ONCE only seen on Bikers, Servicemen & Truck Drivers, the tattoo or as it is known today, the Tat, has become an international fashion statement.  The latest US polls suggest the trend is not diminishing. Sixteen percent of US adults, 45 million people, now have Tats.

And the latest US polls suggest the trend is not diminishing. Sixteen percent of US adults - 45 million people - have a tattoo, according to a recent poll

Thirty-six percent of people aged between 25 to 29 that took the poll said they had at least one ink-mark on their body somewhere.

Thirty-four per cent of those with tattoos said they felt sexier, 29 per cent more rebellious and five per cent "more intelligent''.

Few countries have adopted this form of body art like Americans, analysis suggests the statistics would be no different elsewhere.

International stars include Christine Aguilera, who has "Xtina" on her neck, Hollywood icon Nicholas Cage, with a lizard with a top hat on his back.  Britney Spears, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Jordan, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston have all boosted the popularity of the tattoo.

And those are just some that have been snapped in public. Gossip magazines are left to speculate about what is hidden down under.

The tattoo has come out of the boiler room to join the mainstream, from the fashion runways of Paris and Milan to the "MTV Generation" of the new rich in Asian countries like Vietnam.

But the popularity has also spread because of improved hygiene, with standards now laid down by the American Red Cross, and the modern palette of 80 colors now available.

New York State only ended a 36-year ban on tattoo parlors in 1997. The practice was made illegal following an outbreak of hepatitis in the 1960s, said Mike Bakaty, who has been in the industry for 27 years.

According to Bakaty, who used to work out of his apartment, celebrity exposure of tattoos has been a boon to artists like himself.

And where the young set the trend, older Americans who were too scared in the past are following.

"More and more people who get their first tattoo are older; 40, 55, 60, that's something new," said Wilson.

"Often they have had a major change in their lives, a loss, a divorce."

After the September 11 attacks on New York's World Trade Center towers in 2001, the city saw an explosion of patriotic and commemorative tattoos, alongside traditional angels, Chinese ideograms and expressions of devotion to mothers and girlfriends.

There is still reluctance by some people who would like a tattoo but fear the needles. Parlors now put on a friendlier image. One New York studio calls itself "Tattoo and Cappuccino" and offers a steaming cup of coffee to its clientele.

But those who make the move like big tattoos, according to the artists, who say they sometimes have to hold back their eager customers, who still have to be aware of the corporate demands of their employers.