Removing Ink Soars to a $74 Million Business


TYLER BENFIELD TATTOOED HIS GIRLFRIEND’S name on his neck. He broke up with his girlfriend. A mechanic, working on cars all day, he covered up the cursive with a Chevrolet sign. Then he got a job at Mercedes-Benz.

“I was happy at first when I got the Chevrolet sign because I didn’t have to look at her name anymore,” Mr. Benfield says. “In the dating scene, it’s hard to get a girlfriend when you’ve got some other girl’s name on your neck. Constant jealousy, ‘Well, why don’t you get my name on you if you care about me so much?’”

Troubles with women, the fellas razzing him at work, Mr. Benfield says, “Everybody kept giving me a hard time. I had to explain myself all the time. I got sick of it.”

So he’s paying a dermatologist to laser his regrets off his skin. A father of two, living in Naples, getting married in November, Mr. Benfield tells his children, “This tattoo was something stupid Daddy did a long time ago. Now Daddy’s older and wiser, it’s time to change.”

Before and after of Christopher Simonds’ tattoo removal from Riverchase Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery.COURTESY PHOTOSThat jugular canvas of their daddy’s skin — lost love, new job — paints the whole picture of the latest move in tattoos — removals.

after 1

Before and after of Christopher Simonds’ tattoo removal from Riverchase Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. COURTESY PHOTOS

Tattoo removals have soared to a $76 million business, nearing a fivefold increase over the last decade, according to recent reports by and the research firm IBISWorld.

Many cite the recession — more job seekers means more tattoo removals, especially from necks and wrists. No jobs may persuade some to enlist in the military. Again, off with the visible ink. Popularity plays a part, more tattoos consequently means more removals. And there’s always failed love, when your relationship doesn’t unfold like you dreamed. Bye, bye “till-death-do-us-part,” ring-finger, wedding-band tats. Time to laser off, or cover up, the heart on your bicep.

after 3If you were to tally Mr. Benfield’s tattoos like player statistics, he would have five total tattoos, three fumbles, two resulting in his current removal, and the other, he’s predicting to remove later in the game.

Where’s the story?PointsMentioned Map10 Points Mentioned

“You’ve got to really think about what you get put on you. Make sure it’s something you’re going to love forever,” he says. “But even when you do, it’s there so long … I don’t know, it gets old.”

Shanna Miranti, a physician assistant at Riverchase Dermatology, whose offices spread from Sarasota to Marco Island, tells the truth about tattoo removals — they take more time, cost more money and inflict more pain than tattoos.

Maranti, Shanna  Lab Coat 2014


“People who regret the artwork they received that one fateful day, they pay for it with time, money and discomfort,” she says.

One night of impulsive ink can take over a year to remove. Mrs. Miranti says removals take six to eight treatments on average, 10 to 12 weeks apart, allowing the skin to heal, during which time patient lives turn vampire-like, staying out of the sun, applying good wound care, the same as when he or she got the tattoos.

Small tattoos cost $50 to $75 per treatment, large tattoos up to $500 per treatment, says Mrs. Miranti. Multiply that by six or eight sessions and removals run up to thousands.

YouTube videos show removal by laser as an almost spa-like experience, with massage music playing in the background. “The machine makes a lot of noise. It’s a really bright light. Everyone has to wear protective eyewear. You can smell your skin burning. It’s not some pleasant spa experience,” Mrs. Miranti says.



Deducing the science, the light beam from the laser shatters the ink, the lymphatic system absorbs it, the body expels it.

Describing the procedure, Dr. Ernesto Hayn, who practices through Plastic Surgery of Palm Beach, says he holds the laser apparatus, which looks like a fat Sharpie, he retraces the tattoo to erase the tattoo, steps on the pedal — “Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!” — the skin blanches immediately, turning white as cigarette ash.

Dr. Hayn says professional tattoos are harder to remove than jailhouse or amateur tattoos, because the ink is impregnated deeper in the skin. Removing tattoos for over a decade, he says removals used to be very seldom, mostly working with the sheriff’s office to remove gang tattoos. Now he’s seeing a lot of women in their early 30s, brides-to-be who don’t want to show their past frivolities in their low-back gowns, or new mothers who don’t want baby to grow up and see mama’s tattoo.


Michael Albanese sees his tattoos as a permanent reminder of his troubled past. COURTESY PHOTO

Michael Albanese sees his tattoos as a permanent reminder of his troubled past. COURTESY PHOTO

Mrs. Miranti was one of those women. (Skin stats: one removal for one tattoo). She got a Celtic knot in college but removed her tattoo before marriage and children. She says she’s still a Celtic girl at heart but does not need a tattoo to prove it.

