It Happened To Me: I'm Having My Teenage Tattoo Removed

People have come up to me over the years and asked me questions about James Bond, thinking I’m some Bond connoisseur, and know loads about it -- but it was a dare at the time when I got it done -- and I did win that dare.

Sep 26, 2012 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

As told to Naomi by her friend, who wants to remain anonymous but wants to share her story so others learn from her mistakes!

Clearly the business of tattoos is booming. In fact, even in the recession, tattoo parlours get booked up months in advance and tattoo artists can charge what they like. Plus, I’m sure you haven’t failed to notice a proliferation of "terrible tatt" blogs and tumblrs, like WTFtattoos.com or failblog.cheezburger.com or bad-tattoos.tumblr.com This Justin Beiber leg is a classic!

But next time you're either contemplating getting some fresh ink yourself OR chuckling away at such a sight, spare a thought for me, also part of an increasing social trend -- the laser tattoo-removal customer.

I was 15 when I got this beauty done.

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Not my first. My other one is worse, but in a more discreet place, (groin) so I can get away with it. It’s a 007 logo on the top of my arm – it’s so prominent. And at a certain point in your life you just think 'I want my arm back' –- like I might start wearing halter neck tops in my 30s.

After all these years, it has started to leach into my skin and has gone "furry" which makes it easy to break down. It’s due to sunbathing and because it’s just black ink -- those provide the best conditions to remove a tattoo. In fact, the older a tattoo, the easier it is to remove, so that is why I waited till I was 30 to start the removal process although I started hating it as far back as 10 years ago.

People have come up to me over the years and asked me questions about James Bond, thinking I’m some Bond connoisseur, and know loads about it –- but it was a dare at the time when I got it done – and I did win that dare. 

The back story is this: I was working in a call centre selling double-glazing and I was 16, doing my art foundation. I was a bit insecure and desperate to impress people, so when the chain-smoking supervisor who was my main friend dared me to do it, I didn’t take long to decide.

I still at least partially blame Paul’s Tattoos in Bedford, because they didn’t give my paper driving licence for a 32 year old a second glance. I was 16. I was also pissed at the time –- for Dutch courage, not because it was a spur of the moment -- but still, that should make it illegal, shouldn’t it?

The man in the tattoo shop was like a giant human slug. A slimy slug who sat there, idly doodling Bugs Bunny on women’s legs. (This was 1997, remember.) Although now it’s a hideous, disfiguring scar of bad taste, you have to remember, this was Bedford, where there was absolutely piss-all to do apart from go to the gay bar or get a tattoo. Ooh, and there was one shop where you could buy either a t-shirt or pills (or both). There wasn’t exactly a lot of choice in the entertainment department. That’s why I liked the idea of doing dares.

Anyway, just as my mum told me at the time, I ended up hating the tacky blemish. Plus, due to my weirdly masochistic nature, the idea of throwing large amounts of good money after bad on a self-inflicted problem was exactly the sort of thing I was always going to do. Like those people who buy a cheap pair of shoes from the Gratton catalogue, pay it in 50p weekly installments, miss a few payments, and then the debt spirals out of control and they end up losing their house. That sort of thing.

I researched laser tatt removal and set off for the clinic, feeling like Ruby Wax on her way to either a nose job appointment or vastly expensive psychotherapy session. Fabulous!

The first time you go in there, there’s this woman on reception with a perma tan. It reminded me of a "Carry On" film because there are all these fake nurses in comedy nurses outfits who may or may not be qualified. They know how to switch the laser on. The consultation consists of one of these "nurses" in a pointy hat looking at your tattoo. Then they quote price per session and suggest what will later on turn out to be an unrealistically low estimated number of sessions. Then they try to charge you £80 for some cream you could get from Boots for a fiver.

At any given session I can get in and out in about 3 minutes. Each session costs roughly twice the amount the original tattoo did. I have had about five or six sessions and I’ll need about the same again. In fact that’s a very conservative estimate. It could be up to 14 by the time the ink has been broken down. The other bollocks involves absolutely – and you really can’t get away with this –- no sun on that part of my arm while the whole of the treatment goes on –- which will be over a year in total. I’m also banned from getting it wet while it’s healing after each treatment.

The further you get into your treatment, the stronger the lasers need to be to get down through the layers of skin to where the ink is -– so the more agonizingly painful it is. The more you bleed, the more pus comes out. I mean, people think, "Oh tattoos, you can get them removed can’t you?" But the reality is: expense, inconvenience, but more than that, excruciating pain. The pain! It’s basically worse than being killed. By Amazonian frog poisoned darts. It’s like being stabbed with hot knitting needles millions of times over by lots of people. When you’d prepared yourself for a sunbed. Or, as the pointy-hatted nurses warn you, "You might feel slight discomfort -- but it’ll be over before you know it."

I don’t want to moan at people that you shouldn’t get a tattoo. And I don’t imagine that I would have any more influence on people than my mum on me, who looked me in the eye and told me, "You’ll regret that," at the time. But what I would say is this –- you never know how quickly your taste will change, and if you’re going around under the blithe impression that you can just chop and change them at will -– do your research. Another of the most stinging after-effects is the fact it will never truly be gone. There will still be a tattoo-shaped, ergo a double-oh-seven-shaped scar. Think you could get a new one to cover the fucker? It would have to be about three times bigger. And at this stage, I really, really don’t trust myself any more. Never again, that’s my motto now. Never again.

It’s just so gutting to think that as you do get older, and whether you’re wiser or not, you do make your own version of the past. You’ll find out that a lot of the bad stuff just gets erased by your memory anyway. The problem is, if you’ve permanently branded some hideous symbol of teenaged rebellion on your own arm, for God’s sake, it won’t just fade like a bad dream or night of drunken misbehaviour in the light of day. It’ll just look even more vivid.