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Oops! Be Gone, Tattoo.

More women are getting tattoos these days, but more are also apparently coming to the conclusion that their decision to get their boyfriend's name, a rose or some other image inked into their skin was a mistake. A new survey finds that women are more likely than men to get their tattoos removed, apparently because of the social stigma still associated with a woman getting a tattoo.

An unidentified woman shows her tattoo. (AFP PHOTO/Rob Elliott)

About a quarter of Americans ages 18 to 30 have at least one tattoo, and that is expected to increase to 40 percent in the next few years. And about that proportion of 26- to 40-year-olds already have a tattoo, a trend bemoaned earlier this week by Richard Cohen on the Post's Op-Ed page.

While most people who get a tattoo are happy they did, previous surveys have found about 20 percent end up being dissatisfied and about 6 percent eventually decide to have them removed. To try to get a better sense of why someone decides to undergo that painful procedure, Myrna Armstrong of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and her colleagues surveyed 196 people who went to four dermatology clinics to get tattoos removed in 2006.

Forty-four percent said they got the tattoo because it made them feel unique while 33 percent said it made them feel independent. But more than half of both men and women seeking removal said they decided to get their tattoo removed because they had become embarrassed by it, while 38 percent said the tattoo had lowered their body image. Nearly 40 percent said their decision was motivated by a new job or career, while 37 percent said the tattoo had caused problems with clothing and 25 percent said they felt they had been stigmatized by their body marking.

The most striking finding was the gender difference. Nearly 70 percent of those seeking tattoo removal were women, compared to only 31 percent who were men, the researchers reported this week in the Archives of Dermatology. That's a big change from a similar survey conducted in 1996, when the proportions were almost exactly the opposite.

Women seem to experience more embarrassement, negative comments and other problems. For example, 93 percent of the women said having to hide their tattoo on occasion was a factor in their decision to get it removed, compared to only 20 percent of men. About 40 percent of women endured negative comments at work, in public or in school, versus only 5 percent of men. Similarly, 34 percent of women reported feeling stigmatized by their tattoo, while just 5 percent of men felt that way.

While not endorsing such gender differences, the researchers suggested that women who want tattoos may think about putting it somewhere where it's less noticeable to "reduce cognitive dissonance and to increase their psychological comfort."

What do you think about women getting tattoos? Do you have one? Have you encountered any criticism or embarrassment about it? Anyone thinking about getting one removed?

By Rob Stein  |  July 24, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health  
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