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Thinking About Getting Your Tattoo Removed? 

After all, nothing in life is forever.

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Eden Weingart
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Nothing is permanent in life — even a tattoo. I was 17 when I got a tattoo of a rower, to represent my time on the Oxford University crew team. I was 17½ when my mother spotted the tattoo on my back and forced me to remove it. With the tattoo, I felt empowered and brave. I had never been an athlete — nor had I ever thought I could actually get into Oxford, my dream university.

So, this tattoo was a tiny reminder that I really could do anything I ever wanted to do. If removing a tattoo that I loved could have such a devastating effect on my confidence, then could removal also have a positive effect for those who associate their ink with past actions and deeds that are no longer relevant nor helpful? 

A survey by SkinTru found that 26 percent of Americans regret their tattoos and want them removed, and 11 percent who have tattoos have had one removed or are planning on zapping it. Seventy percent of those who opt for tattoo removals are women, and the average age is 29.

After Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson announced in December that he’s in the process of removing the 100-plus tattoos that cover his entire body, I spoke with therapists to see what removing a tattoo can do for your mental state. 

It offers a clean slate …

Literally. A complete removal of all your tattoos — or even just one — may feel like a spiritual cleansing or an awakening, says April Brown, a therapist and owner of The Heard Counseling. But before you do it, ask yourself what the tattoo means to you, she suggests. “What does it mean to you to get the tattoo removed? For many, removing a tattoo can be cathartic, releasing the old way of being or their old life.” Since many tattoos are reminders of bad decisions, a past way of living or a specific time in your life that you may now regret, then removing it is offering your body a way to move forward.

It’s a way to forget the past

Perhaps your tattoo symbolized a relationship that has now soured. Or it marked a time in your life that was fraught with challenges or heartache. “It could even have been an attempt to memorialize someone or something important, but it just became a painful reminder instead,” says Dan Hunter, tattoo artist and chief editor at Authority Tattoo. Now, Hunter says, the tattoo has become a trigger forcing you to relive your sadness or trauma. “By getting rid of the tattoo, you can get rid of the constant reminder and focus instead on moving forward,” he says. 

It’s a quick way to get out of your skin

If you’re not comfortable in your own skin, then this is the only actual way to get out of your skin and get into a new one, says Patrick Belk of Tattoo Influence. “It has an appeal for people in a recovery situation who want to move on and forget the past, and it’s a great symbolism for that,” Belk says. But it’s also simply an eraser. My tattoo removal left me a scar in the shape of a rower. I know where it was, and I know why it was there. If I really needed that portion of my life zapped, then the removal plus a very good therapist would have done wonders. Still, a tattoo removal is the first step.

But it’s not a magic cure

Removing an unwanted tattoo can certainly offer immediate relief. But if you have serious negative associations with that time in your life, you will likely need more assistance processing your pain, says Rachel Astarte, a psychotherapist and author of Celebrating Solitude. Seeing a therapist or counselor can help you work through the residual feelings that may linger long after your tattoo is gone, Astarte says. 

Before you remove it

Ideally, you should put the same thought into removing a tattoo as you did getting it, Astarte says. You may envision yourself going back to normal, but removing a tattoo — especially if it has been with you for some time — can be just as jarring as getting one initially. “Your body will be altered, and likely so will your emotional state,” Astarte says. “Take some time to reflect on what that tattoo meant to you.” Honor the symbol that you once welcomed onto your body. And let it go.