The Monetary and Medical Cost of Surgical Tattoo Removal Remains High

The only thing worse than a bad tattoo is a botched attempt to slice one off.

Jason Rogers/Flickr

Torz Reynolds, a recently single British woman, recently cut a tattoo reading “Chopper’s Bitch” off of her arm and mailed it to its inspiration, who had run off with another woman. Reynolds managed this feat with the help of a scalpel and some novocaine spray and described it to the Daily Mail (because England) as “quite relaxing.” So why aren’t more people suffering from tattoo regret taking matters into their own bloody hands?

YouTube can provide an answer to that question in the form of several gruesome videos. Surgical tattoo removal is an invasive and painful procedure. Because of the way skin holds ink, it’s necessary to remove more than just the top few layers of the epidermis to be rid of an ex-lover’s name. Scarring is also inevitable. Though skilled surgeons can minimize the marks, they can’t eliminate them entirely. Reynolds, it’s worth noting, is a body modification artist with a split tongue, removed ear lobes, autopsy-esque chest scarring, and a brand on her bottom reading “rotting female meat.” The potential downside of self surgery probably didn’t worry her too much.

The main reason that laser tattoo removal owns most of the removal market is size. Some dermatologists and surgeons will cut out small tattoos and then sew the skin back up, leaving linear scars. This young woman, for instance, had a small heart cut out from behind her ear, because she was trying to join the military, which generally doesn’t appreciate tattoos that aren’t easily covered by a uniform. But dermatologists are reluctant — for reasons related to the Hippocratic Oath — to perform the sort of procedure that might necessitate a skin graft, creating a high likelihood of infection.

Laser tattoo removal, it is worth saying, sucks. It’s a slow and sometimes painful process that often doesn’t completely remove traces of bad decisions. It is, however, far less likely to result in a medical emergency and far more likely to produce something closer to the desired result: unmarked skin.

The reason scientists are constantly looking to invent tattoo removal creams that actually work is pretty simple: Tattoo removal, as it stands, is a miserable process. The only time that’s not the case is when the bearer of the mark in question is dead. Tattoo preservation is a burgeoning field. Chopper can get that hate mail from his ex framed.

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