‘Like being burned with cooking oil’: how tattoo removal became a booming business (2023)

When an 18-year-old Olivia Cerda got a vivid tableau featuring a snarling dragon and a grizzling tiger permanently etched across her entire back, there was not much thinking behind the decision. “I love traditional Japanese tattoos but I was just young and wanted my full back tatted,” she says.

Intense regret surfaced immediately. A few years later, she inquired about removing it professionally with a laser but was quoted far more than she could afford. “I figured I was stuck with it for ever,” she adds, “so I got it coloured in, thinking I would like it more if it was vibrant. I still hated it.”

The army veteran and model, now 25 and living in Las Vegas, is not alone. As the number of Americans with tattoos continues to increase – one survey suggests three in 10 adults have at least one piece of ink, up from 21% a decade ago – so too does remorse. The poll reports that 8% of those with tattoos – potentially more than 5 million people – regret them.

‘Like being burned with cooking oil’: how tattoo removal became a booming business (1)
‘Like being burned with cooking oil’: how tattoo removal became a booming business (2)
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It’s no wonder business is booming for the tattoo removal industry. What was once a symbol of permanence that could only be covered up by another tattoo can now be erased – perhaps the ultimate testament to our increasingly throwaway society. The removal industry’s global market value is forecast to reach almost $800m in 2027, from about $500m in 2019, according to one analysis. About 40% of the market is in North America. In Europe, the excruciating laser procedures are also increasingly sought.

Advancing technology, surging demand and widening availability of services has seen prices fall – meaning it is not only celebrities who can afford the process today, even if it remains more expensive than the tattoos themselves – several thousand dollars for big pieces.

Removals have long been popular among actors and musicians – whether it’s Megan Fox unsuccessfully attempting to remove a Marilyn Monroe from her arm, or Melanie Griffith deleting her ex-husband Antonio Banderas from her body. And the increasing number of celebrity trendsetters erasing what was once for ever imprinted is doubtless turbocharging the industry’s rapid growth.

Victoria Beckham, Sylvester Stallone, Colin Farrell (who has undergone a flurry of removals), Sarah Hyland and Kelly Osborne – “It’s 1000000000000 times worse than getting the tattoo!!!” Osborne wrote – are among those to have undergone the procedure relatively recently.

Most prominently, the comedian and actor Pete Davidson is currently attempting to remove many of his more than 100 tattoos to simplify appearing in movies: “You have to get there three hours earlier to cover all your tattoos, because for some reason, people in movies, they don’t have them that much.

“Burning them off is worse than getting them,” he added on Late Night with Seth Meyers. “You’re wearing these big goggles so you can’t see anything. I’ll be sitting there all high off the Pro-Nox, which I actually quite enjoy, and then all of a sudden I’ll just hear, ‘So are we keeping the Stewie Griffin smoking a blunt?’”

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Davidson told Meyers: “If you’re going to get tattoos, just make sure you really, really want it and aren’t on mushrooms” – several weeks after getting ink proclaiming his love for his then girlfriend Kim Kardashianwith a “My girl is a lawyer” tattoo.

It was widely speculated that he had that tattoo removed after he split with the reality TV star two months ago, after an image showed a bandage over the spot. But People magazine quoted a source close to him saying: “While he continues to remove his tattoos, that image is from set and not related to removing the lawyer tattoo.”

‘Like being burned with cooking oil’: how tattoo removal became a booming business (3)

It certainly was not a clearcut denial – and it comes after he covered up a tattoo in homage to his ex-girlfriend the pop star Ariana Grande, which said “a thousand tendernesses” in French, with “CURSED”. In keeping with Davidson’s desire to keep his body art up to date with his love life, tattoo artists and removal experts say that much of removed ink relates to ex-partners.

“This is pretty commonplace with celebrities who are out of a whirlwind romance and perhaps regret the tattoo they got, or are just bored and want a new one to cover some they currently have,” says Dr Jason Emer, a dermatologist who performs laser tattoo removals in Hollywood.

