Second Skin Laser Tattoo Removal in Edmonton, Alberta, is four walls crowding an undersized room. There is barely enough space for an exhausted artist’s chair, a few pieces of electronics that look like futuristic Shop-Vacs and a sink. There is pop-culture art on the walls and rock music playing overhead. This is where owner Ben Alway erases regret. As more Canadians get tattooed, many decide after the fact that it was, at least partially, if not entirely, a mistake.
Ben Alway is not on a tattoo crusade hell-bent on ridding the world of body art. Quite the contrary is true. He is heavily tattooed himself and chose his profession out of a love for tattoos. “I want people to be happy and proud of the tattoos they have,” proclaims Alway, as only a tattoo enthusiast can. His George Carlin beard mixes perfectly with his George Clooney good-looks. He is dressed in a black, fitted long-sleeve shirt pulled just high enough on the forearms to show colourful tattoos. Second Skin has two types of clients: those who wish to undo what was once symbolic to them and those who paid a poor craftsman to put something permanent on their body. “There are a lot of people out there tattooing that shouldn’t be. I see shitty tattoos every day” says Alway.
Business is so good for Alway; he relocated to Edmonton from Red Deer because of demand. Sure, Alway has zapped his share of alcohol-induced dolphins on the lower-back and tribal designs around the bicep, but Ben is quick to defend those of his clients who unwittingly chose a cut-rate artist to do some of their work, “It’s not tattoos these people are unhappy with; it might be just one specific tattoo”.
Laser tattoo removal gives these tattoo lovers a “do over” on a piece they are less than satisfied with. A lot of the people who come to Second Skin, which is conveniently located in the Urge 2 tattoo studio, are there because they have big plans for the transformation of the ugly duckling on their body. In this case, Alway can be an artist’s best friend. “A big chunk of my business is referred to me by tattoo artists who are telling people to get stuff lightened up so better cover-ups can be done.” More artistic options become available if a bad tattoo is lasered a few times first.
For those looking for a clean slate, the process costs between $50 and $500 per treatment depending on the size of the tattoo. The number of sessions depends on how many layers of ink there are and how an individual’s skin reacts to the laser. Appointments are scheduled eight weeks apart to give the skin ample time to recover. The laser physically breaks down the ink in the skin until it can be absorbed into the lymphatic system. The ink leaves the body in the urine. Alway promises no scarring or health complications if the treated area is treated like any other wound; kept clean and covered.
Kristal Berry, 31, knows the laser’s sting all too well. She is having a wedding ring removed. Her procedure is especially costly and painful because on two occasions, she had the band covered up in an attempt to misdirect her regret. Three layers of ink need to be broken down in order to rid her of the colourful reminder. It will cost Berry more than $500 to have a tattoo removed that cost a total of $150 to be applied. Berry has four other pieces of art on her body that she says she’s “very proud of,” but the wedding band carries bad mojo. Plus, her current boyfriend mentioned that he would “like to put something else there,” Berry says as she rubs the once wedding band, once word “one,” once skull and current Rorschach-looking area on the fourth finger of her left hand.
It is not illegal to make a bad choice, nor is it against any good-taste law for a lesser tattoo artist to deface a human canvas. In either case, Ben Alway can erase your regret; just like he’s erasing his own. Alway is undoing a piece on his shoulder right now, so a new splash of art can go in its place.