Getting a tattoo? Consider removal options first, longevity columnist urges

The number of Canadians getting tattoos is increasing, but so is the number of people regretting getting one in the first place, a longevity columnist says.

"Statistics show that both things are true — more people are getting tattooed and more people appear to want to get them taken off later," Sharon Basaraba told The Homestretch this week.

She says tattoos are far more common today than a few years ago. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even has one.

"About 20 per cent of Canadians have at least one tattoo, in the U.S. it's higher, about 29 per cent. That's up from a few years ago according to a Harris poll last year," Basaraba said.

That same poll shows about a quarter of people with tattoos later say they regret getting one, said Basaraba. Research published in 2013 in the British Journal of Dermatology looked at about 600 tattooed adults in the U.K. and found 37 per cent of them regretted their tattoos.

"Researchers say this so-called tattoo remorse is so widespread that it should actually be highlighted on the initial consent forms when people get a tattoo."

Tattoo removal though can be tricky.

"The most common method involves something called a Q-switched laser. Each laser targets a specific colour, delivering short blasts of light at high intensity and the pigment is shattered without breaking the skin," Basaraba said.

"It is taken away from the body, metabolized or excreted."

The process takes a while and is said to be painful. Depending on the size and detail involved, Basaraba says a single tattoo can take anywhere from six to more than 12 treatments.

"Different lasers might have to be used, often tattoos are made up of different colours. You have to wait several weeks for the skin to heal between those treatments even though the skin's surface does stay intact."

She says lasers can be a lot better than older options.

"At least it's much better than older techniques, which basically involved sanding off the tattoo through dermabrasion or surgically removing that layer of skin."

Basaraba says the age and colouring of a tattoo can affect its ease of removal too.

"Newer tattoos may also be tougher to remove than older ones because the body breaks down the inks over time in some cases. Certain colours are more resistant to removal. Lighter colours, ironically, like yellow, green and red are the toughest to get rid of."

Injuries may not be common but they can be significant.

"A couple of years ago in Quebec, 18 women ended up with second-degree burns and blistering after a tattoo removal procedure. Many were left with raised scars in the shape of their tattoos," Basaraba said.

Having a tattoo removed with a laser can feel like grease from a frying pan or an elastic being snapped against the skin, she added, and depending on the size can cost thousands of dollars.

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With files from The Homestretch