For the naked, tattoo-covered amnesiac Jane Doe, who climbed out of a duffle bag in the middle of Times Square on the first episode of NBC’s Blindspot, ink is identity. The tattoos covering her body are her only apparent hope of reverse Jason Bourne-ing herself.
For most people, tattoos are less about discovering identity as they are about announcing it. And sometimes people regret those announcements. What if the lovely Jane were to discover that her full-body tats were merely the result of a three-day bender with some Yakuza pals? Inverse asked tattoo removal expert Dr. John Adams of Manhattan’s Rethink Tattoo Removal how much time and money it’d take to undo it the whole thing, sleeves to ankles. He sighed heavily and considered it.
“Theoretically, it’s possible, but, practically, it would never happen,” Adams says, adding that tattoo removal isn’t just expensive — it takes time. “Removing a full body of tattoos would take more time than you have.”
The amount of time it takes to remove a tattoo varies with skin tone and the color and saturation of the ink. Jane’s fair skin sports larger red and green tribal tats as well as a cobwebby overlay of fine black lines and letters. Lucky for her, according to Dr. Adams, intricate lines and shading are the easiest to remove, especially in shades of green, black, and blue. Red ink is slightly tougher to deal with.
Still, removing that ink isn’t easy. These days, tattoo removal involves shooting it with laser guns and a case this intense would require the state-of-the-art Picosure to blast the ink into tiny fragments. Tattoos don’t normally fade because the ink molecules are too big for the body’s immune system to deal with. Breaking them up into smaller bits make it easier for white blood cells to sweep them up like any other foreign debris.
But shooting up the entirety of Jane Doe’s body would be akin to giving her a full body burn. “It would be too traumatic,” Adams says. Realistically, you’d have to work in sections, giving each part six to eight weeks to heal before going in for subsequent rounds of lasering. In total — factoring in up to 10 laser treatments per site, it’d take about a decade to remove.
Ten years is a long time, but probably not enough for Doe to save up the money she’d need to pay her final tat-removal bill. At $3,000 for arms, $12,000 each for the legs and crotch area, $10,000 for the back and chest together, and $700 for the neck — times 10 treatments — her bill would come out to at least $370,000. And that’s not even including hospital and anesthesiology fees.
“It could easily be half a million dollars,” says Dr. Adams. “In terms of cost, you’re talking about a mortgage.”
Even if Jane managed to scrape up a couple hundred Gs to fund her return to a tattoo-free state, she’d be shit out of luck finding a doctor willing to deal with her. Dr. Adams thought that premise was just too much.
“I would never accept this as a patient,” he says.