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‘Tattoo regret’ an emerging trend

Despite tattooing being an enduring phenomenon, a parallel trend is also emerging - a move to get them off.

SINGAPORE: Beautiful body art or marks of the menacing and the deviant? Those with a taste for tattoos have said there is more to ink than meets the eye. While tattoo styles come and go, they never fail to attract attention and opinions.

Mr Whopper Tan, the manager of Familiar Strangers Tattoo Studio, said: "People who have tattoos are non-conformists. They do not conform to society, the thoughts of society or the thoughts of the family; they want to do something different. Chances of regretting a tattoo are very high. You see how many regrets we have in our life? So why do people still want to do it? It is to prove a point - that I am different, I dare to do it."

Ms Pamela See, a psychologist at the Think Team, said: "Tattoos have been (around) for more than 5,000 years and till this day, I feel like we have moved forward quite a bit in society in the way we look at things and judge certain things. But at the same time, I think the stigma is really hard to remove."


But what if that serpent on your shoulder or the cool heart on your hip starts to become a design disappointment?

At one tattoo studio at Clarke Quay, requests for so-called 'cover-ups' are common.

Mr Tan elaborated: “Examples are boyfriends’ names, girlfriends’ names, your own name and your kids’ names. I tattooed my ex-wife's name also, I tattooed my ex-girlfriends’ names, and I covered up all of them! When you have a tattoo, people want to know why you have a tattoo and explaining to people is very stressful.”

But for many with ‘tattoo regret’, a clever cover-up is not enough.

Blogger Michelle Yang Mixue has been undergoing tattoo removal for the past eight weeks. She was 17 when she had a butterfly tattooed on her chest. Five more tattoos on her shoulder, back and just above her waist were applied before the regret set in. She said: "People tend to think that you are not a very nice girl, not a very good girl, or maybe you will attract the wrong attention.”

Like Ms Yang, other bloggers like actress Maia Lee are sharing their blistering tales of trauma, baring all and sparing few of the grisly details of the painful process.

The reasons for remorse are numerous. For one, visible tattoos can be a barrier to employment. Ms See said: "I think it is hard not to socially conform in a society where you know it gets frowned upon, especially in certain workplaces. If you are in a creative job, then it is not a problem, but if you are a professional, it is a lot harder.”

A quick check of 10 neighbourhood clinics around Singapore, which provide laser therapy to remove tattoos, turned up some sobering statistics. On average, they receive between three and six requests a week to purge the permanent ink, and the busier tattoo removal doctors can see as many as 30 patients a week.

Dr Kevin Chua, a general practitioner at Drs Chua & Partners AV Pte Ltd, said: "I have seen patients have a sense of relief about it ... they feel it is very restrictive on them. I do get patients who wear long sleeve shirts all the time, cover up their tattoos all the time, because they are afraid off taking of their shirts, for example when they go swimming, and that is one thing they want to redress. They come mentally prepared for the long-drawn process that the removal process is and also the pain involved. Unfortunately, removing your tattoo is more painful than putting one on in the first place.”

And there is a price for turning perceptions around. On average, doctors charge around S$250 for just one laser removal session. It usually takes six to eight sessions for tattoos to fade to an acceptable level, making the average cost of removing one a hefty S$2,000.


So in calculating the real cost of a tattoo, one may want to consider the results of an online survey conducted by beauty website Escentual. Out of nearly 2,000 respondents, it found that on average, one in six is not happy about the tattoo they have.

For those who do change their mind, it takes around 10 years for 'tattoo regret' to set in. And 34 per cent even fear how the tattoo might look as they get older.

Mr Tan has this advice: “Think carefully and have a good tattoo studio to advise you. A tattoo is something permanent. It is on you forever, nothing can follow you forever other than a tattoo.” And 'forever' being as long as it is, there is always time to think before you ink. 

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