Tough Job Market Boosts Tattoo-Removal Biz

Why everyone's getting un-inked

Employers don’t care if Miss Piggy was your favorite Muppet. And they might not hire you if you have a tattoo of her on your right forearm, either.

The facts: Around a quarter of Americans ages 18 to 50 have some sort of body art, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. A recent survey by The Patient’s Guide, an online resource for dermatology information, found that laser tattoo removal procedures have increased 32 percent in just one year, from 2011 to 2012. The survey data noted “employment reasons” as the leading factor in the surge of tattoo removals.

“It would appear that the economy is driving patients to seek laser treatment that may have otherwise not been interested in doing so,” said Patient’s Guide CEO Jasson W. Gilmore in a statement.

Curious to hear what tattoo removal was all about, I contacted veteran cosmetic dermatologist Victoria Cirillo of Bryn Mawr Hospital. Despite the fact that getting a tattoo removed is more painful (and more costly) than getting one in the first place, Cirillo has witnessed the rise in tattoo removals at her own Main Line practice. “College juniors and seniors will come in mentioning that they want their tattoos removed before they begin the job interviewing process,” she said.

But they’re not the only ones who regret getting inked. Eighteen percent of survey respondents cited “Name of ex-partner/spouse” as the second leading cause of tattoo removals. “We also see many adults who are in new relationships or marriages and want to get the old person’s name removed,” Cirillo said.

So what does the process of laser tattoo removal entail? Cirillo explains: “The ink color is broken up into smaller ink particles [by the laser]. It is then the body’s job to clear the smaller ink particles. We like to wait at least three months to re-treat as the body does a good job clearing the ink if enough time is given.”

Cirillo is understanding of those who need to speed up the process of removing of their ex’s name, say, for a wedding. “If I have a bride trying to remove her former boyfriend’s name, I will re-treat at eight weeks,” she said.

However, the skin will never look as good as it did before the tattoo, Cirillo warns. The ink will certainly be much less noticeable, much lighter, but depending on the color of the ink, it may still be visible. Red and black are the easiest to remove, but green tends to linger on the skin, and requires a different type of laser to fade the color.

According to the doc, the laser process feels like a rubber band repeatedly snapping on the skin—in other words, it’s painful. Topical numbing cream is applied an hour before removal to make the treatment more tolerable.

And the cost of the procedure? It depends on the size of the tattoo. Cirillo’s services start at $250 and the price increases from there. Sorry, folks, but I don’t think insurance is going to cover this one.