The procedures can be a lot of fun – for him, he adds. “It’s almost like an artist cleaning up a canvas. You can see the tattoo react immediately with the laser when it’s being removed.” But the downside is that it takes much more time, patience and money than getting a tattoo: “So, ensure you love the tattoo before getting it – no one likes having buyer’s remorse.”

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‘Like being burned with cooking oil’: how tattoo removal became a booming business (4)

Dr Osman Bashir Tahir, who removes tattoos at his medical aesthetics clinic in west London, adds: “The rate of tattoo removal has increased significantly. But it does not come without its challenges due to adverse effects such as scarring and dyspigmentation.”

When people get tattooed, the needle deposits particles of pigment in the second level of the skin. The laser removal technology sends light energy to break them up and the body then works to absorb the loose fragments. It does not always entirely work – especially on striking colours such as yellow and green – despite the endurance of hours of agony. Swelling, blisters and skin discolouration are not uncommon.

‘Like being burned with cooking oil’: how tattoo removal became a booming business (5)

This is partly why some, such as Pharrell Williams, take the more expensive option and have test-tube-grown skin grafts to swiftly remove their tattoos. “It’s going to be pricey, but … it’s worth it,” he said at the time. “I got fire on my arms; I don’t need fire on my arms! I’m a grown man.”

Others remove their tattoos later in life after connecting more deeply with a faith, to appease anti-tattoo prejudice among employers, or simply because they look dimly upon an impulsive decision from years ago. “I am a fan of pandas and at the time the Banksy panda” – posing with a pair of guns – “seemed to be everywhere, and I thought: ‘Why not get it on my wrist?’” says Glyn Sweet, from Bournemouth, England, who works in finance. “I don’t mind the panda, but being 42 later this year, the guns seem unnecessary. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”

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He believes that the comparative ease in getting tattoos removed today compared with before could lead to ever more impulsive ink. “You don’t have to think of something you want for the rest of your life,” Sweet adds. “You can be spontaneous in the knowledge it could be removed.”

“Some 80% of tattoos we cover are names or symbols related to partners,” says Haris Sarajlic, a tattoo artist in Bosnia. “We cover them up every day. I did one recently and I know she’s going to be back in a few months to get it covered up: she’s only 18.”

‘Like being burned with cooking oil’: how tattoo removal became a booming business (6)
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Bianca Torossi, a tattoo artist in Oaxaca, Mexico, says that people today can be overloaded by never-ending streams of information and images on social media. “People often simply get a tattoo to be fashionable,” she adds. “But superficial trends change and then they feel that what should have been for life no longer represents them.”

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Perhaps in a nod to this, ephemeral tattoos are also in the ascendant. “Tattoos that can be made to fade in nine to 15 months allow you to show the world who you are, even if that person who you are might change over time,” the CEO of Ephemeral, Jeff Liu, which has five locations in the US, told Axios.

“It hurts like crazy – it feels like being constantly burned on the skin with hot cooking oil – but pain is temporary,” says Cerda, who eventually found a removal shop she could afford in Vegas. “Overall, I’ll need eight sessions and I’m paying $600 for each one. It has a lot of colour so it’s going to take longer to fade away, but I’m committed to this journey.”

FAQs

Is tattoo removal becoming popular? ›

Let's do some quick math: 30% of 329.5 million is 98.9 million. Take 23% of that number, and you've got roughly 22,735,500 Americans with tattoo regret. Just in the last year, searches for “tattoo removal” in the U.S. on Google have increased 40%, compared to 2020.

Can a tattoo be removed by burning? ›

Can you remove a tattoo with heat? To remove a tattoo with heat, you'd need to apply enough heat to burn away the epidermis and cause 3rd-degree burns to the dermis layer. The tattoo will be gone, along with your skin and hair. You'll need a skin graft to repair the damage, and this will cause permanent scarring.

