For those who are afraid of “forever”, Ephemeral Tattoo has created the perfect antidote: made to fade ink. It took them six years, but two scientists have now developed a unique material for semi-permanent tattoos. But is it worth the cost? We weigh in on the pros and cons of this new product.
Personally, I believe commitment is a huge element of tattoo culture. The permanency of tattoos is partly what makes them so strong, so distinct. It’s a lifelong choice to wear this art form, to celebrate with permanent physicality. In a world where so much is digital, fast-tracked, or transitory, tattoos are something that last far past the momentary. Taking that concept out of tattooing may dilute its importance and power.
However, I can’t deny that there will always be, and has always been, a difference between casual wearers of tattoos and hardcore collectors like myself. Although tattoos have become increasingly more mainstream, mostly due to social media, those magical pockets of purely dedicated people have not disappeared, and I doubt they will regardless of fading trends. That’s one of the many facets of beauty for the tattoo community: there will always be the right space, the right style, even the right artist and ink for each person. You just have to find your fit.
Ephemeral Tattoo has made it possible for people to experiment with whether or not they are willing to make that lifelong commitment. Some people will jump into semi-permanent tattooing as a way to keep up with the trends, and perhaps some will have actual curiosity for what it means to live a tattooed lifestyle.
Tattoos created with the made to fade ink will only last for a year, giving each person enough time to have some transitory fun or to help them make an educated decision. Some will take that chance to look cool for a year then leave it behind, while others may find that their love for tattooing is a long lasting affair.
Ephemeral Tattoo has certainly stepped up the game for fake tattoos, which, in essence, is exactly what this is. Applied by real tattoo artists, in a real studio, the experience is definitely genuine, but the ink should completely fade after a year, making this a very long lasting temporary tattoo. They do, however, make sure to mention that all skin is different and fading time depends on that. One thing you'll have to keep in mind is that until your tattoo is gone, for a few months it'll look as if you're actually going through tattoo removal. Not pretty, but perhaps something that will help further instill the importance of finding the right artist for a real tattoo!
Touting their semi-permanent ink as “Tattoos without the ‘I Do’.”, as well as regret free, I can certainly see the attraction to Ephemeral Tattoo. As heavily tattooed as I am, there are times where I wonder what my life would be like without them. I don’t have regrets, but tattoos can definitely change your life. A cute, easily hidden piece of ink is one thing but when hand, face, and neck tattoos became huge trends, I remember balking when I noticed so many younger people diving in literally face first.
Even my barista had a giant rose plastered on her hand and I couldn’t see even a hint of tattoos anywhere else. As young as she was, I had to wonder, without judgement, how much experience she had to make an educated choice involving significant aspects of her future. That type of choice could be made seriously less impactful with the ink created by Ephemeral Tattoo.
But I also have to question whether people will really use Ephemeral Tattoo in that manner. Would the 18 year old who desperately wants a face or hand tattoo use fading ink to experiment? Teenagers often act impulsively, so it’s a bit hard to believe. Especially when you consider that these semi-permanent tattoos actually cost exactly the same as your average permanent tattoo. There are so many readily available temporary tattoos you can make or buy; so does anyone really need to spend that much money for fading ink?
What I speculate will actually happen is that the new Ephemeral Tattoo studio in New York City will just be churning out Pinterest ink for upper crust Manhattan-ites...this is partly because I simply can't wrap my mind around who would be able to afford, and want, a tattoo that doesn't stay put! And, although that may sound harsh, I'm definitely okay with whoever uses these fading tattoos to experiment. Everyone should have the freedom to express themselves as they see fit, whether that’s in a permanent manner or not.
Ephemeral Tattoo could also be good for the industry for a variety of reasons. If someone likes their fading tattoo, they may get it again for keeps. Perhaps it also means that people who aren’t serious about tattoos won’t capitalize on artists time, wasting it with insincere requests. On top of that, it may be the perfect ink for apprentices to work with since mistakes won't actually last for a lifetime! Hopefully, at some point, Ephemeral ink will be readily available for purchase for that exact purpose.
As for competition in the industry, Ephemeral Tattoo costs just as much as regular tattoos, so it’s not as though there’s any real monetary threat to the industry. There will always be people out there looking for cheap tattoos via price shopping with artists, but thankfully that’s not part of the conversation here. The point isn’t the cost, it’s the permanence. People will probably know right off the bat whether this option is a good fit for them or not.
It would also be remiss of me not to mention that tattoo ink has gone through not decades, but centuries of pigment refinement. There is a reason why top artists use top inks; they’re formulated for the best results possible, not only for artistic purposes but health purposes as well. It's no new news that a lot of tattoo ink actually carries carcinogens.
