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Ink Me Some Green: Tattoos Spell Money


The tattoo industry is reportedly the sixth-fastest-growing retail business in the United States.

Montana Miller has a tattoo of a cat's paw on her sternum. Her boyfriend thinks it's sweet.

The tattoo is her way of keeping alive the memory of Shadow, a childhood friend, who died about 15 years ago.

"I inked Shadow's paw, took it to a tattoo parlor and had the image tattooed on the center of my chest," says Miller, an Assistant Professor of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. "Many people like to feel that their aesthetic choices have integrity. That's how I feel about my tattoo."

Thanks to tattoos, outlaw culture has gone mainstream, and skin art is shared by rock stars, Wall Streeters and soccer moms.

The tattoo industry is reportedly the sixth-fastest-growing retail business in the United States. It has trade and professional associations, the National Tattoo Association and the Alliance of Professional Tattooists.

"A soccer mom may have a butterfly tattooed on her ankle – something that's perceived as sexy," Miller says. "Licensing requirements have removed a lot of the stigma and perception of risk from tattoos and it's become much like other body decoration – dyeing your hair or painting your fingernails. People now think of their tattoos as a tasteful expression of their identity."

Aesthetics aside, tattoos have become big business.

Need a Solid Business Plan?

An online survey conducted by Harris Interactive in 2003 found that 16% of Americans, or about 48 mln, have at least one tattoo. Among those aged 25 to 29, the number jumps to 36%. Twenty-eight percent of Americans aged 30 to 39 years old have at least one tattoo.

34% said they felt sexier with a tattoo. Interestingly, 42% of tattooed women felt this way compared with 25% of men. 57% of respondents said they think those with tattoos are more rebellious, but only 29% of those with tattoos think they're rebels. Get this: 5% said their tattoo made them feel smarter.

So, listen up, aspiring entrepreneurs, you can't catch the cultural wave and launch your dream tattoo shop without a solid business plan.

Don't sweat the time, money and brain wattage needed to draft your business plan because the Internet is awash with off-the-shelf stratagems that can be yours for as little as $37. This suggests a market top, or an unsophisticated target audience, eh?

The plug for one plan roughs out the math: Three tattoos a day at $125 each generates $1,875 per five-day week, or about $90,000 a year – better than a chemical engineer ($64,000), police sergeant ($49,800) or truck driver ($35,360). Holy cow!

Other plans suggest stashing $5,000 to $10,000 in the bank before launching your tattoo biz. This will pay for needed equipment – about $2,000 – rent and advertising. But, an ad for one business plan helpfully suggests, you might be able to sucker the local poopsheet into writing a nifty article about your new business. (Suggested headline and kicker: Upstart business needles soccer moms/Industry inks hefty return on investment.)

The tattoo sector is generating a lot of buzz, if Internet message boards are a gauge. One woman asks, "My boyfriend is interested in opeining (sic) a tattoo business. Is there anybody know how much is a start-up cost?"

The only response: "I would say put the bong down – it isn't going to happen. There are already enough tattoo shops open. Why not have him get off the couch and become a tattoo artist first?"

If the market for tattoo parlors is saturated, perhaps the industry needs to recast itself.

The Evolving Tattoo

What the world demands now: A tattoo that requires only a few strokes to morph into another form or word much like Transformers, the wildly popular children's toy and star of the big screen.

A quick-change tattoo would have saved actress Angelina Jolie the hassle of removing her under-the-skin inked pledge of undying love for Billy Bob Thornton when they tore up the sheets and called it Splitsville.

At the time, the Academy Award winner said she'd never again have her sweetie's name carved on her tukus. Well, some people apparently never learn because a blog devoted the pouty-lipped actress reports that she's had a tattoo touting current flame Brad Pitt etched in an "intimate place." That'll teach the paparazzi!

Tattoo, Not Taboo

Kids eventually grow up (the jury is still out on movie stars) and discover that what was cool as a teenager is an embarrassment as a young adult. This is gravy for dermatologists. The cost of removing an elaborate tattoo can run as high as several thousand dollars, but some ads pitch the process at $39 an inch.

"Tattoos have become hip and are glamorized," says Dr. Jeffrey L. Rand, a board certified internist and dermatologist who specializes in tattoo removal. "In the chic ads for clothing stores, many models have tattoos. Athletes and movie stars have tattoos. There's a lot of peer pressure and some people just go out and get one – we've got whole new segments of society with tattoos, including soccer moms."

Rand has offices New York and South Florida. He estimates that he's removed 12,000 to 15,000 tattoos during the 12 years he's specialized in the procedure. His website,, discusses the procedure in detail.

The threat of hepatitis and AIDS forced tattoo parlors to clean up for safety reasons and many now exude middle-class virtue as stoutly as nationwide fast food chains.

Rand says it's difficult to generalize about who wants to have a tattoo removed, but most share a common reason: Their lives have changed. For example, a stripper becomes a model and finds her once enticing tattoo hinders her career; a Wall Street heavy hitter discovers his trophy wife disdains tattoos, especially one linked to a previous flame; service companies won't hire people with visible tattoos because it damages their public image and soccer moms just don't want to explain their wild and misspent youth to their suburban kids.

Got a nasty nekkid lady that's got to go? Plan to make more than one appointment with the doc. Like any medical procedure, there can be no guarantee of success. Removal depends on the type and color of ink, depth and density of ink and the location of the tattoo.

A tattoo is a permanent design created by inserting pigment into the dermal layer of the skin through ruptures in the skin's top layer, but lasers do a good job of getting rid of one of your less-than-stellar ideas.

Short, intense pulses of light don't harm the top layers of skin, but are absorbed by the tattoo pigment. The burst of light blasts the pigment into microscopic particles that are then removed by the body's "scavenger cells" over several weeks. Various wavelengths of light are used to remove different colors of pigment. Black pigment absorbs all wavelengths and is therefore easier to remove than, say, green, which absorbs less light.

The laser doesn't damage the skin's normal pigment, but the removal process has been compared with having hot drops of bacon grease flicked on your back. But what the heck, consider the discomfort of getting a tattoo training for its removal.

Sophisticated lasers needed to remove tattoos cost several hundred thousand dollars each.

"It's a multi-step procedure," Rand says.

Unlike, say, deciding to get a tattoo when you're drunk.
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