The two cherries tattooed on Barb Kershaw's right ankle are beginning to disappear.
And she couldn't be happier.
"I can't wait till it's completely gone," Kershaw said. "I've been wanting to do it for years."
The simple black outline of two cherries, similar to the cartoonish-looking ones you might see spinning and then suddenly stopping as they appear through the window of slot machine, has been a lasting mark since the day she turned 21. She said she decided to get inked while celebrating her birthday in Atlantic City, N.J. Now, at 47, she wants to get rid of it.
"As a grownup, now, I don't want it," she said.
The Lebanon resident said she has been trying to wipe it off for years. She tried different balms that were oily and gritty and would take off the top layer of her skin.
Earlier this year when her physician started offering laser tattoo removal, Kershaw immediately signed up. So far, she has received two treatments and is finally seeing results and less of her no-longer-wanted tattoo.
Since January, Dr. Lorna O'Young has provided this service at her practice, Woman to Woman PC at 2900 Frank Scott Parkway West, Suite 908. A gynecologist by training, O'Young began investigating laser tattoo removal last year after she expanded her practice to include laser hair removal service.
"I was looking around and was fascinated by all of the latest technology," O'Young said. "I want to emphasize that this is a medical procedure. There are a lot of medical spas around and in the state of Illinois. You are supposed to be physician-owned medical spa. That is a law. I take it a further step because I do all of the treatments myself. I like to do all of the consultations myself. I don't hand it over to any staff. I'm the only one that fires the laser."
According to research published last December by the Pew Research Center, Americans spend $1.6 million a year on tattoos. Forty-five million U.S. citizens, or 11 percent, have at least one tattoo. The data also revealed that 5 percent of those with a tattoo have covered a tattoo with another one, 17 percent of those tattooed regret getting them and 11 percent have or are in the process of getting them removed.
O'Young has a Cynosure RevLite laser, which has four wavelengths to remove most ink colors. She said some colors are more difficult to remove, such as blue and green, and may require more treatments. Some colors cannot be removed, such as white and pink.
The laser shatters the tattoo pigment and then the body actually eats the rest though its defense cells, known as macrophages. The ink is eventually removed from the body through defecation and urination.
The process takes about eight weeks to get from shattering to elimination, but it varies depending on the tattoo size, color, number of colors and location on the body.
"What goes on really fast comes off really slow," O'Young said. "It takes five to fifteen treatments, depending on what your tattoo looks like, what color it is, how old it is and where on the body is really important. Remember, this is cleaning with your cells through your lymphatic system. So places further away from your heart, like your fingers, your hand, wrist and ankles, which is a really common place to have a tattoo, goes away slower than say on your chest, back or neck because it's closer to your heart."
O'Young said all people of all complexions are a candidate for laser tattoo removal, but those who have scarring from their tattoo or scarring before their tattoo and got a tattoo put on over it are not.
She also said no one should be seek laser tattoo removal sooner than three months after being inked. "I error on the side of safety," she said.
She charges $49 per square inch and a minimum of $99 per treatment, but does not charge for any "blank space" or unmarked skin.
Although she has no tattoos herself, O'Young said she has felt the laser. She has received it to treat the melasma, or brownish pigment, on her face. She compares the sensation to a sunburn and can also use her laser to treat some birthmarks, sunspots and acne scars.
She uses an aloe jelly and cool air on the skin while she fires her laser on it.
Kershaw said she has had no pain or discomfort from her laser treatments.
"She has numbing stuff that she uses, and she numbs it first and it's really fast," Kershaw said. "It goes on fast and she always gives you ice. I've actually never had any pain. I may be the only one."
In the six months since offering laser treatments, O'Young has met a number of patients with a varying assortment of elaborate and multicolor body ink that has challenged her skills.
She has also heard several interesting stories behind the tattoos. She said some got inked while they were on spring break or were "a little tipsy." Many who aspire to join the military also seek her help. This month, she is offering a special, "Remove your ex permanently," for people who have a name of someone tattooed on them that they don't like anymore.
"Some people have Chinese characters who figured out that it doesn't say what the tattoo guy said," she said. "Some people have tattoos that I look at and I think 'That's really cute. Why do you want that removed?' Maybe they just got it and it's a bad memory of something. I had one girl who had a tattoo of mustache (on the side of her index fingers). She said she was drunk and had gotten it with her friend. They had first made it with felt markers and they went out and found a tattoo guy who said, 'Your're going to regret this. You don't want to do this.' And they kept saying, 'No, no, no.' And he did it on both (fingers). She doesn't know what happened to her friend because they lost touch, but she said this was an 18-year-old mistake and I'm 26 now and I can't have this anymore."
Kershaw doesn't want her tattoo anymore and is pleased with her treatments. She is looking forward to her next visit under the laser and the day when those two cherries on her ankle are all but a memory.
"I love it," she said. "I can't wait to go back."
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 239-2526.