What is the most common method of tattoo removal and how does it work? ›

Lasers are the most common method of tattoo removal performed today. Tattoos consist of thousands of particles of tattoo ink suspended in the skin. The normal human immune system typically removes small foreign particles from the skin.

What is the science behind tattoo removal? ›

Unlike a laser pointer that produces a continuous beam of light, tattoo removal lasers produce pulses of light energy. Each pulse of energy penetrates the skin and is absorbed by the tattoo ink. As the tattoo ink particles absorb the energy, they heat up and then shatter into tiny fragments.

Will tattoos be easier to remove in the future? ›

"Are newer tattoos easier to remove?" The short answer is "no." Tattoos that are newer are not easier to remove with laser technology than tattoos that are older. However, a number of factors, including the tattoo's age, influence how easy or difficult it is to erase a new tattoo.

What are the side effects of tattoo removal? ›

What are the possible side effects?
  • The tattoo removal site can become infected.
  • There is a slight chance that the treatment can leave a permanent scar. ...
  • Some degree of skin discoloration is possible. ...
  • Cosmetic tattoos, such as lip liner, eyeliner and eyebrows may get darker after initial laser treatments.
25 Sept 2020

Can black people do tattoo removal? ›

Some believe that tattoos on dark and black skin are harder to remove, while others have heard it will leave more visible scars. But, as extensive research has found, laser tattoo removal on darker-skinned patients works for the vast majority of people.

How can I remove my tattoo permanently? ›

Common techniques used for tattoo removal include laser surgery, surgical removal and dermabrasion. Tattoo ink is placed beneath the top layer of the skin. That makes tattoo removal more complicated — and expensive — than the original tattoo application.

Is it easy to remove a tattoo? ›

Tattoo removal generally works, but some tattoos are much harder to remove than others. Older tattoos as well as stick-and-poke tattoos are easier to remove than newer ones, for example. Some colors are easier to remove than others as well.

What's the most effective tattoo removal? ›

The most effective way to remove a tattoo is through laser treatments. Lasers directly target the pigment in tattoo ink with minimal damage to the surrounding skin. Several types of providers or businesses offer laser treatments, including: Dermatologists.

What is the best type of tattoo removal? ›

Laser removal is by far the most often used method of tattoo removal and there's a valid reason for that. It's considered the most successful way to remove tattoos and is also minimally invasive and non-surgical.

What is the best tattoo removal technology? ›

Typically it's recommended to use the Nd: YAG laser (1064 nm, 532 nm) to treat dark pigments like black, blue, and warm toned colors. However, the alexandrite or ruby (755 nm & 694 nm) lasers would prove most effective for difficult light blues and green pigments to remove.

Where does the ink go after tattoo removal? ›

Unwanted tattoos can be removed gradually over a series of sessions using a laser. The energy from the laser breaks down the tattoo ink into tiny fragments, which are eventually absorbed into the bloodstream and safely passed out of the body.

What is frosting in tattoo removal? ›

Tattoo Frosting is known as the white residue that appears on the skin during a tattoo removal procedure. As the laser is moving over the skin and the tattoo, small bubbles may appear on the surface of the skin, often white in colour, which gives the skin a 'frosted' appearance.

Why does tattoo removal hurt? ›

The pain of removing a tattoo has the same root cause: the very high temperature to which the tattoo ink is heated during the procedure. This kind of ink contains metals which—as anyone who's ever touched the wrong side of a steam iron or stovetop kettle would know—can get painfully hot.

How long does it take to remove a tattoo? ›

In general, clients need at least three to six sessions to remove each tattoo. After every session, you must allow the area to heal for at least before receiving another session. With these numbers in mind, it takes a minimum of 12 to 24 weeks, on average, to remove a tattoo.

What does skin look like after tattoo removal? ›

Redness, tenderness and swelling typically subside within a day or two post-treatment. Blisters usually appear within 24 hours of treatment. Scabs, bruising, and blistering may take up to a week or longer to heal. You should avoid picking scabs and taking care of blisters; otherwise, scarring can happen.

