Tattoo removal is costly business

Kiwis are going to expensive and painful lengths to get unwanted tattoos removed - from ex-girlfriends' names to spelling mistakes.

Kirsty Ewart, a nurse at KM Surgical Ltd in Christchurch, said the clinic treated about five to 10 clients a week.

"It's something that we do a reasonable amount of. Sometimes people want [tattoos] removed for work. Usually people just change their mind," she said.

The patients covered a "broad spectrum" - from people in their 60s to 16-year-olds, and treatment cost upwards of $100 a session.

Ewart said about 10 treatments were required to remove something the size of the back of one's hand.

"It shatters the pigment basically. Your body then breaks it down and gets rid of it. Black is the easiest colour to get off. Greens and blues are the hardest."

KM Surgical Ltd had removed "names, sayings, symbols . . . you name it"; and, "it's painful - more painful than getting it. That's what people tell us".

Angela, of Christchurch, said getting her tattoos removed was "one of the most painful experiences ever".

The 40-year-old got "a cross thing" on her ankle when she was 15 as well as "a little design" on her shoulder.

"They would have been the size of $2 coins. One of them someone did at home with Indian ink and a needle. The other one was done professionally."

It cost her about $500 to get both tattoos removed, in her mid-20s, and it was "the best thing I ever did".

"I have never seen a nice [tattoo]. It looks tacky. I would be horrified if my child came home with one," she said.

Caci has 29 clinics around New Zealand and a spokeswoman said each one gave about 26 clients laser tattoo removal a week.

"Light is passed through the tattoo, [which is] attracted to the ink in the tattoo. The fragments of ink shatter into particles, which the body's immune system gradually absorbs and eliminates over time," she said.

"The individual treatment time for small tattoos can take just a few minutes, [but] larger multiple coloured ones take longer. The length of the process varies depending on the size of the tattoo and colours of the ink."

Common reasons people gave for wanting to get tattoos removed included: "I did it when I was young and regret it now; The design looked good on paper, but not on me; It's my ex-partner's name; My partner doesn't like it; My parents don't like it".

City of Ink Tattoo Studio owner Michelle Ross said staff often did cover-ups for people who had been inked elsewhere.

"There are a lot of backyarders doing a lot of stuff-ups. The city is probably inundated with them. The whole country is. Sometimes people are lucky and sometimes people are unlucky. They have to go bigger or get involved in the laser removal process," she said.

"Script is the common thing we see. They're no longer going out with the girlfriend or boyfriend whose name they had put on their body. Sometimes it's a spelling mistake."

Elias Tyro, of Expression in New Regent St, said a lot of work done outside the professional realm of tattooing was in need of a makeover.

The tattoo artist, in his 20s, said it was important for people to "do their research" before getting a tattoo because the "cheapest option" could come at another cost.

"Some hustler might think he can draw his pictures on you for a quick buck, without knowing the art of application required to be a tattoo artist. You'll be left with a rough job [and] that's the drawing you have to wear every day," he said.

"We always try to create the best design we can to work over the existing tattoo to disguise the intolerable with a fresh new tattoo adornment. In some cases we recommend laser treatment to lighten the old tattoo, so our clients are not limited to what is possible when it comes to covering want they no longer want."

Ross said City of Ink made sure its clients had "put enough thought" into their tattoos before getting them.

The Press