What makes a tattoo bad? Ask the internet, and you’ll see all manner of ink gone wrong: misspellings, lopsided butterflies, names of random exes. Our criteria is simpler: any ink that makes you uncomfortable in your own skin.

“It looked so nice in the sketch, elegant, and it came out a nightmare,” writes one RealSelf member of why she’s getting her back tattoo removed. “I wanted to get it off once it was finished,” writes another. “I went through [a] short depression and then I thought I need to start doing something about it.”

There are plenty of ways to remove tattoos — lasers, dermabrasion, and excision being the most common — and all of them are reviewed on RealSelf. We sorted through the more than 400 reviews from people removing their ink to see what they have to say about the sometimes painful, often expensive, always emotional process. These are the words they most often use to share their stories.

Impermanent Ink: How People Describe Their Tattoo Removals
Graphic by Shelby Evans

Location

Tattoo removal tends to inspire one big question: Where is it? Sleeves pulled the largest share of regrets, mirroring recent a survey of RealSelf doctors. More than half of those surveyed said they most commonly remove tattoos from the arm. A close second? The lower back.

Color and Design

A tattoo’s ink color can make a difference on how successfully it can be removed. That helps explain why ink colors like black come up so frequently in reviews. As for designs, the ones most commonly nixed tend to feature roses, butterflies, and tribal markings. RealSelf doctors see the same; 52 percent of surveyed doctors say tribal tattoos are one of the styles they most frequently remove.

Removal Options

People typically arrive at RealSelf to research their medical options, which helps explain why specific methods of tattoo removal pop up so often in reviews. Laser is most common, followed by PicoSure, an FDA-approved laser that also treats scars and reduces wrinkles.

Emotions

How do people feel about getting a tattoo removed? It’s a mixed bag. The procedure itself is well-reviewed with an 86 percent Worth It Rating, but deciding to have it done is fraught with emotion. Words like “regret” and “mistake” dominate the conversation, likely referring to the ink in question and proving just how personal a decision doing anything to your body is.

Interested in learning more about any of these procedures? Ask a doctor