Are there tattoos that Cannot be removed? ›

Tattoos can now be targeted with lasers that remove the pigmentation without damaging the skin, meaning you can go back to your old ink-free look. Some tattoos are challenging to remove. These include things like metallic ink, light greens, light blues, and permanent makeup.

Why do I feel sick after tattoo removal? ›

The lymphatic system is responsible for fighting infections and protecting against foreign bodies, such as the ink fragments, so as your body flushes out the pigment, you may feel a bit nauseous. A weakened immune system may also cause you to feel sick after laser tattoo removal.

Can tattoos damage your liver? ›

Tattoo ink may get accumulated in the liver and kidneys over a prolonged period of time but as such does not directly affect the liver. Indirectly, tattoos may cause severe liver damage due to hepatitis infection.

Can mustard remove a tattoo? ›

How to Remove tattoos INSTANTLY - YouTube

Can you remove tattoo from brown skin? ›

We often get questions from people of colour about whether laser tattoo removal treatments work for dark skin tones. The short answer is yes. Our laser tattoo removal can work for all skin colours. In fact, research has proven that the tattoo removal process is effective for people of colour in most cases.

Why does my tattoo removal look darker? ›

Tattoo ink will often oxidize which is what happens to white ink when laser treated. The white pigmentation turns into a darker pigment because the laser breaks the particles apart into tiny fragments which oxidize with the light exposure and the tattoo often turns into a light brown or blue shade.

How long does it take to remove a tattoo on dark skin? ›

Work In Progress Tattoos on Dark Skin Types

On average a tattoo can be removed in 10-12 sessions. A client can typically expect to start seeing fading results around sessions 4-5.

Can lemon juice remove tattoos? ›

Lemon and Salt

Salt is rich in sodium and chlorine, and lemon juice has bleaching properties. Salt penetrates deep into the skin and helps the ink to fade out, and the vitamin C in lemon juice replenishes the skin. Therefore, this is a great way to remove a permanent tattoo with lemon juice.

Does baking soda remove tattoos? ›

1) If your tattoo is fresh, don't follow those who said use apple cider vinegar or baking soda. This may work for experienced people, and some said it might bring the ink to the surface, but it will surely make your tattoo more irritated and opened – So what I want you to avoid is making your tattoo more obvious.

Will bleach remove a tattoo? ›

One other option you can consider is through the use of skin bleaching creams. Though they don't outright remove the tattoos, they can help in fading the tattoos thus making them less conspicuous.

Are older tattoos harder to remove? ›

The age of your tattoo is a factor in how easy it is to remove. Older tattoos do tend to be removed more easily because they have typically already had some fading over time. For this reason, older tattoos will often take fewer sessions to remove than a newer tattoo would.

Why do people get tattoos? ›

Peer pressure, media influence, and personal expression are some of the common reasons for wearing tattoos today. The desire to be part of a group, to be accepted by one's friends or peers, can have a great influence on what a person does. Sometimes, wearing a tattoo can be a sign that you belong to a certain group.

What color tattoo is easiest to remove? ›

Black tattoos are the easiest to remove because the laser is able to target the black pigment more precisely. Other colors such as red, blues, and greens can become more difficult to remove depending whether the tattoos were amateur or professional. Green is the hardest color to remove followed by light blue.

What is the latest tattoo removal technology? ›

PicoSure is the latest advancement in tattoo removal services. Some if not all of its most notable benefits include: Reduced side effects, including less injury to surrounding skin. Fewer treatments than traditional lasers are necessary for excellent results.

Is tattoo removal cream safe? ›

The bottom line. Tattoo removal creams don't work and can cause serious skin reactions that result in permanent skin or tissue damage. These creams shouldn't be used as an alternative to FDA-approved treatments. Plenty of reputable tattoo removal services exist that can provide you with safe, effective treatments.

