Our bodies are a tattoo canvas? Years later, some crave an eraser

Removals at metro Atlanta clinic stir relief, nostalgia and more
Rob Eskew gets a tattoo removed at Removery Studio in Sandy Springs. The process typically takes several appointments. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Rob Eskew gets a tattoo removed at Removery Studio in Sandy Springs. The process typically takes several appointments. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

They quietly drift in, from all walks, hoping to erase a part of themselves they had intended to be permanent.

A girlfriend’s name. Phrases once empowering, but no longer so. Botched cosmetic fixes. Misspellings. Odd shapes, designed under the influence of too much alcohol late at night.

At a clinic in a Sandy Springs shopping center, they try to expunge drawings and words that no longer feel right.

As any number of mothers have warned: People change. And so do their aging tattoos.

So, in they come. Young college graduates, middle-aged businessmen, nurses and store clerks. Some have lots of tattoos. Others, just one.

For some, the removal is skin deep. For others, it travels much deeper…

Rob Eskew leans back in a chair like you’d see at a dentist’s office, wearing protective glasses.

A technician with a hand-held wand for a laser makes brief passes over a tattoo on his left bicep.

Eskew sounds like a kid eating red hots candy.


The tattoo was supposed to look like a gash in his skin, with human skulls bursting from it. From the moment he got it on his 18th birthday, it didn’t look like what he had told the tattoo artist he wanted.

“I hated it for 20 years,” says Eskew, owner of a chain of car care shops.

Change goes both ways. He recently had “11:11″ inked on his wrist to honor the time each morning his mom texts him. “It’s like good luck,” he says…

Rob Eskew shows one of his tattoos during his removal appointment at Removery in Sandy Springs. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

icon to expand image

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

For thousands of years, body engravings have been used around the world to convey beauty, stories and status. They have surged in the U.S. over the last couple of decades. Nearly 40% of U.S. adults have at least one tattoo, according to an October online survey among 1,044 people by The Harris Poll for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

With so much ink flowing, some people are having second thoughts.

About one in five with tattoos have had one removed or are in the process of doing so, according to the poll. And more say they are at least somewhat likely to have one eliminated in the future…

Charlotte Sullivan often works on tattoos involving language mishaps.

“People think something is Japanese and it is actually Mandarin,” says Sullivan, who plies her trade at Removery, a national chain of tattoo removal outlets, including this one on Roswell Road.

She had a German phrase tattooed on her body, a nod to her familial roots. But the word for love, Liebe, had an extra letter, rendering it not quite right.

Sullivan has another, more sprawling tattoo she’s not particularly proud about. It includes a Pacman-like maze and, below it, a not-quite-identifiable shape. “Is that supposed to be Bart Simpson’s head on your arm?” she’s been asked.

“I have no idea,” she says. The design was the handiwork of a friend who scribbled it on a bar napkin. Sullivan has had the whole thing faded with lasers and hopes to cover it with a new tattoo.

Removing a tattoo typically involves a laser that shatters the ink, allowing the body’s immune system to absorb it over time. Dermatologists do such work, but in Georgia, so do certified laser practitioners who aren’t doctors.

It often takes far longer and costs much more to remove a tattoo than it does to add one. Treatments sometimes last years. The pain levels vary. Sullivan likens it to getting snapped over and over with a hot rubber band….

Tashayla Solomon gets a tattoo removed by laser specialist Shawn Brown at Removery in Sandy Springs. The tattoo was in sloppy script. She is having it removed. She plans to have the tattoo redone better later. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

icon to expand image

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Attorney Michael Hanson has lived for nearly 40 years with the design choices he made as a 15-year-old: tattoos on his arms of a serpent, an eagle skull with a feather behind it, a wizard and a skeleton wearing an Uncle Sam outfit à la the Grateful Dead band.

“Artifacts of a misguided youth,” he says at his removal appointment.

He was nostalgic about them and the younger him they represented. But eventually even that appeal faded.

For much of his work life, he has hidden them under long sleeves and sports coats. He sweated through law firm summer events outdoors.…

Some tattoos are harder to cover up.

Maria Paradisis got cosmetic eyebrows 15 years ago, only to watch in embarrassment as her tattooed brown brows eventually turned blue. She is an emergency room doctor and wears a medical mask at work, making her eyebrows one of the few parts of her face that people see.

It’s something she thinks about every day.

“I need this fixed,” she says…

Jeremy Meyers was in love. So he got his girlfriend’s name, “Sarah,” injected into the skin on his left cheekbone.

She left him before the tattoo had healed. A more recent girlfriend informed him that she couldn’t stand to look at his face with that name on it.

He also is getting rid of a big image on his head that’s a favorite of one of his young sons. What the child doesn’t know is that it’s one of many Meyers says he had inked by fellow inmates to mark him as a member of a notoriously violent gang.

Now 30, and no longer locked up, he says he’s a different person.

“Tattoos are like your cover story.” But once you change, “you have to walk around with that same cover story.”

He recently began free treatments as part of a Removery program covering some tattoos on former inmates, gang members and survivors of human trafficking as well as inked hate symbols.

Tattoos he plans to keep: the names of his kids, words of faith and the outline of one of his son’s hands at 18 months old…

Melissa Walsh poses in Kennesaw for a photo with her tattoos, many of which she wants to keep. But Walsh is in the process of removing two of her tattoos, one on her hand and wrist that says "just survive" and another on her back right shoulder.  CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

icon to expand image

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Melissa Walsh has begun tattoo removal treatments. The phrase “Just Survive,” which runs along the base of her thumb and up her forearm, is fading.

She says she is a survivor of sexual assault and that when she was younger she needed a highly visible reminder “to keep going.”

Now 27, she is about to graduate from college and works as a coffee shop manager. She is in a much better place, with more joy in her life than she expected.

Walsh says the tattoo invites questions at inopportune times that she doesn’t always want to answer.

“I just want to share my story on my own terms. It felt like I had to trauma dump to a stranger,” she says.

As she shares her story with a reporter, she cries…

Melissa Walsh poses for a photo with one of her tattoos that is beginning to fade with laser treatments. The tattoo says "Just Survive." CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

icon to expand image

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Yahia Tellat got his wife’s first name tattooed in tiny letters on the skin under his wedding ring. That was six years ago. He’s regretted it almost ever since. He kept it secret from all but his wife and brother-in-law.

He says tattoos are against his Muslim faith. And that the way to show you love someone is not by ink on skin but by actions.

In the Sandy Springs waiting room, he covers the tattooed hand with his other hand. He says he does the same when he takes his ring off to take a shower or when he is in a sauna.

“I want it gone,” the 32-year-old tells a sales consultant.

That’ll cost $1,090. Cash, credit or monthly payments.

He doesn’t hesitate.

“I want to get started today.”

Tattoo Removal:

Lasers have emerged as the primary tool in the United States. The technology in the last 20 years has improved to be more effective and less painful, according to those in the industry.

Results vary depending on factors such as immune system response and the kind and color of ink used in the original tattoo. Costs often range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Some tattoos may not be possible to fully remove or take longer to eliminate than initially estimated. Often customers only want the tattoos faded enough that another image can be tattooed in the same space.

According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, some tattoos can be safely and effectively removed. But “some level of scarring or skin color variation is a strong possibility,” according to a page on the society’s website. Infection and raised scarring are also possible.