Caitlyn Murray's story isn't uncommon in Dr. Mark Goldsmith's office.
Caitlyn Murray's story isn't uncommon in Dr. Mark Goldsmith's office.
In a moment she chalks up to youthful imprudence, she got a tattoo -- two interlocking hearts on the left side of her upper chest to signify a heart condition she developed as a student athlete.
Now 26, and a children's psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital, she wants the tattoo gone.
Goldsmith, who owns Ageless Splendor in Dublin, understands the dilemma.
On Murray's fourth treatment at the office, he has her ice down her skin and asks her to take to Tylenol to control pain.
Murray is unbothered, but the procedure people differently.
To her tattoo-obsessed generation, she says: "I'd say be smart about it, because tattoos cost way less than this did."
She said she pays about $220 per session at Ageless Splendor, 333 W. Bridge St.
As more people ink up, it's no surprise some will live to regret it.
The American Association of Aesthetic Surgeons says laser tattoo removal increased 43 percent from 2011 to 2012. A relatively small percentage (14 percent) of those with tattoos say they regret getting one, according to a 2012 Harris Poll.
Still, at least two in five say people with tattoos are less attractive (45 percent) or sexy (39 percent), the same Harris Poll said.
Only licensed physicians, either medical doctors or doctors of osteopathy, are eligible to perform tattoo removal in Ohio.
That's because the "application of light-based medical devices to the human body is the practice of medicine and surgery, osteopathic medicine and surgery and podiatric medicine and surgery," according to information from the Ohio Medical Board.
Tattoo-artist licensing, on the other hand, is regulated by the Ohio Department of Health.
Over at Good-Bye Dye, 7243 Sawmill Road, Evan Proulx was in the hot seat recently.
He braces himself as Dr. Theresa Luken zaps the under part of his forearm with a laser beam that crackles as its light hits the ink target.
The 42-year-old, who recently moved to Columbus from Boston, said the infinity sign, Bible verse and date etched in Roman numerals were significant at one time but meaningless now, just unsightly ink blotches from a bygone era.
He winces in pain -- and even calls a brief timeout -- as Luken aims the laser. The actual procedure takes all of about 20 seconds.
"You pay the price for what you do," said Proulx, a personal trainer.
In this day and age, that price is a minimum $125 per visit at Good-Bye Dye, a medical practice in Dublin owned by Luken and her husband, Dr. Robert Miller.
It's Proulx's third time at the plate. The recommended follow-up visits are every six weeks, enough time to let healing take place.
That means some patients could spend more than a year on bigger pieces -- such as arm sleeves, full-body tattoos across the back and chest -- and shell out more than $1,000 because most insurance does not cover the procedure (although some health-savings accounts do).
The two doctors, both addiction-medicine specialists, diversified their practice to include tattoo removal, a procedure that is becoming more common for people who have second thoughts about their permanently etched messages.
The procedure, albeit a bit painful, has a relatively low infection rate and involves focused laser beams that create low-grade inflammation that essentially breaks up the pigment, allowing the body's own immune system to remove the waste.
"What it does is accelerate the fading of a tattoo over time," Luken said.
Different frequencies are used on different colors of ink.
For deeper or more stubborn spots, the energy is turned up. All the while, the physicians are trying to avoid blistering and scarring.
But not all tattoos are created equal. Red (in some cases) and black are the easiest colors to remove; yellows and blues are the most difficult.
Those looking to remove full-body tattoos will undergo potentially years of treatment.
Physicians are limited to 4 square millimeters of skin per treatment, because the potential for scarring and blistering increases with larger areas, Miller said.
There also are people who are considered poor candidates for tattoo removal.
The first category involves patients with red ink. If they had an allergic reaction when they had it put on, it raises the potential for inflammation, or burn with permanent scarring.
Others are more prone to keloid scarring, which creates raised bumps on the skin. Miller also avoids removing tattoos on patients receiving chemotherapy or diabetics with lower-extremity markings.
People from all walks of life and all ages get tattoos for many reasons: a sign of loyalty, standing out from the crowd, displaying a spiritual message, artistic expressions and even cosmetics.
"We get all kinds of people who are doing all kinds of things, from judges to people who just got out of jail," Goldsmith said.
One of his patients, Grace (who declined to give her last name), is a 23-year-old civil engineer who was on her fifth procedure at Ageless Splendor. She had a message -- "Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future" -- tattooed on her right upper torso across her ribs.
Now engaged and trying on wedding dresses, she didn't want her parents to know about the tattoo because they would be disappointed.
While she doesn't dislike the tattoo, her closeness to her family was more than enough incentive to spend the money -- about $2,000 total -- to get it removed.
The real pain comes when the laser is moved across her skin.
"I was very surprised," she said.
Some doctors will provide a topical anesthetic, such as lidocaine, but it doesn't absorb very well into the skin, said Goldsmith, who was in radiation oncology before he pursued aesthetic medicine.
Reasons for removing tattoos are numerous, but it often comes down to the patient wanting a job that prohibits visible markings or wanting to get rid of markings that memorialize a former spouse or paramour.
"The new wives want it off," Luken said. "They come in with (the husbands) and say, 'Get it off.' "
Employers do, too.
The Columbus Division of Police, for example, says all "Sworn personnel shall have no visible tattoos, except for grandfathered tattoos. Sworn personnel shall not have tattoos (visible or not visible) that depict obscene or gang-related images or extremist or otherwise offensive images which may bring the division into disrepute. Visible tattoos, except grandfathered tattoos, shall be covered. The means for covering tattoos may be determined by the Division, and the cost of the covering shall be paid by the employee," according to information supplied by the division.
"Division personnel shall have no visible tattoos on the head, neck or hands. Division personnel may have tattoos so long as the tattoos do not depict obscene gang-related, sexual, nude, extremist, racist or otherwise offensive images. Division personnel shall not have any new tattoos that will be visible on any exposed body part. Exposed tattoos may be ordered to be covered by a commander or above," the information said.
Hanneen Arman, another of Goldsmith's patients, was always self-conscious about her thin eyebrows, so she had some tattooed on. Unfortunately, the tattoo artist placed the ink above her orbital ridge, producing an unusual look.
"It was just a bad job," said the 21-year-old.
Miller, from Good-Bye Dye, has some words of caution for those looking to get their first tattoos.
"My advice would be to keep it covered with a short-sleeve shirt or pair of shorts and, No. 2, I would keep it small in case you want to modify it or get it off in the future."