Can hydrogen peroxide remove tattoos? ›

Sadly, this is an urban myth and there is no science behind it. In fact, the use of hydrogen peroxide on a fresh tattoo may even cause the ink to become more bold and darker due to oxidization.

How much does a tattoo laser removal machine cost? ›

How much do laser tattoo removal machines cost? The cost varies greatly! Our cheapest laser tattoo removal machine is roughly $100, while the most expensive is $100,000. A single session with a professional laser tattoo remover will cost around $400.

How much does a professional tattoo removal machine cost? ›

Your tattoo removal laser device and business start-up expenses will likely land in the $50,000 to $175,000 range when done following industry best practices. This wide range of start-up costs varies based on the equipment purchased, office space chosen, and marketing decisions made.

Do home tattoo removal lasers work? ›

Home lasers can't reach as deeply into the skin to break up the ink. However, if you're using a laser over and over for tattoo removal at home, it will definitely wear your skin out, which can lead to permanent deterioration!

How can I remove my permanent tattoo without laser? ›

How to Remove Permanent Tattoos Without Laser Treatments
  1. Surgical Removal. Surgically removing tattoos is also known as excision tattoo removal. ...
  2. Laserless Tattoo Removal Using Salabrasion. ...
  3. Dermabrasion. ...
  4. Sand Powder. ...
  5. Aloe Vera Gel. ...
  6. Honey. ...
  7. Lemon. ...
  8. Using Topical Creams To Remove Tattoo's Without Laser.
30 Nov 2021

Can laser tattoo removal cause blood clots? ›

Laser tattoo removal does not cause blood clots or create skin cancer. It is only effective inside the skin and does not penetrate into the body. This is not a radiation treatment. It can cause blistering occasionally and if done many times may leave a shadow of the tattoo.

How much does a tattoo cost? ›

Pricing for tattoos can vary widely, but $150 to $450 is a typical range. (Very large tattoos can cost quite a bit more.) Because a tattoo is a long-term investment, look for an artist whose work you will appreciate for years to come.

How many sessions does it take to remove a tattoo? ›

This depends on the age, colors, size, and location of the tattoo. Larger tattoos may require between eight and 10 removal sessions. Smaller tattoos may require between five and seven removal sessions. However, some tattoos can take as few as two treatments or as many as a dozen sessions.

Why does tattoo removal turn white? ›

The rapid local heating of skin pigment, which leads to gas or plasma forming, causes the white frosting you see during and after laser treatment. Carbon dioxide is released as a result of laser penetration and surfaces on the upper layer of the skin, which resembles a white frosting.

How long does tattoo removal frosting last? ›

Although tattoo frosting may look alarming, it's a completely natural response of the tattoo removal process and is not a cause for concern. Frosting is completely normal. It's temporary and only lasts for 15 to 30 minutes immediately following a laser tattoo removal treatment.

Does hypopigmentation go away after tattoo removal? ›

With tattoo removal hypopigmentation, the skin in the area that has undergone laser removal is lighter than the surrounding skin. Milder cases have a higher likelihood of clearing up, while more severe cases can be permanent—though this is usually completely preventable.

Can you tattoo over a removed tattoo? ›

How Soon Can You Tattoo Over Laser Removal? Once the tattoo removal process is completed, it's best to wait at least 6 weeks before getting a new tattoo on the treated area. Many artists will suggest waiting 6 months before receiving the cover up.

Is there painless tattoo removal? ›

Tattoo Taboo: The Newest Laser Tattoo Removal is Quick and Painless with Spectra Laser. Laser tattoo removal often conjures ideas akin to medieval torture tactics. I often encounter patients that have less than stellar prior experiences in hopes of removing their tattoos or correcting skin conditions.

How can I speed up tattoo removal? ›

8 Tips to Speed Up Your Tattoo Removal Journey
  1. Avoid exposing the treated area to the sun. ...
  2. Exercise regularly. ...
  3. Sleep well. ...
  4. Drink plenty of water. ...
  5. Eat more immunity-boosting foods. ...
  6. Don't smoke. ...
  7. Follow the aftercare advice. ...
  8. Keep to your appointment schedule.

