Is the taboo over tattoos a thing of the past?

Tattoo businesses booming in the past decade

Are tattoos no longer taboo?

BEND, Ore. - Tattoo artists say the number of Americans with tattoos is expected to grow because they say it's becoming more accepted in society.

Still, many adults put them in places where you can't see them.

So is the taboo over tattoos over?

One in four Americans aged 18 to 50 has a tattoo, according to a survey by the American Academy of Dermatology.

There are a variety of a reasons people get tattoos, from self-expression to medical reasons to memorializing an event or special person in their life.

But there can be consequences, including in the workplace.

And if you think you can picture the average tattoo wearer, you're wrong.

"I've had all walks of life," said Edward Kehoe, owner of Monolith Tattoo Studio in Bend. "Average people, everybody -- there is no one particular group getting tattoos now."

It used to be thought that people in the military and prisoners got tattoos. But now, it runs the gamut.

"It's not a bunch of ruffians," Kehoe said. "(It's) not all hardcore and scary, drug addicts and stuff like that. We are everyday people."

Kehoe considers himself one of those everyday people.  

A father and husband, Kehoe loves making art, and his art is tattooing.

"The biggest thing for me is the satisfaction of somebody walking out of here happy and loving their skin," Kehoe said.

Kehoe says over the past decade, he's seen a big boost in business.

While surveys show about 20 percent of Americans now have a tattoo, Kehoe says it's more like 35 percent.

In fact, he says more women than men are getting them nowadays.

"There's a lot more beautiful work being done," Kehoe said. "So that in turn, people love to adorn themselves, women especially. Hence makeup, fancy clothing. This falls into another category -- this is permanent."

Kehoe says more people have tattoos than we might know about.

"People see them now. They are a lot more accepted, so the tolerance level of society has grown," Kehoe said.

In a different vein, cosmetic tattoos for women with C-section scars and breast cancer survivors are becoming more popular.

So while many display them proudly, most cover them up.

A Pew Research survey showed that 72 percent of adults with tattoos say they aren't visible.

One of the reasons? Their jobs.

"Employers don't want to see them on you forearms or ankles," said Tim Casey, Bend Chamber of Commerce executive director. "And that means you have to cover them up."

Casey says more companies are adding a tattoo restriction to their employee handbook.

"So you see folks with long-sleeve shirts, especially ladies," Casey said. "When they get them on their ankles, you have to wear long socks or boots."

For the people who've ever had regrets over their tattoo decision, Kehoe's job is turn it into something beautiful.

People have tried to remove tattoos with bleach, sandpaper and acid, but Kehoe says that's not going to work.

The only options include recovering the bad tattoo with a new tattoo or having laser surgery with dozens of treatments.

"The thing with lasers is they work really well for homemade tattoos, tattoos that were done in jail or someone's garage," Kehoe said. "But with professional tattoos, they take a lot more time."

It's an important, lifelong decision to get permanent ink on your body, one that more and more Americans seem to be okay with.  
"I think that tattoos are a person's individuals choice of personal expression," Casey said. "And I would like to see the day that tattoos are allowed in the workplace."

"I see in another 10 to 15 years, probably not going to be taboo as it is today," Kehoe said. "And it's definitely not as taboo as it was 20 years ago."    

Thinking about getting a tattoo? Prices can vary from about $70 to about $400.

But you'll have to schedule an appointment months in advance with a tattoo artist -- who, by the way, are "body art practitioners" licensed by the state and trained for everything from CPR to first aid.

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