“How are you going to feel about that when you’re my age?”

The lady working the cash register at Safeway asked me abruptly, clearly staring at the crown I have tattooed at the base of my neck. I wasn’t offended, not anymore, I get asked that question so frequently that it’s almost a running joke. There's this stigma that any tattoo you get at a young age will haunt you for the rest of your life. However, in this day and age there are options that make a permanent decision technically less permanent. Tattoo removal has come quite far and demand is still growing.

Whether you’re trying to remove the butterfly on your lower back from when you were 17 years-old, or you’re trying to fade it for a full back piece that will cover it, there are options. In Colorado, there are even more options as the state does not regulate tattoo removal. Basically, anyone with a laser can remove a tattoo for you. That sounds great, and it can be great but, it also sounds terrifying and can be that, too. Accessibility makes the price of tattoo removal stay in the affordable range. This also means there are a lot of places you can try until you find one that fits your needs. On the other side, lack of regulation also means that you might be having your tattoo removed by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. It could end up painful, ugly and scarred. But, like all things in life, with the correct amount of diligent research this should be avoidable and accidents are rare.

Tattoos are becoming more and more common with time. A study from 2016 says that nearly 25% of Americans and 50% of millennials have tattoos. When I think about it, I can count on one hand everyone I know that does not have a tattoo. With the increase in popularity of tattooing, the increase in removal will surely follow. The previously stated study also said that 25% of people with tattoos regret at least one. So, what do you do if you’re in that 25%?

Tattoo removal is a notoriously long, expensive and painful process, but just how long, expensive and painful is it? To find out, I talked with a man named Johnny who owns and operates 3 tattoo removal shops in Colorado. The removal process can take anywhere from 7-10 sessions. These sessions usually don’t take long themselves, unlike the time between. I learned that you should take at least six weeks between sessions or even longer if you want better results. The process of fully removing a tattoo can take over a year and the price can range anywhere from $700 all the way to $1200 or more. A lot of these ranges are based on variables like, age of the tattoo, colors included, size of the tattoo or even location of the tattoo on your body. As for the pain, there’s topical anesthetics that can help but, that’s about it.

Johnny’s shop, Ink Shrinks, takes on projects in all forms. He told me he has people come in as early as the day after getting a “mistake tattoo” to start the removal process immediately. A lot of the removals he does are ring finger tattoos, names, and body location-based tattoos for military personnel (hands and neck mostly). However, the most common, he said, was adults in their thirties who are removing tattoos from teenage years because now, later in life, they can afford it. Unfortunately, compared to the initial cost, time and pain of getting that horrible lower-back butterfly, the removal process is worse in each category.

I sat down with a man named Luke, who has been treated with laser tattoo removal. He received his laser treatment a few years ago in Austin, Texas and only did two sessions, as he was just trying to fade the tattoo for a cover up. The sessions lasted about 15-20 minutes each but, he had to wait several weeks between the sessions. Luke wasn’t comfortable giving out information on the shop but, they had originally quoted him at five sessions to completely remove the tattoo, costing around $100 per session. Luke admitted that the removal hurt more than the original tattoo, but not significantly. He said he did not use any local anesthetics during the process and that he could not remember if they were offered to him. Overall, it wasn’t a bad experience according to Luke and he said, “I would do it again if I had to.”

The process of removing tattoos is still being perfected and new technology advances make the process more simple, safe and affordable all the time. I like to hope that, one day, the fear of regret will be removed from the equation because of tattoo removal. But for now, if you want my advice, think long and hard before you ink.