Tattoo regret and what to do about it

A tattoo is removed with a laser beam. (photo courtesy Medical Aesthetics of the Hudson Valley)

Sure, that Garfield tattoo on your forearm seemed so edgy at the time, but now what? Or how about the name on your thigh of that horrible cheating bastard who neglected to mention he was still married while you were dating?  Tattoo regret is becoming more and more a thing these days, but there are options.

Ed Dempsey of Ed Dempsey Tattoo in Woodstock has been tattooing bodies for 22 years. He said the regret is real. What are we most commonly covering up? “Names, cartoons, like the Tasmanian devil, trendy things, bad tattoos from other places,” said Dempsey.


Dempsey said it’s mostly women he sees seeking a cover up, and even more so it’s the women who will go through with the usually painful process. “More women than men looking for it,” said Dempsey. “Women are more proactive with the way they look.  They know what they want, they are way more quick to act on with what they want, whereas men will men talk about it, and never do it. Men also don’t care about their looks, I see a lot of old guys with old tattoos and they don’t care, whereas women want it fixed up, and put a flower over it.”

Typically, the profile walking into Dempsey’s shop tend to be women in their 30s and 40s, mostly professionals. “It’s usually older people because they can afford it,” he said. Dempsey also sees young military men seeking removal, and shared a story how the military paid for an expensive skin graft for one young man with a neck tattoo who enlisted, and wound up being discharged in boot camp. “This kid had to get a skin graft of his butt skin on his neck, and it was a totally different shade.  Ironically the kid didn’t even finish in the service.”

More frequently than covering up, Dempsey is repairing or going over an aged tattoo to freshen it up, “when the outline gets blown out and do a thicker outline.”

Every now and then there is a student coming in with a misspelled quote. “Also, kids wishing they didn’t get tattoos. There will be a big rush of regret of tattoos in 20 years or so … Tattoos popular on Pinterest and rib cage tattoos. Spur of the moment kind of thing, they are not really thinking about it. It’s upsetting … I advise them to think about it more.”

Tattoo cover-ups are not as simple as one might think. It requires lines to directionally match over existing lines, and black used sparingly as cover-ups are typically darker. Proper blending is a must. Flowers or highly textured designs are ideal, but inevitably results in a much darker finished product.

Mike LoCasio, owner of Ink Inc. in Saugerties and Kingston, said he sees the owners of quite a few names, old flowers, old quotes, and once-trendy tattoos, such as unicorns and eagles.  His clientele are mostly women in their 40s and 50s. LoCasio also offers laser tattoo removal in his Kingston shop as well, mostly employed to lighten up a tattoo enough to do a better cover-up job.  “Usually they are looking to cover up something visible, but not always,” he said. “Sometimes they just don’t feel attractive with it; they are not pleased with the location, it makes them uncomfortable. Some women might even find it offensive on their bodies, or their partners do.” Oftentimes it is professionals seeking a cover up. “I see a lot of teachers. Some principals. Housewives,” he said. “Millennials do have regrets; that’s going to be my retirement plan,” LoCasio mused.

Guys getting out of prison and looking for a job will go to Ink Inc. for help. Like Dempsey, LoCasio also sees a lot of students with misspelled quotes.

“Jessica” (name changed to protect her identity) was in Ink Inc. this week seeking a cover up for an ex-boyfriend’s name on her chest that was five years old. “I got the tattoo to please him,” she said. “He was one of those, ‘You don’t really love me’ guys.  And I really did love him. But I just wanted him to shut up, so I got his name.”

This was not “Jessica’s” first cover up over an ex’s name. She had a large dragon shoulder piece to cover up the name and wedding anniversary date of her ex-husband 11 years ago.


Hit me with those laser beams

Medical Aesthetics of the Hudson Valley has a state-of-the-art laser for tattoo removal available at their office once a month. The technology has improved over the past decade, exponentially. The machine, the PicoWay, uses dual wavelength technology, high powered and engineered to offer better clearance with fewer treatments, according to office manager and lead aesthetician Gale Wolfe. “These ultra-short pulse duration takes advantage of an intense photomechanical impact to shatter the target into tiny particles easily eliminated from the body,” she said.

The laser treatment feels like a series of smacks from a sharp, snapping rubber band, and the healing product feels a lot like a sun burn. Wolfe said best results are obtained from treatments every six to eight weeks so there is adequate time to heal.  And though black tattoos used to be easier to lift than color ones, this laser can do it all.  “Except white is an issue,” Wolfe said, explaining that white in a tattoo will actually turn brown from the laser.

Most tattoos require six to eight sessions to be completely removed, but there is noticeable lightening after the first session. The amount of sessions is determined by the ink, how deep the artist put the needle, and the person’s skin and own immune system.

Any tattoo small enough to fit on a business card will be about $300 per session, and the price only goes up from there.

Most common tattoos to remove are on the forearms, wrist, biceps or “tramp stamp”, lower back region, Wolfe said. Sometimes, even full sleeves. “Oftentimes they are just over it, and they want it off. Gone.” Wolfe cited dated tattoo art, such as tribal tattoos from the ’90s, barbed wire around the bicep, cartoon stuff and names. “Mostly women”, Wolfe also agreed. “Women are the ones who will follow through.  Women will do the whole treatment, and follow through. Men will come in for a consult and not do it.  We have plenty of male clients.  Women are the ones who will finish it.”  Wolfe also sees young military men, expecting it can be done in one session. “It’s impossible,” she said, “It’s a big wake-up call to them.”

Wolfe said oftentimes when a potential client learns the costs, he or she say they will just cover it up. Wolfe said she is sure to caution them that she sees many, many cover-ups coming back to her, which are then even more difficult to remove.  “There is something primal in a person about not wanting a tattoo in that spot,” said Wolfe. “I am happy to help people get ‘Fuck you’ off their knuckles,” said Wolfe.