These days, everyone from Samantha Cameron (dolphin on ankle) to Kate Moss (two swallows on lower back) has a tattoo. And the more fashionable body art becomes, the greater the demand for laser tattoo removal. If you've fallen out of love with your 'I Love Mum' design or you've been ditched by the man whose name you inked across your arm, check out our indispensable guide to tattoo removal.
Tattooing involves inserting indelible ink into the dermis - the layer of skin beneath the top layer. Traditional black and blue inks are the easiest to get rid of. Modern inks have improved in recent years to be longer-lasting and retain their colour, which also makes them difficult to remove.
The most effective and safest removal method uses lasers. Short pulses of intense light are directed at the tattoo. These harmless pulses of light pass through the top layer of the skin and are absorbed by the pigment, breaking it into smaller pieces which are removed by the body's immune system. As a result, health is a factor in how effective tattoo removal is - the healthier a person's immune system, the quicker the ink will be broken down.
Think of an elastic band being flicked against the skin - it's a similar sensation. If you've got a low pain threshold, many clinics will offer an anesthetic cream to numb the area.
There's a very small risk of scarring. After treatments, there may be some blistering but this should only last a few days. The area may lighten in colour, but should return to normal within a few months.
The cost of one laser session can range from £50 to £200 depending on tattoo size and colour. A small tattoo might need shorter (and cheaper) sessions of around 30 minutes, while larger tattoos will need longer sessions. Most tattoos need about eight to 10 treatments.
Manufacturers of these creams claim that they work by bonding with tattoo pigment, which is then rejected by the body - coming to the surface in the form of a scab, which then falls away. Another method involves injecting a similar cream directly into the tattooed area, using a machine which works like a tattoo gun. However, some scientists have questioned whether these creams can really work (read this article from Sky News for more details).
Dr David Gault, a plastic surgeon who specialises in laser tattoo removal, warns against using cream tattoo removal treatments. "Microinjection of products which claim to remove tattoo pigment can cause patches of inflammation which persist for months at a time, and until better clinical research is available, caution is advised."
Whatever method you choose, it's important to carefully consider all your options. "There is no official body that effectively regulates tattoo removal. Lasers are the gold standard but they are only as good as the clinician who uses them," says Dr Gault.