Dr. Darshan Shah launches pro-bono clinic to laser away troublesome tattoos

Bakersfield, CA, September 25th, 2011 - Joe Ortiz's skin is blanketed in black tattoos, from the gang insignias on his bald head to the Frankenstein portrait on his left arm.

He says all that ink leads cops to stop him on the street and women to clutch their bags tighter when he passes. But the reason Ortiz, 37, came to Beautologie for free tattoo removal last week was the "Jeni" scrawled above his right eyebrow.

Ortiz is getting married next year -- to Vanessa.

"It's been an issue," he acknowledged. "Girls' names are a big problem."

This month, Beautologie's Bakersfield office launched a pro-bono tattoo removal service and Ortiz is the first official participant. Qualifying tattoos include ones that can't be hidden by clothing and might prevent someone from getting a job, said Beautologie's Dr. Darshan Shah.

Joe's "kind of tattoos are a big problem," Shah said. "He's a nice guy but he's labeled himself."

That's a big problem in Kern County, said Colleen McGauley, the executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Kern County. As services have been trimmed, McGauley said she doesn't know of any other local place that removes tattoos for free.

"This is a very conservative county and employer groups don't tend to look positively on tattoos, especially on the face and neck," she said. "This opportunity is huge to minimize damage of those choices kids made when young and trying to be expressive."

Ortiz got his first real tattoo when he was 14: another woman's name on his arm. But, even before that, he had experimented with his own needle and ink. As a young Latino in East Los Angeles, tattoos came with the territory, he said.

"If you weren't from a gang or a jock, it was bad for you," he said.

In his teen years, he started getting into tattoo work himself, and now works at a tattoo parlor in Bakersfield. For someone in the field, extra ink lends credibility.

"The more tattoos, the more clientele," he explained.

Those clients include a lady in her late 80s who recently got her first tattoo: a fairy butterfly in pinks and blues. The most important tattoo he ever created was a portrait of his deceased friend, which he inscribed on the man's sister's skin.

The etchings that envelop his body tell stories, too. There's the wooden spoon with "Mom," a playful reminder of his mother spanking him as a child. There's a portrait of his daughter on his chest, with the words "Daddy's Lil' Girl." And there's the Koi fish, in honor of his Pisces sign, that he worries looks too much like a wind sock.

Of course, there are also numerous gang references, in English, Spanish and Chinese characters. When he goes back to Los Angeles, people sometimes notice. But, as long as he doesn't look for trouble, it's been OK. He can even handle the police stopping him and asking him if he's on parole. But the ones he just can't escape are the women.

Last week, nurse Kelly Kimmel took a laser and focused the beam on each of the scrawled "Jeni" letters, initiating the removal with every crackle. The process takes about six to 10 sessions, with about six weeks in between to reduce risks for burns or scarring, she said.

For regular customers, Beautologie charges $300 per session, bringing the cost to $1,800 for a six-session removal.

Ortiz says he'd eventually like to have all of his tattoos removed. But for now, he's content to have a Jeni-free face.

"You've got to look at it in the mirror every day," he said. "I want it gone."

Source: Bakersfield California

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