It is increasingly big business for Britain’s plastic surgeons who deal with the physical and psychological damage as tattoo patients struggle with the scarring and skin discoloration caused in the effort to remove the intricate designs – and the stress caused by repeated job rejections and the critical judgment of others.

In the past, tattoos were the preserve of sailors and servicemen. Now, most recently, with Peaches Geldof, Angelina Jolie, and David and Victoria Beckham displaying their inky adornments, and even Samantha Cameron, the wife of the Tory leader, flashing a discreet dolphin on her ankle, tattoos have become a must-have accessory.

‘There are three reasons for having a tattoo: first fashion, second to demonstrate you are tough enough to withstand the pain of the needles injecting the ink, and third to demonstrate attachment to a person or club. All three rarely last long, and as the time goes by people start searching for a way to get rid of their tattoo. 

In recent years the advent of surgical lasers has led many private clinics to advertise ‘instant’ tattoo removal. Well, the reality is, nothing is instant when it comes to removing the ink, especially bright colors, from under your skin. The lasers break down the dots of ink in the deeper layers of the skin and convert them into particles small enough to be carried off and disposed of by the immune system. But it is a drawn-out, laborious and risky process.

People don’t realise that tattoos often go splodgy with age. The ink moves about and disperses, the colours become less vibrant. Even if you liked the design in the first place, you might not like it so much when it makes you look like an old sailor. It make take a dozen laser sessions with excruciatingly pain and post-op discomfort to reduce the intensity of a complex tattoo. Removing is the word for ads. The reality is, it is highly unusual to get complete clearance of the design with lasers, and it involves risk of being left with scars and skin damage that can be much uglier than the tattoo you’re trying to get rid of.

In extreme cases you might be looking at a skin graft with the risk of more scarring, because of having to take skin from somewhere else on your body.

There are a few good stories and comments on tattoo in the British Mail Online.