Conan Blake getting at the tattoo removal clinic. Photo: Meredith O’Shea
CONAN Blake has never liked the thick black tattoo that swirls from the top of his right shoulder to just above the elbow.
Tribal in style, it was originally intended to cover a smaller tattoo but, Blake explains, the tattooist who did the job seven years ago botched the design. ”I’ve never been happy with it,” Blake, 34, says of the tattoo, for which he paid about $900.
So embarrassed was Blake, a surfer, that he rarely displayed it. ”Wouldn’t take my T-shirt off, wouldn’t swim.”
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When surfing, he always wears a long-sleeved rash vest. Three years ago he decided to remove the tattoo and embarked on an expensive laser treatment. ”Now I’ve started getting rid of it … people go, ‘What’s wrong with your tatt?’ when I tell them I am getting rid of it they are really interested because there’s a lot of people out there who have got tattoos they hate,” he says.
Removal is not for the faint-hearted. Experts say it hurts more than inking. Blake’s half-sleeve has cost close to $3000 for 10 treatments, and remains clearly visible. He estimates he has a few treatments to go before his arm will be ready for its next adventure: a vibrant new tattoo.
As a nurse prepares Blake by injecting local anaesthetic at several spots along the tattoo, Lynne Bekhor director of nursing at the Laser Dermatology medical clinic in Box Hill, says Blake’s plan for a new tattoo is not uncommon.
More often though, people regret the ink and want it gone. ”We are seeing lots of full sleeves,” Ms Bekhor says of the trend to cover half or all of an arm in ink.
Ms Bekhor, who sports a few discreet tattoos, says removal hurts much more. She says women tolerate the pain a lot better than men.
As tattoos have become mainstream, removal has become a booming industry. The process used to involve bleaching or, in extreme cases, skin grafts. these days lasers are used. dark tattoos are easier to remove than green, aqua or yellow inks.
In Victoria there is no regulation on who can use the lasers, meaning those who want tattoos removed choose between medical laser clinics or others – such as beauty therapists – who have the expensive equipment.
Each derides the other, though Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson says she receives very few complaints about tattoo removal. ”There are turf wars but I have no evidence to show that one lot does it any better than the other,” Ms Wilson says.
She warns though that the lasers used are powerful and can burn and scar the skin. Blake echoes this. before this medical clinic he visited a non-medical clinic where he was burnt by a laser.
Hilary Quinn, of Melbourne Tattoo Removal in Caulfield, has seen a lot of burns and advises people to be careful in choosing first a tattoo parlour and then a removalist.
The big surprise for her is how many young women want recent tattoos removed. Tattoos on wrists and ankles – ”those you can see all the time” – are commonly removed.
”Under-25s don’t really understand that once into their 30s people tend to stop seeking attention in the same way they did prior to 25.”