When ink dries: the regrets that drive tattoo removal

With the number of tattooed Australians at an all-time high, removals are an increasingly common story

The year Peter “Spida” Everitt became a professional AFL player, he was a love-smitten teenager.

So madly in love they were – the then 19-year-old footballer and his high school sweetheart – they got matching tattoos.

The retired 291-game St Kilda, Hawthorn and Sydney ruckman describes the tattoos as “Aztec bands around our ankles”.

“Just one of those kinda surfy bands you got back in the 1990s,” Everitt says. “It was the same vintage as the barbed wire you got around the top of your arm.”

The relationship, as with many teenage romances, did not last. The tattoo, however, has remained a permanent reminder. But not for much longer.

On Wednesday, Everitt, now 48, entered a Gold Coast clinic for the first of up to 12 sessions that will see that Aztec band around his ankle removed.

With the number of tattooed Australians at an all-time high, this could be an increasingly common story.

At least one in four Australians sport ink, and accompanying that trend is an increasing number of people with tattoo regret.

There are no official statistics on how many people are having tattoos removed.

A 2019 survey of 1,008 Australians conducted by McCrindle Research suggests 22% of those bearing tattoos regret having at least one of them. About 25% had started to – or were looking to – undergo tattoo removal.

Interactive

Everitt’s style of tattoo tops the chart of those getting zapped, according to Removery, a company that runs the Robina laser tattoo-removal clinic he is attending.

Removery says its research shows tribal-inspired tattoos amount to 31% of those being removed in Australia. Next in line is the Southern Cross at 27%, followed closely by butterflies at 26%.

Other designs commonly being removed include the infinity symbol, angel wings, dolphins, anchors, shooting stars and foreign writing and phrases. The latter category is another to which Everitt can relate.

“I’ve got Chinese writing on my ankle in Kings Cross which is supposed to say my daughter’s name,” he says. “I don’t think it says that, but I’m too scared to find out what it does say because it was about one o’clock in the morning.”

Almost half of tattoo regret, Removery says, can be attributed to alcohol.

But the number one reason Australians have tattoos removed, the company says, is not that the ink is associated to a bad memory – although that is the case in 32% of cases. For 37%, it is simply that their tastes have changed.

That is something to which the laser technician working on Everitt’s Aztec band can attest.

Holly Carter, 32, is a tattoo removalist and enthusiast covered “head to toe” in ink.

“I’m obsessed with the skin,” she says.

“And I love the fact we can manipulate skin with lasers.”

Email: sign up for our daily morning and afternoon email newsletters

App: download our free app and never miss the biggest stories

Social: follow us on YouTubeTikTokInstagramFacebook or Twitter

Podcast: listen to our daily episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotify or search "Full Story" in your favourite app

But some of the “neo-trad” tattoos she got as a teenager no longer seemed to match the heavy American traditional style she now cultivates.

So Carter turned the laser on herself. The laser technician has zapped off three and is working on removing another two tattoos.

Among them is “an old-school perfume bottle with a little squeezer” and some roses she just didn’t like any more. Then there is an image of a businessman in a suit with loose change being thrown at him holding a sign that reads: “We’re all gonna die.”

The laser technician says among her best jobs are removing the tattoo marks that are a legacy of some radiation therapy.

“That’s quite a weighted, emotional experience,” she says.

Everitt says zapping his 29-year-old tattoo will also be a weight removed, both for him and his wife, Sheree.

“She hates tattoos,” Everitt says.

With one exception: the silver fern she had him tattoo on a finger, which he broke and cannot put a wedding ring upon.

“She’s a Kiwi and I lost a bet to her,” he says.

Bets or dares account for 14% of tattoo regret, according to the Removery survey.

Contributor

Joe Hinchliffe

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Queensland to ban Nazi swastika tattoos as part of crackdown on hate symbols
Exclusive: State will join NSW, WA and Tasmania in banning tattoos with hate symbols ‘that seek to invoke fear’

Eden Gillespie

15, Mar, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
‘Insanity’: entangled whale in Queensland sparks renewed calls for shark net removal
Fisheries department says an humpback whale was found ‘in poor health’ but ‘not badly tangled at the Gold Coast

Joe Hinchliffe

23, Aug, 2022 @7:38 AM

Article image
‘I am not a Nazi’: Liberal Democrats candidate ‘deeply regrets’ white supremacist Facebook posts
Anthony Bull cited the works of US terrorist David Lane and wrote ‘victory’ over Indigenous Australians should be celebrated

Eden Gillespie

07, May, 2022 @8:00 PM

Article image
My Jeremy Corbyn tattoo: ‘I have no regrets’
Kierran, a backpacker, had the Labour leader’s face tattooed on his back while travelling in Australia. By Mirander Sawyer

Miranda Sawyer

07, Aug, 2016 @5:00 AM

Article image
'When we broke up, it was painful to look at': the rise of tattoo removal
As more people get tattooed, more are regretting them. But will erasing a teenage mistake or an ex’s name change your life?

Candice Pires

28, Jan, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
‘I hated it the minute it was finished’: bad body art and regrets in a tattoo removal clinic
From Brexit written across a bum to the name of an ex, some tattoos are mistakes that their owners are desperate to erase. But is costly laser treatment worth the pain?

Sirin Kale

06, Jan, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
Queensland police were searching for missing school principal Nathaniel Train when Wieambilla shooting occurred
Six people were killed on Monday night, including two uniformed police officers allegedly ambushed on a remote property

Ben Smee

12, Dec, 2022 @10:39 PM

Article image
From bush to beach: new NRL club offers hope for a region ‘people usually drive through to get to Sunshine Coast’
The Dolphins represent a region quietly shedding its small-town vibe. Can the team provide the area with an identity worthy of the national stage?

Joe Hinchliffe

25, Feb, 2023 @7:00 PM

Article image
Queensland shows what happens when liberals desert the Liberal party
The state Liberal National party’s pursuit of conservative causes has contributed to it being all but banished from Brisbane

Ben Smee

13, May, 2022 @8:00 PM

Article image
‘I’m going to change, why can’t my body?’: tattoo removal grows up
As tattoos become commonplace, so has the once-pointy subject of their removal. But it isn’t all exes’ names and embarrassing ink that motivates people to part with body art

Walter Marsh

10, Sep, 2021 @8:00 PM