So, although six years of development for Ephemeral Tattoo is definitely a long time, and one should herald their efforts, it’s easy for any company to slap a sticker on their product that says “Dermatologist Approved”, without it actually being safe long-term. Some people have ink allergies, even to regular tattoo ink, so skin sensitivity, as well as immune system health, is definitely something to keep in mind regardless of the permanency of your tattoo.
Looking at the examples of tattoos sent over by Ephemeral Tattoo, some pictured here, I'm not sure how long the tattoos have healed for, but the ink looks greyish and already quite settled in. It would make sense that these tattoos would already look aged after some healing time, which may give the wearer a good idea of what their skin really would look like with tattoos. Most Instagram artists post only brand new tattoos, so it helps to have this aspect of realism, especially if this is a personal experiment for future tattoos.
As for their promotional imagery, thin models sporting small tattoos while romping the streets of NYC, it's hard to tell what Ephemeral Tattoo's brand mission is. These images look more like an advertisement for Guess perfume, rather than an authentic human interaction with our most beloved industry. While Ephemeral has definitely solved a client wish, the lack of artist involvement is worrying, as is the lack of real connection to the tattoo community. Artists should always be heavily involved in an endeavour such as this, but in the interviews I read, and even on their social media platforms, zero artists were tagged or directly quoted. Even when promoting artwork.
I expect to see a lot of pushback from the hardcore side of the industry but, at the end of the day, client needs often override artistic integrity. After all, tattooing is a service. Regardless of your stand, only time will tell whether Ephemeral's business model will hold. For me, the cost alone makes this semi-permanent tattoo questionable. I'd rather just make my own temporary tattoos...or pay the same price for the real deal.
But, again, with new techniques, inks, and styles constantly hitting the tattoo industry, it’s always best to do your research and go with your heart. Again, tattooing is largely about freedom of self-expression and only you can know what’s right for you.
To dive a bit deeper, and get their side of the story, I interviewed co-founder Joshua Sakhai and CEO Jeffrey Liu.
Ephemeral Tattoo Interview
How did you come up with the idea to create Ephemeral Tattoo? Why did you want to develop it?
Inspired by a tattoo gone wrong, and the consequential removal process, our Ephemeral Tattoo team came up with the idea of made to fade ink. Our team comes from households where tattoos were taboo, and we saw a way to expand the industry to make it more inclusive. We wanted to bridge the gap between conventional ink and temporary tattoos — making the artistry that comes with permanent tattoos more accessible without the lifelong commitment to a particular design. It’s crucial to us that both the consumer and the tattoo artist feel empowered by Ephemeral Tattoo’s studio environment. For customers, this means stripping the tattoo experience of any intimidation. For artists it’s a welcoming workplace and financial security, enabling artists to do what they do best without fear or distraction.
How does it work and how is it created?
Ephemeral’s tattoo ink comprises medical grade, bioabsorbable, and biocompatible polymers, with carefully chosen high-quality pigments that are routinely used in foods, cosmetics, and other products. Ephemeral ink— which becomes small enough overtime to be removed by the body— was developed by Dr. Vandan Shah and Dr. Brennal Pierre over the past six years. The team has tested over 50 ink formulations. Ephemeral Tattoo provides real tattoos applied by real artists. The process of application is the same, the ink is just formulated to have a shorter lifespan.
Is Ephemeral Tattoo working with any specific tattoo artists to test the product? What has the response been from tattoo artists about it?
Artists are central to our mission of self-expression and creativity. This is why we’ve developed our ink hand in hand with many talented artists over the years. Artist feedback has been instrumental in helping us push the boundaries of how our ink can be used.
The artists we work with are excited by the opportunities Ephemeral Tattoo provides; expanding the market, ensuring financial financial security, testing creative forms of self-expression and to creating a world-class studio experience.
What are your hopes for the future of Ephemeral Tattoo?
We envision a world where every body is a canvas for limitless self-expression. We see our made-to-fade tattoos as one meaningful way to achieve that vision by expanding the number of people who can consider a tattoo. We also aspire to create a brand and experience that tattoo artists can be proud of and benefit from. From creating a studio culture that values inclusivity, creativity and care to putting more tattoo artists in a position to practice the craft they love without concern, we will remain artist centric in our approach.
Can you tell us a bit about the New York studio and why you chose NYC as the place to celebrate the release of Ephemeral Tattoo?
Call us biased, but New York is the global epicenter of culture, self-expression and innovation. It also arguably is the capital of the tattoo world. We were founded here and are proud to be one of many reasons New York stays on the map by introducing our innovative product, experience and brand here.
Our first studio will be one of many future ones. It takes the best of tattoo culture and blends it with a client centric experience. Every station was designed with specific tattoo artist input, from where machines are stored to how much space we created around chairs/tables. Clients can expect to walk-in with their favorite beverage waiting for them, a waiting area to unwind and their favorite music playing.
We look forward to learning from this first studio and continually evolving our future experiences.