UK Survey - One Third Regret Their Body Art Tattoo

by Andrea Darby - Master Medical Tattooist & Industry Educator
Tattoo Regret

A recent survey conducted by Dermatologists at the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust in the UK found that close to one in three regretted having their body art tattoo.

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The results of a survey conducted by Dermatologists at the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust in the UK was recently published in the British Journal of Dermatology, the Dermatologists undertook a questionnaire survey to investigate the incidence of satisfaction and regret relating to tattoos.

The findings of the survey would be of great concern to health professionals and the tattoo industry within the United Kingdom and other countries should consider the relevance of the findings within their own locations.

The authors Dr. A. Aslam MBBCh & Dr. C.M. Owen MBChB received 615 completed surveys and narrowed their sample to 580 people who were evaluated regarding their tattoos, they found that overall 31% of those surveyed regretted having had a tattoo. Men who were surveyed were almost twice as likely as women to regret having their tattoo, and men who had their first tattoo before age 16 were three times more likely to regret the decision.

The women who were surveyed were found to be less likely to regret their decision than the men particularly women who were over the age of 21 when they had their first tattoo.

Survey questions included, whether the tattoo was conducted by a professional or amateur artist, how long it had been since their first tattoo, how many tattoos they had, where the tattoo was located on their body, if they still liked the tattoos, if they regretted their tattoos, and if they would have tattoos removed if they had the opportunity.

Close to half of those surveyed (47%) had between 2-5 tattoos, and 31% had more than 5 tattoos, the most commonest locations were arms (40%), back (25%), abdomen (15%), and head / neck (15%). About one in four of the participants had their first tattoo before they were 16 and 45% received their first tattoo between the ages of 18 and 25. Overall, 213 out of the 580 who were evaluated regretted having their tattoos, 143/300 men (48%) and 70/280 women (25%).

Those who received their first tattoo before the age of 16 were most likely to regret the decision 76/139 (55%).

The incidence of regret decreased as age at which the person received their first tattoo increased;

  • between the ages of 17 to 20 regret level was 87/240 (36%)
  • between the ages of 21 to 40 regret level was 49/191 (26%)
  • over the age of 40 regret level was 3/10 (30%)

However, the longer the time frame was from first receiving the tattoo the more likely the recipient was to regret the decision for both men and women, or in other words the longer a person had a tattoo the more likely they were to regret having it.

Most of those who were surveyed had their tattoos applied by professional tattoo artists (87%) and were less likely to regret their tattoos (32%) compared to those who regretted having had tattoos applied by amateurs (66%).

The easy availability of home tattoo kits on the internet and the number of unlicensed amateur tattooists (‘scratchers') who were untrained and not subject to health and safety regulations was a growing concern, the authors commented.

The authors said "It may be time to consider a health education program targeting those under the age of legal consent and emphasising the risks of scarring, disease transmission, permanency, effects on employment and likelihood of regret".

Richard Griffith from the College of Human and Health Sciences, Swansea University United Kingdom has expressed concern previously in his publication Time to repeal the Tattooing of Minors Act 1969, regarding the incidence of underage tattooing within the United Kingdom. Griffith presumably felt that ensuring that those juveniles who would undergo tattooing regardless of the law should at least have access to qualified tattooists providing services under hygienic conditions. That suggestion would no doubt be quite controversial and some might argue that based on the results of the survey by Dr. A. Aslam & Dr. C.M. Owen there may be an argument to raise the legal age of consent for tattooing.

Some salient points for the wider industry are that tattoo regret appears to be a little less likely if;

  • The tattoo was provided by a professional tattooist
  • The person was above the age of legal consent at the time of tattooing
  • The decision to have a tattoo is delayed at least until the recipient is over the age of 21

There are a variety of reasons why the study may not have direct relevance to the Cosmetic & Medical Tattoo industry such as the average age of the client, the reasons for tattooing, the type of services provided, the durability of the tattoo etc. However it is still important to note the results of the survey and pay attention to the issues raised by the authors.


Date of most recent revision: 26/07/2013 (mutatis mutandis)
Original publication date: 26/07/2013

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