Dr. Mathew Avram, director of Massachusetts General Hospital's dermatology, laser and cosmetic center in Boston, says that a change in life circumstances is a clear motivator when it comes to tattoo removal. But he adds that getting a career-killing tattoo removed is not an exclusively female domain.
"It seems like 19 is the magic age when a lot of people are getting tattoos," he says. "Five to 10 years later, maybe you have a wedding, or you're moving up in the world or have children, and you start feeling a little bit funny about that tattoo."
Also, new technologies are making tattoos less permanent than ever. Along with more effective laser removal equipment, some of today's tattoos are even designed to be easily removed. Last year, a company called Freedom 2 developed a permanent tattoo ink designed to be removable with a single laser treatment.
But Avram cautions that even though the technology for the removal of conventional tattoos is improving, it is far from a sure bet.
"It is important for patients to know that certain tattoo inks respond to lasers better than others," he says. "In all cases, tattoo removal requires multiple treatments; it's not a one-shot deal. And sometimes you can't remove the tattoo completely."
For these reasons, Avram says he feels that young people should think twice before opting for permanent body art.
"The take-home point for people is that before someone gets a tattoo, they need to consider all of these factors," Avram says. "Most people, when they get a tattoo, they do it typically as an impulsive decision. Often times, they fairly quickly regret this decision.
"It is very easy to get [a tattoo] placed; it is a much harder, longer and more expensive thing to get rid of a tattoo."
But Myrna Armstrong says she hopes her research won't necessarily dissuade those who want tattoos from getting them.
"I don't want this to be a tattoo-bashing situation at all," she says. "I would say that perhaps instead of putting a tattoo in a very visible spot, you might put it in a spot where you can control whether or not it is seen.
"When people think about the benefits, what people say tattoos are doing for them is making them feel special, making them feel unique. This way you can still have that feeling."