Tattoo Trends: More Ink Could Mean More Requests for Removal

tattoo removal, picosure, realself, tattoo regret

Photos courtesy of Roy G. Geronemus, MD.

Regrets — like Frank Sinatra, it seems that people who have gotten tattoos have had a few. A poorly rendered image, a career change or the name of a former lover — if the tattoo-removal reviews on RealSelf are any indication, the reasons for “tattoo regret” are as varied as the people who pursue it.

An analysis of those reviews, however, also reveal distinct patterns: Sleeves drew the most regrets, followed by lower-back designs; dark colors raised a lot of questions, and roses, butterflies and tribal markings were all popular targets for removal.

Whether or not that portends a boom in tattoo-removal requests is open to interpretation. On the one hand, recent ASAPS statistics show laser-based tattoo removals declining from 58,429 procedures in 2012 to 33,363 last year. On the other, research by IBISWorld notes that revenue for tattoo removals has surged 440% over the last decade and is expected to hit $83.2 million by 2018.

Part of the reason for the expected increase is simply that there are more people getting tattoos in the first place. (According to IBISWorld, the U.S. tattoo industry earned roughly $3.5 billion last year.) It’s currently estimated that roughly 1 in 5 Americans has a tattoo vs. 1 in 7 in 2008. According to a 2012 Harris Interactive poll, 14% of those who had gotten one expressed regret.

And, based on recent headlines, more may find themselves in a similar situation. In late April, it was discovered that tattoos with darker inks were foiling the Apple Watch’s sensors, giving wearers wildly inaccurate heart-rate readings. Meanwhile, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center just published a study showing that up to 10% of people getting inked experienced short-term complications, including delayed healing, pain, swelling and infection, with up to 6% experiencing chronic complications that lasted 4 months or more.

Most long-lasting complications occurred in skin regions injected with the two most common tattoo ink colors, red and black, said senior study investigator and dermatologist Marie Leger, MD, PhD. Almost half (44%) of chronic reactions were to red ink, even though only slightly more than a third (36%) had tattoos with red ink. One-third of chronic cases involved black ink, while over 90% of tattoos encompass black coloring.

There’s no way to know what sort of impact the above news will have on people’s interest in getting tattoos or having them subsequently removed. Then again, if it’s true that roughly 20% of Americans have a tattoo and 14% of those have expressed regret about it, that’s almost 9 million people who may be looking for someone to help them rethink their ink.

Doctor Takeaway

Online reviews and Worth It Ratings reveal tattoo removal trends

On RealSelf, those who have pursued tattoo removal give it a Worth It Rating of 87%, with PicoSure getting a rating of 95%. Satisfaction aside, those reviews also provide excellent insights into the emotions that drive interest in the process, useful information when it comes to understanding and addressing the concerns potential patients are likely to raise.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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