PLASMA PULSE: Dan Hickson uses laser light to remove an unwanted tattoo. Photo Troy Baker D8758-061

THOUGH not the most tattooed people on the planet, New Zealanders have a love affair with skin modification that can sometimes go wrong.

That is why Whakatane tattoo artist Dan Hickson provides laser tattoo removal and cover-ups from Evolution Ink on The Strand

“It’s a service that’s pretty hard for most people to access, that’s why I started doing it here in Whakatane,” Mr Hickson said.

Public discourse around tattoo removal increased recently when Mark Cropp made headlines.

His facial tattoo of the word “Devast8” in bright red and black lettering was cited as the reason he was unable to find employment. Mr Hickson said Mr Cropp’s was an extreme case and a cover up would only have a limited effect.

“We see a lot of people with pretty average-looking tattoos come through for cover-ups.

Their options are limited by how dark and how bad the tattoo is,” he said.

“Sometimes the needle goes too deep and it spreads out underneath the skin. If you try to put something over top of that it won’t show through because skin can only hold so much ink.”

He said more radical measures would be needed in that type of situation.

“Laser removal is a good solution for that because it can significantly lighten a tattoo or get rid of it altogether,” he said; “If (Mr Cropp) had kept up the laser sessions, it would have gotten lighter and lighter.”

The science behind tattoo removal is based on the body’s natural ability to remove foreign matter.

“Ink molecules are too big for the skin to absorb, that’s why it’s permanent.

“But when laser light hits the ink, it breaks it into smaller molecules and gives your body the chance to absorb them,” he said.

“Older inks have a higher metal content, and it has a better shattering effect from the laser light so you find people who got their tattoos back in the ‘60s and ‘70s get really good results.”

Statistically, New Zealand is not even in the list of top 20 most-tattooed countries – with only 20 percent of respondents saying they had at least one. Italy has the most tattooed population at 48 percent, followed by Sweden with 47 percent.

Mr Hickson said though there may only be a small number of people who wanted to have tattoos removed, when they did it was for good reason.