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Tattoo removal biz booms as NYers erase their ink

Tattoo removal

Tattoo removal Credit: Getty Images/Photo illustration

New Yorkers' body-art remorse is translating into big dollars for city businesses.

From anonymous twentysomethings to big-name athletes, New Yorkers account for 10% of the revenue in the burgeoning tattoo removal industry, which has grown 20.9% during the last five years, according to IBISWorld, a market research group.

Until this generation, removing a tattoo meant suffering such through painful techniques such as salt scrubbing or skin grafting. But thanks to nanosecond laser technology, tattoo removal services are popping up in increasing numbers, with approximately a dozen such businesses in Manhattan today - or about one for every seven tattoo parlors.

"I happened to be in the right place at the right time," said Carol O'Brien, a cosmetologist who owns the midtown boutique Smooth. She went from performing laser hair removal 10 years ago to getting three-quarters of her business from the inked and repentant today.

One such client is 21-year-old Karen Pinargote, of Woodside, whose chosen path in the Marine Crops had two obstacles: a lightning bolt behind her left ear and a star on her right middle finger that lingered from her unruly teenage years - and that violated regulations about tattoos being visible during a military salute.

"I didn't know where my path was going at the time," said Pinargote said of the two designs she got while she was in high school. "I was very young and naive."

One-third of Americans between the ages of 18 and 45 have at least one tattoo, and 16% of them regret it, surveys show.

The removal process can be painful and bloody, requiring about 10 visits that usually dwarf the cost of the original tattoo. Despite its drawbacks, tattoo removal is booming because the "science and [the] demand have met," said Inked Magazine publisher Rocky Rakovic.

"The proliferation of tattoos starting in the early '90s begat plenty of ink on people not ready for tattoos," Rakovic added. "To service that market, science has been honing laser removal for these folks - now older and with some money - for cosmetic procedures."

Still, many New Yorkers are OK with their body art.

"I saw an article about a guy who got swastikas removed from his face," said Zachary Miller, 41, of the Bronx, who has about 20 tattoos. "But other than that, why get them in the first place?"

(with Michael Cunniff) 

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