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A detailed view of an enthusiast's tattoo at the London Tattoo Convention in Tobacco Dock on Sept. 27 in London. More than 300 tattoo artists from around the world showcased their body art at the convention. / Oli Scarff Getty Images

A fresh Leo zodiac sign inked under his arm, 18-year-old Frank Sorrentino walked out of the tattoo parlor feeling good about his decision. Almost 15 years later, the New York man says he wasn't really thinking how long that zodiac sign would be around.

"I have tattoos on other parts of my body, but that zodiac sign did not go with the other pieces," Sorrentino says. "It just looked corny."

The number of people who say they or someone in their household have a tattoo increased from 21% to 40% since 1999, according to a recent poll by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal.

As the popularity of tattoos spreads, there have been some mistakes - and it's not just the average person making them.

Hollywood couples have long taken the plunge into declaring their love with a tattoo that may last longer than their relationships. Britney Spears and Kevin Federline got his-and-her rolling dice on their arms, Rihanna and Chris Brown and Angelina Jolie had each other's names inked (Jolie has had hers removed).

"People come in with names tattooed on themselves that are no longer relevant to them," says Roy Geronemus, director of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. "We get young mothers who want a different image of themselves, and even professionals going into the workforce."

Some even have their older tattoos removed to free up space for a new tattoo.

"People come in with horrible tattoos that are so dark we can't fix them," says Mike Martin, a former Navy SEAL and owner of Flesh Skin Grafix, a tattoo parlor in Imperial Beach, Calif. "I'll tell them to get a few laser treatments to lighten the area so we can work on it again."

Tattoo removal fluctuates in the U.S. every year - 40,801 people underwent laser tattoo removal in 2011, but that jumped to almost 60,000 the following year, then fell to 45,224 in 2013, according to a survey of dermatologists and plastic surgeons by The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

For those looking for removal options, there is one clear winner, says Suzanne Kilmer, dermatologist and founder of Laser & Skin Surgery Center in California.

"Lasers are pretty much the only option," Kilmer says. "No one really cuts them out anymore, and abrading the skin is only for very small tattoos."

Lasers can only be sold to doctors, and states differ on whether those who operate the machines must be nurses or medical assistants, according to Kilmer. She says the main thing is finding a laser that works with the colors in the tattoo.

The laser breaks the ink in the tattoo into tiny particles so the body can absorb them. Treatments are spaced six to eight weeks apart. Kilmer says side effects from the laser usually are minimal, but some can experience blistering or even the skin becoming lighter in areas where the laser is used.

Martin says the tattoos people tend to keep are the ones that are significant.

"In these times, with the war going on for so many years, we have a lot of people coming in for memorializing tattoos," Martin says. "The things that last are the ones that mean something to the person."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: We have a love-hate relationship with tattoos

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