More people are removing tattoos, says Ellie O’Byrne but beware of laser cowboys
YOU’LL like this one.” Raul Palomino is showing me his portfolio of cover-up work. In the first photo the customer, a man, has a name tattooed across his shoulders. The photos that follow show Raul’s painstaking work in covering the name with a beautiful Japanese-style tattoo of a Koi carp and white-crested waves.
“The name was his son’s. He got that tattoo and then two years later, he discovered he’s not the father.” Raul shakes his head, smiling. Having had the Smiley Dogg tattoo studio in Cork’s North Main St for ten years, and with business booming as the vogue for tattoos shows no sign of abating, Raul has many such inky tales of regret to share.
Raul sometimes talks customers out of what are known in the business as “game-changers”. In the past, tattoos were the preserve of sailors, gang members, prisoners, and side-show carnies, a very definite counter-culture; putting one somewhere visible such as the face, neck, or hand could adversely affect job interviews and people’s perceptions of you.
Raul still won’t give someone a game-changer as a first tattoo, even though he thinks tattoos are becoming more mainstream as they become more common.
I’ve never wanted a tattoo, not even while sitting in Raul’s chair, fascinating and all as it is to talk to someone who has dedicated their life and most of the surface of their own body to their art. I’m just too fickle; I’ve never had the confidence that any of my beliefs, beaus, or, least of all, impulsive fashion choices are going to last long enough that I wouldn’t regret it.
Tattooing used to be a ceremonial coming-of-age ritual. The Moko of New Zealand and other traditions of hand-tapping (where the designs are chiselled into the body, leaving indentations as well as ink) show tattooing’s true origins — a trial-by-fire, an extreme endurance test.
Yet now that everywhere we look we see a tattooed footballer or actor, has it become merely a superficial fashion trend, entered into lightly in our celebrity-obsessed culture?
Victoria Beckham’s decision to have three of her tattoos lasered, showing up at New York Fashion week with her famed neck tattoo noticeably faded, sparked rumours about the state of her relationship with David Beckham, who himself now sports so much ink that he resembles a doodle pad with a six pack.
Beckham’s neck tattoo, a Hebrew phrase meaning “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”, was inked in a vertical line down her spine at the nape of her neck. The 41-year-old also appears to be receiving treatment on two wrist tattoos, one marking the date of the renewal of her wedding vows and the other the Latin phrase “again from the start”. Definitely no Spice Girls reunion on the cards for Posh Spice, then.
Laser removal can have excellent results in the hands of a specialist but is also expensive, time-consuming, and damaging to the skin.
Molly Walsh owns Midleton Laser and Tattoo Removal Clinic in Cork. Like Posh, who is allegedly removing her tattoos so that business associates will take her more seriously, Molly says that many of her clients, who are 60% female, opt for treatment because they want to change people’s perception of them.
“Most of my clients got tattoos when they were younger. Now they’re over 35, they’ve gotten to a point where they just don’t want to be that person anymore,” she says.
Molly, who trained in London, has been operating medical-grade lasers for 15 years and consulted with Cork University Hospital about the purchase of her machine, sees horror stories frequently.
“One woman came to me and she’d been to another clinic and her entire upper arm was destroyed with scarring. I’ve had to refer people to CUH for grafts,” she says.
The industry is unregulated, and Molly says it’s too easy for someone to buy a cheap machine online and set themselves up with little or no training.
“It’s a very serious thing, and it’s time-consuming to do properly. If you rush it by increasing the frequency, it can be very painful and damaging,” she says.
Molly thinks that knowing laser is an option might change people’s view of tattoos as a permanent commitment and might make them rush into getting a tattoo.
Many people don’t know, for example, that laser deals effectively with blacks and blues, but has little or no impact on red and green inks.
She’s certainly been seeing a spate of people coming in recently with very fresh tattoos who appear to be regretting them almost immediately; her record is a client who wanted a tattoo removed just two days after having it done.
A tattoo can take ten sessions to fade effectively; the less skilled the tattoo artist, the deeper into the dermal layers the ink will have been injected and the longer it’ll take to remove.
At anywhere between €30-€150 per session, depending on the size of the tattoo, it’s a huge financial burden.
So unless you’re a Beckham with money to burn, or unless you’ve thought long and hard about getting inked, maybe just stick with the transfers until you’re sure?
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