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.


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.”

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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.


Joe Hinchliffe

The GuardianTramp

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