Published on February 17, 2014 | by Rosie Atkin


Laser treatment: Removing regret one tattoo at a time

Tattoo on leg

The rates of laser tattoo removal in the UK are on the rise. [Alex Zalewska]

It’s 11am, searing heat, and you’re waking up in a Greek paradise; albeit with a throbbing head from the antics of the night before.

Hung over to an extreme, you try to wash the traces of last night away with a nice shower.

Yet your recovery is interrupted, because when you stare down towards your feet you discover – just for the sake of an extreme example – a tattoo of a flying penis on your leg.

You can’t remember the night, let alone any process of thought before making this decision, and so the panic ensues…

So this may be a completely hypothetical case, but our generation is no stranger to the impromptu tattoo.

Television programmes including Channel Four’s What Happens in Kavos and the BBC’s Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents regularly feature a booze-fuelled inking, often to be regretted the morning after.

Facebook pages such as Crap Tats offer the cream of the crop in terms of regretful tattoos, with images voluntarily submitted by its users. At a quick glance, the submissions to Crap Tats are inventive to say the least.


Coincidentally, the rates of laser tattoo removal in the UK are on the rise.

In November last year, Newsbeat reported the sharp increase in demand for laser removal, as seen by the UK’s leading skin specialists.

According to The British Medical Laser Association and the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, tighter regulation is needed within the laser removal industry to ensure that DIY removal will not become as common as DIY tattoos.

But what does this mean for the future of the tattoo? Do we really have to worry that much about the repercussions of having a botched tattoo if removal is becoming more accessible than ever?

Perhaps the status of the tattoo – as a permanent marking and a decision not to be taken lightly – will be degraded if we can simply erase what we don’t like.


Wayne ‘Tatzapper’, a laser removal expert at The Circle in Soho, spoke to ALN about his thoughts on the rising use of tattoo laser removal: “Most of the time when people come in they have reached a stage where they are absolutely beyond reconciliation and they’re just not happy with their tattoos anymore. I hate the word ‘regret’ or ‘tattoo mistake’ – it’s a choice that you make and if you regret it then it’s your own personal decision. But I think people are wising up to the fact that the options are there to get rid of something they are not happy with.”

Does the Tatzapper believe that young adults are entering into a culture where neither tattoos, nor their removal, are taken as seriously anymore?

“I don’t necessarily think people are just willy-nilly getting tattoos because they know that there is the option of getting them lasered. But maybe it does make it a little bit easier. I think the reason why most people are getting all of these shit tattoos is because there are so many shit tattooists out there. You know, a scratching in their bedrooms or above a pub in Hackney or something like that.”

So if attitudes towards getting inked are becoming more relaxed, the driving forces towards having tattoos removed may be undergoing changes too.

For second-year Central Saint Martins Jewellery Design student, Jessica Pass, even the liberal mindedness of art school cannot dissuade her decision to undertake laser removal treatment.

“I was 19 and living away from home,” Jessica explains, speaking of the black swallow tattooed on her arm. “So I could get it done and let it heal before telling my family.”


A tattoo after its first session of laser removal

Laser treatment is both a long and expensive process. [Flickr: Don Frank]

An initial act of independent rebellion this may have been, but the reception she received has altered her own opinion of her tattoo.

“People judge me for it, even if they see it and say they like it I can see the flicker of ‘why the fuck did she do that’ across their face. I constantly have to justify it to people. For me it’s just like part of the skin, like a birth mark, something that’s part of me. I wish people wouldn’t feel the need to comment. So now I wear long sleeves all the time it makes the days easier not having to worry about people questioning me.”

It seems surprising that members of the student population should feel the pressure to remove their tattoos, and – if the rise in laser treatment reveals anything – perhaps it is that old-school perceptions of tattoos still exist.

For instance, the idea that having a visible tattoo will affect your chances of employment is a scary thought for any graduate.

Tatzapper says that some sectors of employment still frown upon – and in some cases ban – the tattoo: “In the air force and navy, you were never allowed to have visible tattoos. Whereas with the army they were never too bothered, but now that they are downsizing it they seem to be stricter. All of a sudden we’re having lots of army members having their tattoos removed.”

But he maintains an optimistic outlook on the progression of these viewpoints: “Since I started this there has been a massive turnaround in how employers look at employees with tattoos. There is a sort of two-fold happening.”

He continues: “[You have] the old school way of looking at them and thinking them unacceptable, but then you also have the high-end places in society, such as fashion, that are becoming far more accepting of them and are therefore not turning their noses up. I think those sort of situations are what is going to trickle out into the mainstream.”

Phoebe Willison, a second year Graphic Design student at Chelsea College of Art, shares a similarly positive view towards tattoo ‘regret’. Instead of removing the tattoo she obtained in her teenage years, she celebrates the sentimentality that it brings.

“Although I wouldn’t get it again, I would never take it back. It represents a time in my life where I was happy and it was exactly what I wanted. It reminds me of that, which is a really nice thing,” she said.


“I think people are wising up to the fact that the options are there to get rid of something they are not happy with.” – Wayne Tatzapper

Regretful mistake or light-hearted and youthful foolishness, the meaning of the tattoo appears to be evolving.

Perhaps the increasingly casual way in which people are obtaining them simply reflects how much thought goes into the decision to remove them. After all, laser treatment is expensive and requires plenty of thought; an issue echoed by the British Medical Laser Association (BMLA).

On its website, the BMLA reminds visitors that laser removal is not for everyone: “Although the use of lasers in medicine is increasing, many applications are still experimental and may not be appropriate for the treatment of any condition from which you might be suffering.”

So it remains to be seen whether our generation will see laser removal increase further, or whether society is at a key developing point in its perception of the tattoo.

Regardless, the tattoo industry continues to flourish with festivals held globally to passionately celebrate the artistry of the business.

Tatzapper is hopeful that the key to the future of society’s perceptions lies in acceptance: “I think the general consensus is that as your generation gets older, there is going to be a lot more acceptance of tattoos.”

But in the meantime, you can always celebrate the sillier side of the trade by looking on Crap Tats every once in a while…



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