You might love your ink but if you're in a white-collar role, chances are your boss doesn't.
Hiding an embarrassing tattoo on a first date is one thing, but having to keep your arms — heavily inked in Chinese gang symbols — hidden from your co-workers day after day, year after year, is quite another.
That's the daily routine of an accountant who works in an Australian government office where the policy is to keep tattoos hidden.
The 34-year-old has been wearing dark-coloured, long-sleeved shirts every day, even on hot and sunny casual Fridays, to hide the very obvious signs of misspent youth.
It's the story of around 30 per cent of the white-collar workers who get their tattoos removed at a clinic in Melbourne, where Hilary Quinn sees five to 20 clients a day, often with the same story.
“Nothing says you're not going to turn up for work on Monday like a 19-year-old with a neck tattoo,” she says.
Tattoos have become increasingly popular among young Australians in recent years, and elaborate “sleeves”, or full-arm-length decorations have become a new trend after AFL and rugby league stars started sporting them on the field.
But now tattoo removalists say increasing numbers of professionals are seeking their services as their careers progress and they worry the tattoo will reflect poorly on them.
“It used to be that people who got tattoos were outsiders — they didn't care. People over 50 see it as a rough and tough kind of move — something only people who were in prison or mentally ill would do — and they are the employers, so it's their opinion that matters,” Quinn says.
For the accountant, who asked not to be named, hiding his tatts has become part of his routine.
Two dark, heavily inked sleeves extend from the tips of his collar-bones to his elbows and are visible through most white shirts.
“It's not something I enjoy hiding, but you grow comfortable with it after a while,” he says.
“At least we don't go for holidays together or anything like that. There's no group swimming. I don't think the people I work with know I have them.
“I think people judge you whether you like it or not, and tattoos are not viewed very favourably in any white-collar industry. If they saw mine they would probably think I was an Asian gangster.”
He's now paying for the choices he made when he was 17 and mixed up in the wrong crowd with “very painful” laser treatments that last for 60 to 90 minutes every six to eight weeks. Now the tatts have been reduced by about 80 per cent, but it's taken two-and-a-half years to get there, and it will be the end of the year before they are completely gone.
It's a service sought by people from almost every profession, Quinn says.
“The only profession I don't have a client from is a doctor, but I do have medical students. I do have lawyers. All very well educated, very nice.
“They get it as a fashion move and then they all say, 'I don't know what I was thinking'.”
Most of her clients at Melbourne Tattoo Removal are between 25 and 30, and they regret tattoos they got in their teens. Around half are women, she says, who want tattoos removed from their wrists or neck – where employers would see them.
Enya Blaney, who removes tattoos at Detail For Men in Sydney — a spa, skin specialist and barber shop — says the company's tattoo removal business has taken off since they started offering the service last year.
Several of her clients want to remove their tattoos because they want to work in the police force or for an airline and aren't supposed to have them showing when in uniform. But there are also a lot of white-collar workers who are just embarrassed by tattoos they got when they were young, she says.