will take. We've had success in eight to 10 weeks, and sometimes it takes months. A tattoo is made to be permanent. It's not something you are going to get rid of overnight."
BUTCH PUGH , co-owner, New Tech Inc., makers of Dermasal, Baton Rouge, Louisiana