"Have you thought about how that'll look when you get old?"
My first tattoo was a silhouette of a couple giving a toast. At the age of 17, I thought this prom shot was cool, but I never considered how many people would ask me, "Who is that guy?" and "Are you married?" Answers: Nobody, and no. I got the faces shaded in so they would resemble And1 athletic wear characters and had "unity" tattooed underneath. Same questions. Same answers.
After writing two books, I got a second cover-up tattoo with an open book and "Live to write" written around the book. Sounds cool, right? It would've been except my tattoo artist did a terrible job with the cover-up, and I ended up with a tattoo of two people inside a book. The fourth time around with another tattoo artist, the book was shaded in with the Chicago skyline so the people wouldn't show up, but then it looked like an open Bible.
At 27, I gave up and went to a laser surgeon, but it takes longer for older and professional tattoos to be removed, especially for darker-skinned people. After spending $300 per session with no anesthesia, three times in a row, I'm tired of spending money on the tattoo and still have a guesstimated five sessions left. And I'm not alone.
While surveys from the American Academy of Dermatology show that most people have no regrets about their tattoos, about a sixth of people do. On a 2009 episode of MTV's "True Life" called "I Hate My Tattoos," three young people pondered getting their tattoos removed — two for job opportunities and one because of a canceled wedding engagement.
In the hip-hop industry, fans have watched rapper The Game go through a series of cover-ups — from a tear drop tattoo to a butterfly to "LA" near his cheekbone. Producer Pharrell blogged on his Billionaire Boys Club website about removing the tattoos from his arms. Rapper 50 Cent has also had tattoos removed from his right arm to avoid four hours of makeup during movies, according to AllHipHop.com.
Actress Angelina Jolie got her ex-husband Billy Bob Thornton's name removed from her arm, but that didn't stop her from getting more tattoo cover-ups and additional tattoos.
The popularity of tattoos isn't dying out, especially with artists such as Lil' Wayne and Soulja Boy who have gotten tattoos lining their cheeks, eyelids or forehead.
"I'm most commonly seeing (tattoo removal) in late 20s or early 30s because that's when people … want to head back into the work force," said Dr. Steven H. Dayan, who is a certified member of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
According to Dayan, a Chicago cosmetic surgeon, at least 90 percent of his patients who come in to get tattoos removed have them in exposed areas such as their arms, legs, ankles or necks.
Some women who have gotten tattoos in less noticeable spots may think they're off the hook, but even pantyhose can't cover them up, Dayan said, and they'll come to him to get those tattoos removed.
Amateur tattoos — sometimes made from India ink, pen ink, charcoal or ashes — are usually much easier to remove than professional tattoos because of the ingredient used to make the tattoos. According to Dayan, a professional tattoo removal can take anywhere from six to 15 treatments and range from $200 to $300 per session, every four to six weeks. Although red and green ink is hard to remove, yellow ink is the most difficult.
A tattoo is more difficult to remove from darker skin because if the wrong laser is used or the voltage is too high, it can damage skin melanin, which will result in a light spot. When I first decided to get my tattoo removed, I tried a household-treatment tattoo removal product, but it just felt like I was rotating sandpaper on my skin. I got my money back from the 60-day guarantee. I wasn't confident in the product because the company's website says clinical studies are "proprietary" and unavailable to the public.
"In general we get people who try all kinds of products that are over-the-counter or inexpensive … and it's almost always ineffective and they say, 'Gee, why did I do that?'" Dayan said.
In all fairness to people who are proud of their ink, I'll admit that if my second cover-up had been successful, I might still want a tattoo. However, it wouldn't be the original tattoo I got 12 years ago.
No matter how you feel about your tattoo right now, do the math. Think about the things you thought were cool over a decade ago, and then think about how much you presently like them. Are you proud of or do you regret any tattoos you currently have?
Is it really worth decorating your body permanently, or should you just get a painting to prop in your living room that you can yank down at any time?