Once solely the domain of wharfies and workers, bikers and bullies, the humble tattoo is now everywhere. A simple heart on the receptionist's ankle; a striking back design on the young mum grocery shopping; a full arm sleeve of vivid ink on the Apple store salesman.
No longer looked down upon, tattoos adorn movie stars and sporting heroes in equal numbers as corporate professionals and school teachers.
A night out in Wollongong reveals tattoos to be just as important a fashion accessory as a new pair of jeans or sneakers - but as tattoos explode in popularity, so too does demand for their removal.
"Now it's a trend to have tattoos," said Shannon Manning, of Yakuza Tattoo.
"People get one because it's fashionable, then change their mind and want it removed."
A recent British survey revealed 40 per cent of people regretted their tattoos and one in six wanted them removed.
Alan Mitchell, of Laser Pro Tattoo Removal in Albion Park, has been in the industry for 23 years. He said the current ink boom prompted him to offer a service to get rid of bad tattoos.
"People are getting tattoos they will regret. They get them for fashion, like going shopping and buying new clothes," Mr Mitchell said.
"Tattoos go through trends. Recently it was big tribal ones, now it's changed to a Japanese style."
Mr Mitchell said most customers wanted to lighten tattoos to cover with a new one; only a quarter wanted total removal, usually after a dodgy home job.
"There is access to tattoo equipment online, so people are going for broke tattooing their friends and making mistakes, rather than learning how to do it the right way," he said.
Sue Salmon, of Illawarra Dermatology and Laser Clinic, backed Mr Mitchell's thoughts.
"People just grow out of their tattoos, or get over them," she said simply. "They find an artist they prefer, or decide the work already done isn't good. They get designs faded then new work on top."
Factors from smoking to skin pigment affect having tattoos lasered off but a word of warning - Mr Mitchell and Ms Salmon said removal hurt and cost as much as having it put on in the first place.
"Some of our customers come in with terrible work," Mr Mitchell said.
A tattoo used to be a literal black mark on your application when going for a job anywhere other than building sites or back rooms.
No longer. As ink seeps its way into society at large, employers are slowly coming around to employees with tattoos, whether they like it or not.
“Employers almost have to accept that people will have tattoos these days, because they are everywhere,” said Alan Mitchell.
“There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to tattoos any more. They don’t make someone a bad person.”
Some tattooists refer to neck or face tattoos as “job stoppers’’, and half the people surveyed in a British poll said people with tattoos were less likely to succeed in the workplace, but both Mr Mitchell and Sue Salmon say only a minority of clients have tattoos removed for work reasons.
“They are definitely accepted more now. People look at the individual more than their tattoos,” Ms Salmon said.
“As long as the person is neat and tidy, the tattoo is less of an issue.”
Ryan Roby, an employment consultant with agency Work Focus, said while employers were becoming more accepting of tattoos, bosses in some sectors were still wary.
“I’ve never had an employer say it directly, they use other issues to reject a candidate, but I suspect sometimes it could be that someone has tattoos,” he said.
“In offices, sometimes they are more affected by how someone looks. It means they are judging off criteria that doesn’t relate to future performance.”
Mr Roby said he was sometimes wary of putting forward a tattooed candidate for a formal office job, but said attitudes were changing. He highlighted Apple as a company becoming more relaxed in how its employees can present themselves.
“They hire people from all walks of life, it is one of their key strategies. You will see people with tattoos at Apple,” he said.
- JOSHUA BUTLER