Young people can be reckless with decisions. If every tattoo tells a story, what happens once you`ve changed your story. Tattoos are painful and expensive. To take off a tattoo depending on the size can cost 1000`s of dollars. Life changes. Why bother!

Getting a tattoo took less than 20 minutes but regret set in within hours.

By Katherine Ellison The Washington Post

My husband  and I warned our son not to get a tattoo , but who listens to his parents mere months after turning 21?

At least it wasn’t that large or colourful.  We’re not talking about Ben Affleck’s giant phoenix, but a 1-by-2 inch, all-black doodle of a tiny heart between two hands-akin to the Irish claddagh  – tucked away on the back of his left shoulder.

“What does it mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” my honest offspring responded.

It had taken less that 20 minutes and cost my son nothing: a Trojan Horse gift from a friend who happened to be a tattoo artist.  Regret had set in within hours: the kind of burning remorse that, depending on which survey you read, affects between 23 and 78 percent of people who let other people draw “permanent” designs on their skin.

“I genuinely feel like I’ve ruined my life forever now, like “I’ll never truly be happy unless they’re gone,” reads a typical comment on a recent Reddit forum titled “Severe mental health issues from tattoo regret.” Other writers speak of feeling “genuinely suicidal” or “insane with anxiety.”

There’s no quick or easy fix for tattoo angst.  My son faces at least several sessions of laser treatment, at a cost of more than $1,000, none of which his parents intend to pay.  The pandemic has further taxed his patience, postponing future appointments.

Tattoo regret, as we two have since learned, feeds a booming industry that earlier this year was on track to reach $4.8 billion by 2023.  That’s mostly because tattoos themselves have been so popular.  A 2015 Harris Poll found that nearly half of millennials and more that one one-third of Gen Xers had at least one tattoo, compared to 13 percent of baby boomers.

Nonetheless, tattoo shame is as old as the “Old Testament”, in which Leviticus 19:28 says, Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you.”  Tattoos indeed violate Jewish law, although contrary to popular belief, they may not disqualify you from being buried in a Jewish cemetery.

People regret their tattoos for many reasons.  The artwork may no longer feel meaningful. That colourful rainbow may have faded and stretched.  Tattoos can also thwart career progress.  In 2013, the U.S. Army banned anyone enlisting with tattoos on the neck, hands or face.

Once you’ve decided that gang emblem or butterfly no longer fits you lifestyle, you have a lot of choices, from inexpensive DIY creams, which doctors warn can irritate the skin, to high-tech and high-cost outpatient laser treatments.

My son knew he wanted to see a professional, but as I helped with his research, we faced new and baffling questions.  Assuming he chose a laser treatment, how to choose between conflicting reviews of the PicoWay or PicoSure, which operate on picoseconds (trillionths of a second) or the older, nanosecond varieties with names like Ruby, Alexandrite and Nd:YAG?  Or what about skipping the lasers and trying dermabrasion, with a small skin-grinding tool, or excision with a scalpel, under a local, regional, or general anesthesia?

Given that these latter methods risked serious pain and scarring, we ended up gathering referrals to dermatologist specializing in tattoo removal with lasers – and immediately faced sticker shock.  The receptionist for one highly touted physician coolly told me she charged $375 just for a consultation.

After more referrals and calls, I found a San Francisco doctor who charged $195 for the consultation but, unlike the first, applied it to the treatments, each of which would cost $300 and of course wouldn’t be covered by insurance.  Still the first, applied it to the treatments, each of which would cost $300 and of course wouldn’t be covered by insurance.  Still by then it looked like a deal.   At our first appointment, he told my son to expect to come in at least three more times for treatments with his PicoWay laser.

That was good news – relatively.

Doctors figure out how many treatments you might need by consulting the Kirby-Desai scale, on which the number grows to the degree that you have darker skin, a more colourful tattoo, or a tattoo in an area of poorer circulation, such as hands or feet.

Internet sites such as WebMD suggest a dermatologist is a safer bet than an a dedicated tattoo-removal shop operator.  Yet I wondered if there might not be exceptions after talking to Chris Slavin, the contagiously confident owner of Zapatat in Arlington, Virginia.

“I’m not a dermatologist, I’m a geek”, said Slavin, a former senior living properties executive, who argued that Zapatat has performed far more treatments than most dermatologist and that experience makes a big difference.  Before the pandemic, his nine-year old business was treating 50 tattooed people a week, which he estimated was more than most dermatologist see in a year.  He shut down March 15, but has been taking bookings for June.

At my son’s first appointment with the dermatologist, the doctor numbed his skin with an anesthetic cream and ice and talked us through the procedure as he traced the little heart and hands with the laser.

Tattoos are make of thousands of particles of ink embedded just below the skin.  The ink sticks around because those particles are too big to be flushed away by the immune system, as would occur with other foreign bodies.  But lasers can heat and shatter the particles into small, more digestible bits.  The treatment isn’t painless – my son said it felt like being snapped by rubber bands.

Watching through my safety goggles, I was initially thrilled to see what looked like ink popping off my son’s skin, although immediately afterward te tattoo seemed unchanged.  The doctor said I would take weeks before we’d notice any fading.  Weeks later, the change was minimal.

Slavin, at Zapatat,  argued that he could have saved my son money and time with an accelerated technique, using an older Nd:YAG laser, which can provide four treatments (at $99 each) in one session without damaging the skin.  “There’s a big hoopla over the picosecond lasers, but we outperform them hands-down,” he asserted.

Scientific research has yet to clarify which kind of laser is best.  A study last year in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology said there was an urgent need for more clinical trials of the picosecond lasers to compare their safety and effectiveness with more time-tested equipment.

The tattoo-removal industry keeps evolving.  Some dermatologists say a new silicone patch used with laser treatments can speed subsequent fading.  Others report that a commercially available hydrogel dressing helps reduce pigmentation loss in darker-skinned patients.  A Houston-based medical device firm call Soliton claims it has developed breakthrough “acoustic wave” technology, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, that can greatly reduce office visits for tattoo removal and get rid of your cellulite to boot.

It all seems hopeful, but my advice about tattoos remains unchanged from before my son and I embarked on this journey.  Think twice before getting one – or at least make sure it’s something you can live with for a long, long time.

I had my wife type this part of my blog up. If I dissuade just one young person from having a tattoo put on their skin that will cause regret to a young adult, I will have made a difference.


Name of author

Name: Murray Rubin

Short Bio: I was born in Toronto in 1931 to a wonderful mother who divorced shortly before my birth. I owe a great deal of my success to her. I am Jewish but not at all religious, yet my culture plays an important part of my personality. I attended Harbord Collegiate and U. of T. Faculty of Pharmacy. A unique mail-order pharmacy was the first of my endeavours in the profession, followed by many stores throughout Ontario. I have a loving wife, 3 children and grand-children and I am now retired from pharmacy. But what do I write about? Everything! My topics are funny, serious, whimsical, timely, outrageous, inspiring, and inventive. I promise that if you take the time to read any one of these topics – you will not be sorry.


  • Someone should open a business called,,
    Try it before you buy it….permanently.

  • My comment is a little harsh. I mean that whether someone acquires a tattoo is none of my business. I don’t get excited about young people with tattoos – althouigh I generally don;t like them graphically. I find the subject matter and the colours generally off-putting. Nevertheless, each adult is entitled to make his or her own decisions in life. Some, we regret.That’s life. And maybe a learning opportunity. I just didn’t think the blog entry was worth your apparent deep concern.

  • Who cares?


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