Sunday, August 1News For London

Tattoo or not to tattoo: Are we witnessing the death of the body art?

An estimated 1 in 5 British people have at least one tattoo. There are over 2200 tattoo parlours within the UK – compare that with 1800 McDonald’s or 898 Starbucks and it’s clear that Brits have a love affair with tattoos.

Tattoos created by tattoo artists at West London Ink. Photo credit: West London Ink

Tattoos are more popular than ever before with 33% of millennials sporting at least one piece of ink.

But what happens when the tattoo you once loved falls out of favour? When the job you desperately want doesn’t approve of the Chinese writing on your neck? Or when you break up with that partner whose name decorates your chest encased in a red heart?

Tattoo’s are not as permanent as people once thought. Tattoo removal is now almost as financially lucrative as tattoos. But are we really falling out of love with our body art?

The Price of Tattoos

Mathew Whelan, who has legally changed his name to King of Ink Land, King of Body Art, The Extreme Ink- Ite, holds the title of Britain’s most tattooed person and has spent an eye watering £34,000 on tattoo art – even his eyeballs haven’t managed to escape the colourful needle.

For many people King of Ink Land’s extreme look is at best intriguing and at worst shocking.

Surprisingly, King of Ink Land regularly has tattoo removal in order to allow space for new tattoos.

You may wonder if Whelan really needs to remove old tattoo’s to create space for new ones. Well have a little scroll through the gallery of some of his tattoos below.

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This specific type of tattoo removal is more common than you may think. David, from West London Ink, says that laser tattoo removal in order to have another piece of ink is ‘massive’.

No regrets

It is commonly recited by elders that the young will regret the tattoos they chose in their youth and that they should be avoided. It may be true that people who decide to have body art when they are young will not look at the inking as favourably when they are older. However,  a YouGov poll dispelled the myth that most people eventually come to regret their tattoo. 86% of people who had a tattoo did not regret them and wouldn’t have them removed. 

And yet, the demand for tattoo removals within the UK continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. David talks about a few of the most commonly removed tattoos.

Tattoo removal is an expensive business – it is not unusual that the removal of a tattoo costs twice what was originally paid to have the inking. An explanation for why tattoo removal companies are making such large profits is the amount of time it takes to remove a tattoo.

Shauni Burge, form The Harley Street Team at ProSkin Clinic talk about the lengthy and painful tattoo removal process.

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Shauni demonstrates the cooling machine used during the tattoo removal process. Skin can become very hot due to the laser.

Even though tattoo removal may be a painful and expensive process it makes the permanency of getting an inking less scary.

Twitter Tattoos

Contrary to the belief that the increase in tattoo removals spells the end for tattoos, David believes tattoos are more popular now than ever before.

Despite having a much more shocking look than most people with tattoos King of Ink Land says that people have become more appreciative of tattoos as art work. He believes he is a living breathing collection of art. 

David, said that in his youth it was less acceptable and commonplace as it is now. “It was quite rare back then to see someone walking about with sleeves. Now, if someone walked past, walked down the road, you wouldn’t blink an eye.”

Long live tattoos

Tattooing isn’t a new phenomenon and originally didn’t attract any of the stigma that has been common over the past few decades.

Jo Fletcher, is an expert in the origin of tattoos and works in the department of archaeology at the University of York in Britain. She says tattoos as decorative art work can be seen as far back as ancient egypt.

Fletcher describes how the meaning of tattoos has changed over the centuries. “They were originally used as amulets or safeguards against illness/disease etc. whereas today they are largely decorative.”

What is clear is that tattoos have played a fundamental role in human civilisations identity since before the history books and it is very unlikely they will ever fall out of favour. Shauni Burge, believes celebrity culture also plays a crucial role in the continuing popularity of tattoos. 

‘When I was in school everyone wanted the stars like Rihanna or the clouds and angel sleeve like David Beckham.’

This does bring into question the real reason behind why people chose to have tattoos. Have they become less personal and meaningful – are young people especially deciding to have tattoos in order to ‘fit in’ or emulate their celebrity icons?

Shauni believes that tattoos follow trends a phases meaning they are less individual – some people even let tattoo artists decide what they are going to have.

However whatever the reason for getting inked – body art is here to stay even if the tattoos themselves can be removed. Jo Fletcher concluded when asked if tattoos will ever fall out of fashion entirely:

Never – as long as humans have skin they will feel the need to adorn it in some way.”


Video by Charlotte Gannon