Mrs. Miranti and Dr. Hayn are seeing the never-ending relationship-ending removals, recession-instigated removals, military-motivated removals. (Dr. Hayn says he’s also doing a lot of earlobe reconstructions because the military does not accept gauges).

Occasionally teenagers wander in, they got a tattoo last week, their parents are livid and want it removed. More rare are the Baby Boomers. Florida may have a reputation as a senior state, but Dr. Hayn says Baby Boomers are not removing tattoos; they’re past it. From Mrs. Miranti’s vantage, Baby Boomers are the ones sporting brand-spanking-new tattoos, portraits of their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren. “They’re very proud,” she says. “They’re not removing those tattoos.”

Benfield 1

Tyler Benfield tattooed his girlfriend’s name on his neck, broke up with his girlfriend, covered up his tattoo with the Chevy sign, then got a job at Mercedes-Benz. COURTESY PHOTOS

Mrs. Miranti has seen a number of grown up frat boys removing their fraternity letters. Dr. Hayn hinges on being one of those men. (Skin stats: one tattoo). He says he would remove the letters from his ankle, but they’re blue, and blue is stubborn ink.

These two medical professionals can attest to a new phenomena brewing in the world of body art: People are removing tattoos, fading them out, to make their cover ups easier, taking one off to put another one on, a more meaningful piece showing the refined art of the day.

“I’ve seen some work where you’re just like, ‘Wow. It looks like somebody painted art on their bodies,’” Dr. Hayn says. “People are realizing, ‘This tattoo was great 10 years ago, 12 years ago, but I can get one that’s 50 times better now.’”

Dr. Hayn says people with sleeves (whole-arm tattoos) aren’t removing their ink; they’re committed. But it’s not the little butterfly, either. “It’s a lion coming out of your neck,” he says. It’s someone who got a tattoo at a young age, now she’s getting married, she’s having a baby, now he needs a real job, he needs to feed his family, it’s an act of whimsy that turned to whoops.

tattoos 1


Christopher Simonds tattooed a portrait of Davy Jones from “Pirates of the Caribbean” on his right forearm. It was one of the better portrait tattoos he’s ever seen, but feels he was forced to choose between a good job or a good tattoo.

“I loved it when I got it and I loved it when they were taking it off,” he says.

Mr. Simonds owned a tattoo shop on Fort Myers Beach in his younger years. Getting a tattoo seemed like the thing to do. He wanted
more. Then the recession hit.

“If it were up to me, I would have won the lottery instead of going out of business,” Mr. Simonds says. “I would still have my tattoo. In fact, I would have a lot more.”

He thought of joining the Air Force. That was his initial reason for removing his tattoo. But its removal opened other doors. The way he puts it, he chose another door. Scored a job in businessto business sales.

His removal took over a year. He paid $400 a session. Endured nine or 10 sessions. Spent around $4,000. He likens the pain to a rubber band slapping against your skin repeatedly, but says it’s nothing you can’t sit through. (Skin stats: He’s not telling).

Mr. Simonds never felt tattoo regret, but he felt removal relief. “I’m no longer nervous rolling up my sleeves,” he says. “People listen to what I have to say, instead of looking at my arm.”

Dr. Hayn says patients come in for consultations because, like all cosmetic procedures, their tattoos bother them and bother them and bother them. They don’t believe the laser will vanish all the ink away. Their tattoos disappear. Surprised, they say, “You didn’t lie to me. Thank you so much.”

Dr. Hayn and Mrs. Miranti assert that in order to perform laser tattoo removals in Florida, one has to be a doctor, physician assistant or nurse practitioner, unlike other states, where someone can take a two-week course, become a certified technician and open a studio. The Florida Department of Health does not regulate laser tattoo removal. When asked if there are any official regulations in the state, FDOH Press Secretary Sheri Hutchinson did not respond.

Dr. Hayn says plastic surgeons and dermatologists are trained with lasers, but all doctors in the state have the right, so those in other fields are encroaching on tattoo turf because removals have become a monster money game.

Ruminating on the methods of laser removals, Tim Gersley says, “It doesn’t sound very healthy to me.” He prefers the alternative: the cover-up.

Mr. Gersley lives in downtown Lake Worth. He had a Gemini sign tattooed on his upper right arm. It was small and silly, so he opted to cover it up with something tribal. “It kind of looks evil, it has a devil look to it … like there’s an evil devil in the middle,” he says. “I’ve even thought about getting another tattoo on top of it to cover it up.”

