SEBRING – When Ross Edmunds first entered Skin Deep Tattoo, he said the red, orange and black tattoos already on his arm looked more like floating octopuses than flames.
Under the tattoo needle and ink of Skin Deep owner and artist Drew Caridi, Edmunds, 30, a former Sebring firefighter who is now in law school at Florida International University, is hoping to make his tattoos more resemble art than graffiti.
He is 10 to 12 hours into the effort to modify the tattoos from “flames” into dragons that stretch from his elbows to shoulders, According to a recent poll by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, there are more people in the U.S. with tattoos than 10 years ago. And with the increase of skin art, mistakes and regrets are becoming more commonplace -- and so is the option of using laser technology to remove then.
Unfortunately for those with second thoughts about their lovers’ names on their thighs, an offensive image tacked on in an inebriated stupor or permanently-etched shoddy artistry, getting “tats” properly removed in Highlands County may not be possible. The nearest licensed clinics for surgical laster removal appears to be as far as Tampa, Orlando and Lakeland.
As the popularity of tattoos grow, mistakes are made and minds often change on the desire to keep an image for a lifetime.
Tattoo removal varies in the U.S. every year. According to a survey of dermatologists and plastic surgeons by The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. 40,801 people had laser tattoo removal in 2011 and it increased to almost 60,000 in 2012.
In 2013, removal fell to 45,224, the survey said.
The number of people who say they or someone in their household has a tattoo increased from 21 percent to 40 percent since 1999, according to a recent poll by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal.
Since removal isn’t an option locally, those seeking a new look for their body art are turning to tattoo artists to rework or totally redo what has already been inked.
“We’ve had to do a lot of work to cover them up; they had to be gone over with a fine needle because there’s a dark tattoo underneath, so to cover it takes a lot longer,” said Edmunds, who has a total of five tattoos, including a dragon, a cross on his back and tiger on a shoulder.
It’s customers who have a significant amount of work, like Edmunds, that has made getting a laser removal equipment and a license to operate it imperative, said Jessie Vega, owner of Almighty Ink Tattoos, 4141 N. U.S. 27.
Vega, who has owned and worked at Almighty Ink since 2008 and as a tattoo artist for 22 years, said for the past six months, he’s been looking into getting licensed to do laser removal. He said he would have get the medical and procedural training in Colorado or Nevada.
Lasers can only be sold to doctors, and states differ on whether those who operate the machines must be nurses or medical assistants, A laser breaks the ink in the tattoo into tiny bits and the body absorbs them over six to eight weeks.
Florida state law stated only physician assistants, nurse practitioners and physicians can fire a laser
“That’s a goal of mine, is for my shop to eventually be able to do the laser surgery,” said Vega, whose wife, Lisa, is the parlor owner.
In the meantime, Vega’s staff keep busy making better out of others’ past mistakes.
Almighty Ink artist Leif Smith said a man in his 30s recently came into the shop with his right arm “picked and poked” with a poor image of a rose.
He said the 2-inch-by-2-inch tattoo was “kitchen magician” – shoddy and amateur. He turned it into a 4-inch-by-4inch larger rose restored with new color and new features.
“We just try to get people done right the first time instead of leaving it up to us to fix. It’s like they want us to become Houdini and make them totally disappear,” he said.
With the popularity of the Spike TV show “Tattoo Nightmares,” the art of improvement is high and so are the costs.
Vega said redesign and modifications can run from $180 to over $400 depending on the design. Likewise, depending on the figure, Caridi charges from $50 up to $600 for redesigns and modifications.
Skin Deep Tattoo artist Gavonie “Gio” Amica said Highlands County needs certified specialists in tattoo removal but it’s difficult and expensive to become one.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services considers laser tattoo removal to be a medical procedure; tattoo removal laser equipment is classified as medical devices and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
New laser instruments can cost from $1,500 to more than $10,000.
“It’s just too much for liability reasons. You’re working with a laser and you’re basically burning someone’s skin off,” said Amica. “Really, you need to think about it (getting a tattoo) for a few weeks and come back before you do it.”