The Mark of Regret: Tattoo Laser Removal

Cities and school districts across the country are forcing their employees to cover up tattoos if they want to keep their jobs.

It's happening in parts of Utah, Florida and Missouri.

But the orders to cover up are growing as tattoos become more popular.

And while some workers are temporarily covering them up, others are taking more drastic measures.

"It's artwork. A good tattoo is a piece of art and I appreciate the effort and the time it takes to put into it."

Nikki Shea of College Station is getting an elaborate tattoo on the lower half of her leg.

"I can remember being pretty little and thinking that they were just really pretty," Shea recalls.

The artist responsible for this design is Cliff Collard of Arsenal Tattoo.

He says his College Station shop is booked for the next two and a half months.

"It just seems like it's increasing in popularity, definitely due to the television shows, I think," Collard said.

Reality shows like Miami Ink and LA Ink. And with more people getting tattoos, more people are making another kind of appointment.

"Just a little local anesthetic," Dr. Malcolm Rude reassures his patient.

19-year-old Coleman Cubage is getting his tattoo removed via laser surgery.

"What it (his tattoo) means is I'm in control of my life, no one influences me," Cubage said.

He was marked with Chinese characters on his forearm one year ago, and regretted it the very next day.

"The main mistake I made was putting it right here on my arm," said Cubage.

"I really want to go to college and do something with my life, and I don't want that there while I have a professional career," explains Cubage.

He is no different than much of America. The American Society of Dermatological Surgery shows half of the people who get tattoos end up regretting them later.

"A lot of professionals come in and say now they don't want it, or moms that had a tattoo when they were younger," said local plastic surgeon Dr. Malcolm Rude.

Dr. Rude says laser tattoo removal has increased 20% a year, for the past four years.

"I think it's going to become a very popular thing to do, to have them removed, probably as popular as it is now to get them," said Rude.

But it's not a cheap or quick fix.

"What you're hoping to see is a little frosting, where the tattoo ink turns a little lighter. That's not actually the tattoo ink disappearing. The ink will actually be broken up by the laser and then your body comes along with the white blood cells and carries the debris of the procedure off," Rude explains.

That's why treatments are done two months apart. So it takes at least a year commitment.

The average session costs $400 and it takes between six and eight sessions to work.

This is Coleman's second time under the laser.

So this college student's $75 tattoo is going to cost him at least $2,400 to remove.

"I actually made a deal with my mom, she said that if she helped me remove the tattoos, I wouldn't be able to get any more tattoos," Cubage said.

And there's no guarantee the laser surgery won't leave a scar

"Can you feel anything?" asks Dr. Rude. "A little bit," Cubage replies.

As for the pain factor?

"It's painful, it's uncomfortable, it's not that bad though," Cubage said.

His recommendation: "I'd say think about it for a really long time and think about what you're going to be doing later in your life."

Back at Arsenal Tattoo where Niki Shea is admiring her new addition. One of many she has on her body.

"I don't really like jewelry, so it's kind of what I do instead of jewelry," explains Shea.

She says she doesn't regret any of tattoos. But she does offer advice to those considering getting marked.

"It is forever," Shea reminds. "It's not something you do on a whim."

Usually people who get a tattoo on impulse, while intoxicated, or to please someone else, are the ones less satisfied with the results.

Cliff Collard, the owner of Arsenal Tattoo emphasizes he does not tattoo anyone under the influence.


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