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Ta-ta to the tattoo? The rise and rise of removal

Once a celebrity displayed a 'tramp stamp', thousands wanted one, too – but not anymore

Most fashion faux pas and bad hair cuts are easy to put right. When it comes to tattoos, however, erasing the past is not as simple as ditching those ill-advised bags, sunglasses or shoes. The tattoo removal industry is, however, burgeoning, thanks in part to the legions of women who flocked to copy their celebrity heroines such as Angelina Jolie and Cheryl Cole and have so-called "tramp stamps" imprinted on their lower backs.

Plastic surgeons say they are now inundated with women who find that the tattoos don't look so good 10 years on, especially if the years have been unkind weight wise.

"Tattoo removal is on the up," said Nigel Mercer, a consultant plastic surgeon and president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. "It's not because a greater percentage of people are dissatisfied with their tattoos, but because the number of people, especially women, having tattoos has skyrocketed in the past decade. Lots of celebrities have got tattoos so they are thought of as being cool. Women who have a tattoo in their twenties find that after 10 years, and having kids, the tattoo is not as crisp any more, and there is now a surge in their removal."

Stuart Harrison, director of Oxford Skin Clinics, said business is booming. "We started the company 18 months ago with just one in Oxford, and now we've got 10 in the UK and several in continental Europe, which shows you how much demand there is for our services," he said.

"We get all types of people. Often we get those who want to get into the police or armed forces and can't because of their tattoos. Recently I had a client who wanted to get into the police, but they wouldn't let him in because he had a tattoo of an England flag on his arm."

There are now new methods of tattoo removal. Oxford Skin Clinics use a cream to draw the ink to the surface. Mr Mercer, however, advises that laser removal is the best method, if not the cheapest. It is certainly the preferred means for celebrities, who, after leading the tattoo charge, are now queuing up to have them removed.

Celebrity tattoos

Megan Fox

There are a number of things to consider before permanently marking your body. Such as: are you sober? Is the tattooist sober? Megan Fox failed to tick the second of these boxes when she went to a stoned tattooist who etched an abominable tribal design into her arm which she had removed in 2007. Fortunately she put more thought into having "Brian" tattooed on to her pelvis in 2005. It is the name of her long-term on-off boyfriend Brian Austin Green. Asked what she would do if they split, she replied that she'd name one of her children Brian.

Katie Price & Peter Andre

Poor old Katie and Peter. With their public love gone sour in a public way, the old saying "tattoo in haste, repent at leisure" has never been so apt. Peter showed his "pure love" for Katie, by having her name inked on his ring finger in 2007. It is now very visible. Katie, for her part, was spotted leaving an Ibiza tattoo parlour in June with a dark square of ink on her wrist where the name of her husband had been printed just three months earlier. Alas for these star-crossed lovers, they only have to pick up a tabloid to be reminded of each other.

Nicole Ritchie

Tattooing is easy, right? Any fool could do it? Well, not quite any fool. Lionel Ritchie's daughter has half a tattoo, the result of an accident while playing with a tattoo needle gun at her friend's parlour. Along with her other nine pieces of body art, the former best friend of Paris Hilton is second only to Angelina Jolie in a list of the most heavily tattooed celebrities.

One of them is the inscription "virgin" on her wrist. This apparently refers to her star sign of Virgo rather than to anything else. The young socialite also has a rosary tattooed around her ankle and a cross on her foot.

Denise Richards & Charlie Sheen

Nobody wants to see a photograph of their lover's ex-partner still in its frame on the TV set. So the name of an ex-lover emblazoned on the skin is equally likely to prove a passion killer. Who can blame Charlie Sheen's wife, Brooke Mueller, then, when she ordered him to erase the name of his ex-wife, Denise Richards? Richards and Sheen had their names tattooed on each other when they married in 2002. Four years later it was all over. Richards covered up Sheen's name by turning it into a fairy design. If only real life were as simple.

Angelina Jolie

Jolie takes the title of most heavily tattooed celebrity, with a reported 12. Considering the kind of appeal the actress brings to the screen, most of these have to be covered up by make-up as she doesn't tax the wardrobe people too much. One tattoo that doesn't appear in its original form is her tribute to her ex-husband, Billy Bob Thornton. The tattoo, on her upper left arm, was replaced with the co-ordinates of her children's birthplaces after the couple divorced in 2002. Thornton, replaced Jolie's name with an angel.

50 cent

In the macho world of hip hop a body emblazoned with tattoos adds to that bad-boy gang aura, which shifts units. Graduating into film is a bit like getting your hair cut after university: for some it's time to be presentable. Hours in make-up was not for this US rapper, however. Instead, the rebooting of Curtis Jackson required hours of laser surgery. He has retained some of his favourite designs, however, with his signature "South Side 50" back piece remaining intact. It proved to be a painful but positive procedure for the star, who captured roles in the upcoming movies Jekyll and Hyde and Twelve as a result.

Tommy Lee

Who, in their right mind, would have a swastika tattoo? Apart from a Nazi thug? Step forward Tommy Lee, drummer of 1980s US rockers Motley Crue. The tattoo was visible during a court case and his lawyer advised him that this Hindu symbol of peace was no longer viewed in that light due to its association with Adolf Hitler – and so might prejudice the jury against him. Lee did the only thing he could and had it removed, later describing it as "a stupid tattoo obtained several years ago". The word "Mayhem" remains on his stomach.