Canberrans filled with "tattoo regret" have been left with unsightly scars, burns and patchy skin after they turned to operators who used cheap lasers and chemicals to remove their inkings.
It has prompted calls from clients and industry professionals for tattoo removal to be regulated in the ACT.
Jay Gill, of Higgins, immediately regretted the Chinese symbol she had tattooed on the inside of her wrist as an 18-year-old.
Despite that, she never thought that to have it removed would be the "most excruciatingly painful thing I've experienced in my life".
She first went to a Canberra tattoo parlour to have the inking chemically removed, a process which involved layer upon layer of the skin on her wrist being scraped away to get down to the ink beneath the surface.
The scraping made her arm "bleed profusely" and the only pain relief was numbing cream applied part way through the process.
A clear, chemical solution was then put on the raw skin and it was covered in a medical bandage and left for a week to form a scab.
"As soon as I left my whole forearm blew up from the shock and I had plastic wrap and dried blood on my arm for a week," she said.
The process left her with "massive protruding scars over half the tattoo which were puffy and red". She has now turned to laser removal to undo some of the damage.
"The scar's still there and it will be there forever, but it's fading."
Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgeons spokesman Dr Eddie Roos advised those who wanted a tattoo removed to go to a clinic that was medically supervised, or where the operators were qualified for the equipment they used.
"People just need to really do their homework before they go in for treatment," Dr Roos said.
"Cheaper is not always better, and you should check the affiliation of the operators before you go in.
"And if you go to a beautician or a tattoo parlour, ask what they do if something goes wrong.
"Unfortunately there's no regulation of laser treatments in most states, and that's the problem in the ACT."
An ACT Health spokeswoman said chemical tattoo removal was currently regulated by the same hygiene and infection control guidelines attached to tattooing.
Ms Gill doesn't believe she was adequately warned about the chemical removal process and says there should be better regulation.
"Especially when there's a chance of scarring, there should be some kind of warning.
Laser X Tattoo Removal owner Jeffrey Heimann said operators who offered harmful removal services, including tattoo artists and beauticians, were "turning up on every street corner" in the capital.
"They're either using the wrong equipment, or they're using the equipment wrongly," Mr Heimann said.
Some who specialised in laser removal used cheap tools they bought online from overseas and which hadn't undergone medical testing.
The Kingston business owner used q-switched lasers, which passed through the skin and broke the tattoo ink down into tiny particles which were then removed by the immune system.
Mr Heimann, who trained with manufacturers overseas, said there also needed to be tougher licensing requirements for operators, insurers and product manufacturers.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration said it did not monitor tattoo inks or tattoo removal products; and it only regulated laser equipment used for therapeutic purposes.
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