12 INVESTIGATES: Tattoo regret

Updated: May. 21, 2013 at 11:15 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A survey by USA Today reveals that Richmond is the third most tattoo'ed city in America. Only people in Las Vegas and Miami have more tattoos than we do.

With so much "ink being done" here, there are bound to be mistakes - or at least regrets. That's where Richmond plastic surgeon Dr. Travis Shaw comes in - with his Lutronic "Q-switched laser" that has revolutionized tattoo removal.

As recently as five years ago, laser technology for tattoo removal had a tendency to burn skin, sometimes leaving it discolored or scarred - but no longer.

"It doesn't harm the skin that's around it," said Dr. Shaw. "It only targets the colors that are in the tattoo themselves."

Rick Pilcher is getting all of the tattoos on his hands and fingers removed. When he was turning wrenches as a mechanic in the military, they weren't a problem - but now, in civilian life, sticks of dynamite with the words "short fuse" tend to scare off any potential employers.

"I had to look at other career possibilities, and most professional careers don't like exposed tattoos, so that's why they're going now," said Pilcher.

Amber Ashley didn't doesn't hate the idea of a tattoo on the back of her neck, she just hate the way it came out.

"I was very upset, I was crying," said Ashley. "I wanted a tattoo that was going to mean something to me, that I would love for years to come."

After two sessions, it's faded dramatically. She may have three more before it's gone, but it does have a down-side:

"It's painful during the session, but immediately after it's done, you forget you've had anything done. It feels like a mild sunburn afterwards."

Despite a little pain, the q-switched laser works in a way that few plastic surgeons have seen before.

"It's almost like using a giant eraser, especially with the darker pigments. As I'm watching the beam of light hit the tattoo, I can see and you can actually hear it. You can see the ink starting to disperse itself," said Dr. Shaw.

Fees and determined by size, color and complexity of each tattoo - a modest sized tattoo, that takes under five sessions, can probably be done for under $1,500.

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