Think before you ink: Tattoo removal a $27M annual business

Aaron Aupperlee
| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 9:07 p.m.

Alexis Hancharik hopes to have her divorce finalized by the end of the month.

But the tattoo of her husband's name scrawled between her shoulder blades will take a bit longer to disappear.

“No more names,” Hancharik, 34, of Jefferson Hills said.

Tattoo removal clinics around Pittsburgh have erased many names of former lovers but say the reasons for having a tattoo removed are as varied as the reasons people get inked in the first place.

“I've seen everything,” said Wesley South, who opened Disappearing Ink a year ago in Penn Hills and has removed about 1,000 tattoos. “Ex-girlfriends, misspelled words, about half of what I do is cover ups, an old design that is faded down and they don't like it any more.”

Actor Johnny Depp had his “Winona forever” tattoo on his right arm changed to “Wino forever” when his relationship with actress Winona Ryder soured. Actress Megan Fox had her Marilyn Monroe tattoo removed because she said she didn't want to follow in the footsteps of the actress whose death in 1962 was ruled a suicide, the result of a drug overdose.

About 40 percent of people have tattoos removed for employment reasons, according to a study by The Patient's Guide, a website that provides information on dermatological treatments.

Removing the name of a former lover ranks second at 18 percent, followed by people who want tattoos erased because they have changed their beliefs or just don't like them anymore, the study found.

At Kyklops Tattoo on the Southside, the minimum cost for a tattoo is $60, said Erin Hosfield, a tattoo artist at the shop. Most small tattoos range between $60 and $100, she said. Some shops charge between $100 and $150 an hour for tattoos.

“They had that stupid night. They were in college, in Vegas, and now, they are like, ‘Man, how am I going to explain this in a interview?' ” said Mark Fleis, manager of Body Beautiful, which has 11 tattoo removal facilities in Western Pennsylvania. “These kids don't realize it's a real big mistake to get a tattoo they can't cover.”

Davantae Ramsey, 22, of Homewood realizes his mistakes. Tattoos on his hand and neck prevented him from joining the Army, which toughened its policy in March to ban applicants who have tattoos on the neck and below the wrist.

“Big time regrettable,” Ramsey said of the stars on his neck and initials and Homewood's ZIP code on his hand. “I've always had these tattoos blocking me.”

Army recruiters have worked with Ramsey to help him find tattoo removal services. He figures it will cost about $2,000 to erase the tattoos, but it is worth it.

“It was always something I wanted to do. I wanted to travel. I wanted to have the brotherhood,” Ramsey said of the Army. “I see it as a way to further myself rather than being caught in this black hole.”

Americans had more than 45,000 tattoo removal procedures last year and spent nearly $27 million, according to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Dr. Scot Bradley Glasberg, president-elect of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, said the procedure is not without risks.

Even after many procedures, tattoos might not be completely removed. The lasers can cause burns or skin irritation. The expensive procedure often is not covered by health insurance, he said.

At Invisible Ink, it costs about $250 per treatment to remove a quarter-sized tattoo, said Jammie Barnes, manager and laser technician at the Robinson Town Centre clinic. Tattoos can take several treatments to remove, bumping the total cost to between $1,000 and $2,000.

Most small tattoos cost between $60 and $100, said Erin Hosfield, a tattoo artist At Kyklops Tattoo in the South Side, and some shops charge between $100 and $150 an hour for tattoos.

Business has been brisk at Invisible Ink, which uses a laser recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to obliterate tattoos, Barnes said.

Three to four clients visit each day. The laser, which fires so rapidly that it's measured in picosecond intervals (that's one-trillionth of a second), breaks up tattoo ink into particles as tiny as a grain of sand, which the body can then absorb, Barnes said.

It can take six to eight procedures to remove a tattoo. Hancharik, who went for her second treatment last week, already has seen results.

“This has been a monkey on my back,” she said.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or

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