What percentage of tattoos are removed? ›

Reports for rates of tattoo regret vary, but the we've seen statistics that place the number between 17% and 50%. Considering that there are nearly 50 million tattooed Americans, there are millions of people looking for a solution to their unwanted ink.

How much is spent annually on tattoos? ›

Americans spend over 1.6 billion dollars every year on tattooing, which is the most a nation spends on tattoos.

How easy is it to remove tattoos? ›

Tattoos are meant to be permanent, and complete tattoo removal is difficult. Some degree of scarring or skin color variation is likely to remain, regardless of the specific method of tattoo removal.

Why are tattoos so popular? ›

People Are No Longer Afraid To Get Tattoos

Those of all ages now embrace tattoos since they're so ubiquitous. Even people from past generations who thought of inked skin as sin have changed their minds. One of the primary reasons tattoos have become so popular is the universal acceptability they enjoy in society.

Which country has most tattoos? ›

Which Country's Residents Have the Most Tattoos?
RankCountryPeople Who Have At Least One Tattoo (%)
1Italy48
2Sweden47
3United States46
4Australia43
6 more rows
23 Nov 2018

What kind of people get tattoos? ›

Men and women ages 20-39 were most likely to have been tattooed, as were men with lower levels of education, tradesmen, and women with live-out partners.

What race has the most tattoos? ›

The most common ethnicity among tattoo artists is White, which makes up 59.0% of all tattoo artists. Comparatively, there are 21.4% of the Hispanic or Latino ethnicity and 10.0% of the Black or African American ethnicity.
...
Tattoo Artist Race.
Tattoo Artist RacePercentages
American Indian and Alaska Native0.7%
5 more rows
9 Sept 2022

What does the Bible say about tattoos? ›

Today they're common everywhere from Maori communities in New Zealand to office parks in Ohio. But in the ancient Middle East, the writers of the Hebrew Bible forbade tattooing. Per Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves.”

What does tattoos say about a person? ›

The researchers in this study concluded that not only do those with tattoos have higher levels of need for uniqueness, sensation seeking, and thrill and adventure seeking, but they have lower levels of self-esteem, attend religious services less, and are generally much less educated than individuals who did not have ...

What age group gets tattoos? ›

In 2019, 40% of people with tattoos said they were 18 or younger when they got their first ink. The next level of people with tattoos got theirs between the ages of 19 and 29. At the other end of the age spectrum, only 2% of people between 50 and 59 got their first tattoos.

What is the fastest way to remove a tattoo? ›

The most effective way to remove a tattoo is through laser treatments. Lasers directly target the pigment in tattoo ink with minimal damage to the surrounding skin. Several types of providers or businesses offer laser treatments, including: Dermatologists.

What tattoo is easiest to remove? ›

Different dyes respond to different light wavelengths. Black and dark green are the easiest colors to remove; yellow, purple, turquoise and fluorescent dyes are hardest to fade.

Can you remove red tattoos? ›

Red inks are typically the second easiest to remove.

A 532 nm wavelength will target red ink. It can also be effective on some brown inks, orange inks and yellow inks.

Why do I love tattoos so much? ›

The endorphins your body releases during tattooing can make you feel good and cause a euphoric feeling. This feeling may linger for a little while, and it's not unusual to want to experience it again.

Are tattoos healthy? ›

Tattoos breach the skin, which means that skin infections and other complications are possible, including: Allergic reactions. Tattoo dyes — especially red, green, yellow and blue dyes — can cause allergic skin reactions, such as an itchy rash at the tattoo site. This can occur even years after you get the tattoo.

Why do humans get tattoos? ›

Peer pressure, media influence, and personal expression are some of the common reasons for wearing tattoos today. The desire to be part of a group, to be accepted by one's friends or peers, can have a great influence on what a person does. Sometimes, wearing a tattoo can be a sign that you belong to a certain group.

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