Mr. Gersley has tattoos he loves — the yin yang lizards on his hip, the turtle on his ankle would be his favorite. “Once you get one, you start thinking about the next one,” he says. (Skin stats: one coverup for a total of five tattoos).

As far as his devilish tribal band, he says, “It’s not something I fret over. It just never ended up being what I wanted.”

Jeron Kenens, the inkslinging manager of Fallen Angel Tattoo Studio in Estero, would love to believe all patrons who sit in his chair will love their tattoos forever. He knows that’s impossible. He’s not against tattoo removals. He’s glad there are options for the impulse driven.

When he hears the sales pitch of plastic surgeons, dermatologists and laser studios — “Don’t live with regret,” “Tattoos are no longer forever,” “It will be like it was never there,” “Move on with your life,” “Turn the page,” — the sentiment that stings him most would be the loss of forever, which he sees as feeding the beast — tattoos as temporary fashion accessories or fad-motivated ink.

“Forever is a concept that this modern society either ignores, looks down upon or simply cannot grasp,” Mr. Kenens writes in an email. “I observe people ignoring the concept of tattoos as forever by not considering the weight of their decisions … I see people looking down on the idea of forever as outmoded in modern society. I liken this to views toward marriage. Marriage, which prior to the past couple generations was considered forever, if there were problems, they would weather the struggle versus having a divorce lawyer on speed dial. This is the same as tattoos. Why try to endure the decision you made when it’s no longer permanent?”

With no grasp of forever, Mr. Kenens sees kids getting tattooed younger and younger. “As fast-paced as their world is, waiting two whole weeks for a tattoo appointment is ‘forever,’” he says.

Tattoos seeping past his shirt sleeves and peeking out from his shirt collar, Mr. Kenens admits some of his tattoos no longer feel so true to him, but they lend a sense of time travel, carrying him back to the music he was listening to and the books he was reading when he chose to ink his skin. (Skin stats: Off the charts).

“I’m overjoyed that tattoos have become so accepted in our culture … However, I do not feel like everyone should have one,” he says. “Soul searching should be done prior to, researching should be done as well, then after all that effort and contemplation, make the decision. This formula would result in a lowering of tattoo removal.”

North Palm Beach resident Michael Albanese says no thought went into his tattoos. He says when he was younger, the guy who used to service his saltwater aquarium told him about an undercover cop who got the words “Don’t shoot” tattooed on his arms, so if he ever was held up by police, they would know he was undercover.

“I didn’t even think about it,” Mr. Albanese says. “I went out and got the same tattoo the next day.”

Mr. Albanese says the words aren’t so legible. “People ask me, ‘What do they say?’ I tell them, ‘Don’t shoot.’ They go, ‘Oh,’ in a tone like, ‘What do I say? He’s got ‘Don’t shoot’ on his arms.”

Mr. Albanese says he’s not planning on getting any more tattoos, he’s not thinking about cover-ups, he’s not thinking about removals. “My tattoos are a permanent reminder of my troubled past,” he says. “They remind me to stay on the right track.” (Skin stats: Tricky. If you count one for each arm, he has a total of seven tattoos).

Mr. Albanese sees his tattoos as life lessons. He embraces them, saying, “Zero regret.”

Dr. Dan Goldman of Peace River Psychology, offices located in SarasotaPunta Gorda and Port Charlotte, says regret should not be a shackle, but a lesson in forgiveness.

“Regret is actually an important emotion. It discourages people from making the same mistake twice and has clear evolutionary advantages,” Dr. Goldman writes in an email.

Musing on the subject, he lays out a curious scenario: If you have the ability to choose between 10 cars, you are more likely to regret your choice than someone who only had one option. The more choices you have, the more likely you are to experience regret. If given the option of having someone else choose for you, you would, most likely, still choose for yourself, even though doing so increases your risk of regret.

“The moral of the story is that if regret were really so bad, we would voluntarily give up our ability to choose whenever possible, and since we never do that, regret must not be the worst thing,” he writes.

Everyone has regrets. Some people hold on. Some people let go. Dr. Goldman says most regrets involve work, education, romance or family. If your biggest regret is a tattoo, the doctor says you’re doing OK.

“It would be great if we could all live without regret, but in reality, what we need is to learn how to live with it,” he writes. “The solution to regret isn’t to punish yourself, it is to forgive yourself.”

No shame in tattoos. No shame in removals. ¦