Two years ago, the mailbox of the Rotterdam tattoo remover Andy Han flooded. Big red blisters, burns, bumpy scars, pigmentation spots: Han received all kinds of photos of mutilations ‘that make you sick’. “I was shocked.”
The reason was a campaign that he conducted with his foundation Regret van Tattoo. The name of the foundation leaves little to the imagination: Han wants to help people who, as he puts it, ‘twice regretting their tattoo’.
That is, the first time of the tattoo itself, the second time of removing it from, for example, a beauty salon or nail studio.
“We have received reactions from people who have ended up at the bottom of society because they can no longer get a job, because of a mutilation in the face, neck or on their hands,” says Han.
One of those people was Diana (54) from Vlaardingen. They put a big tattoo on her upper arm a few years ago. “It was a fantasy tattoo,” she says, “with some curls and a square face in it and a kind of tail on it. I saw the image in a book and thought: this is it.”
But that wasn’t him. She soon regretted it. She saved up for six months for a laser treatment to have the image removed. “I found a beautician on the internet who could do it, it sounded reliable, it had good before and after photos.”
During the treatment Diana became ‘already unwell’, her arm swelled up, the skin turned red and hurt. “She stopped after one half of the tattoo was treated. I should have gone back for the other half, but at home the pain and swelling didn’t go away. Then I thought: this is not good.”
She went back to the parlor for the wound that had developed, but whatever they did in the parlor, it got worse and worse. “In the end I walked around with half a tattoo and a half, intense scar for a long time,” says Diana.
“It was a very bad period. I was ashamed of my new boyfriend, I felt ugly, and on the beach everyone looked at it. And I work in the greenhouses, it is always warm there very quickly, but I didn’t dare to wear a shirt anymore to do.”
Sebastiaan van der Bent cannot say for sure whether there is an increase in the number of regrets, but the dermatologist does see many patients with complications caused by laser tattoo removal. Van der Bent is the founder of the Tattoopoli in Alrijne Hospital in Leiden: a special consultation hour for people who have problems with their tattoos.
Van der Bent emphasizes: a laser treatment is still the best treatment for people who want to have their tattoo or permanent make-up removed, but then it must be done with the right equipment and by a skilled person. “On the one hand I am concerned about laser treatments being done by people who don’t have enough knowledge. On the other hand, I also see more and more people in my doctor’s office using alternative tattoo removal products such as special caustic or caustic creams.”
According to Van der Bent, producers suggest that the cream bites away a piece of your skin, allowing the tattoo ink to run out of the skin. “But I also see severe scars, wounds and infections as a result. So it is especially not the case that people should try it at home, because of all the negative laser stories.”
Van der Bent says that doctors and skin therapists who can safely remove a tattoo are listed in the BIG register. The BIG Act contains rules for healthcare professions. In this way, the law protects patients against incompetent and careless actions.
“But even with a good laser treatment something can sometimes go wrong. The chance is small, but you never know in advance exactly how the skin will react to it.”
In the Netherlands, a bill was submitted in 2016 in which the then minister Schippers (Public Health) called for the removal of tattoos only by doctors. That proposal is still pending.
In Germany, since last year it is only allowed for a certified doctor to remove the tattoo. Dermatologist Sebastiaan van der Bent hopes that legislation will also be introduced in the Netherlands to improve the safety of tattoo removal. And he wants more information to come. “People need to be fairly informed about the procedure of tattoo removal. If you’re told it can be done in one day, that’s just not true.”
Andy Han believes that help should also be provided for victims. Reporters can now send a photo of their tattoo to the Hotline Tattoo Laser Misery. A burns doctor and a plastic surgeon are involved in the foundation, who can tell you whether and how the scar can be made more beautiful.
‘Your skin is precious’
Van der Bent thinks it is good that attention is being paid to this problem. “People need to know what they’re getting into.”
Diana’s tattoo has now been removed by a skilled tattoo remover. But she continues to tell her story. “I want to protect people from making the same mistake as me. Don’t just do business with just anyone. Your skin is precious.”
Below are a few photos of mutilations that the foundation received in the mailbox from reporters. Please note: the images can be experienced as shocking.