The Untattoo: It'll Be a 'Huge Business;' Laser is for Those Changing Their Mind

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Scott Williams tightened his jaw and stared at the ceiling as a pulsing beam of light stabbed at the tattoo on his left arm.

How he got the heart-shaped tattoo and why he was at a medical clinic having it removed Tuesday is a story he is ready to erase. Doing that, however, will require a few more sessions under the $280,000 laser that Dr. David Whiteman aimed at the patient’s bicep.

Whiteman performed the treatment using a recently designed multi-wavelength laser that can undo colors previously considered indelible. Tattoo removal is a growing part of the plastic surgeons practice.

“It’s going to be a huge business,” Whiteman said. “So many people are walking around with tattoos they regret.”

Williams, 36, got his tattoo in a fit of rebellion while in confinement.

“You do crazy things when you’re in jail,” Williams said “I got it from a professional tattoo artist who happened to be in jail.” The process Williams described was about as unsanitary as spoiled salmon. Someone sneaked a large safety pin into the jail to use as a needle, and the inmates melted a black chess piece to make the ink, said Williams, a fitness trainer, dancer and Marine.

Williams got his girlfriend’s name, Sandra, tattooed in a ribbon flowing across a heart. The doctor has heard countless tales of men wanting names of former girlfriends removed from their skin. But this tattoo has an added twist,

“Believe it or not, I’m still with the same girl,” said Williams, who has two children with her. The problem, he said, is that during a temporary breakup, he went to a tattoo parlor and had her name crossed out. The relationship healed but the message on his arm was a mess. “The whole thing has just got to go,” Williams said.

He paid $30 to strike the name out and now is paying $235 a session to have it erased. Dr. Whiteman said tattoo removal takes about five sessions, scheduled months apart. Williams still has a few visits to go.

“That’s enough,” Williams told the doctor who had zapped the heart and the first letter. “Let me just finish up those lines,” Whiteman responded. But Williams couldn’t take any more a the stinging sensation that hit his arm with each click of the laser. He left the clinic with a bandaged and bloody tattoo that still says “Andra.”

Luckily, Williams has a black tattoo which is easiest to erase, Whiteman said the latest lasers use various wavelengths to attack different colors, he said. But some colors, such as red, require more treatments and there is no cure for the aquamarine color of those mermaids on old sailors and ankle sized dolphins that sorority sisters get on spring break.

“That dolphin is there for life,” the doctor said. Or at least until the next technologic breakthrough.