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I’ll be the first to admit I’m scared of how permanent tattoos are. I have one tiny tomato tattoo that I got post-vaccination last year to remind myself that no matter what happens, summer always comes, and tomato season comes with it. I wrote a whole essay for myself to justify a nickel-size tomato on my wrist. (If you can’t tell, I have main character syndrome.)
I love my teeny tomato, but sometimes I’m seized with fear that I may wake up one day and regret it because that’s the kind of person I am. I envy my friends who have collections of beautiful tattoos just because they love them. I want to be that person, but I know I never will be. I always thought to myself, Wouldn’t it be cool if I could get a tattoo that didn’t last forever?
For this very reason, Ephemeral Tattoo has been on my radar since it opened. This tattoo parlor offers “made-to-fade” tattoos that disappear in nine to 15 months—the perfect amount of time for someone like me who’s afraid of tattoo commitment.
I went to Ephemeral’s Brooklyn location—they have parlors in Brooklyn, L.A., and a spot in San Francisco coming in February—to try a made-to-fade tattoo for myself. After toying with a few tattoos that have been bouncing around my brain for the past few years (all meaningful symbols that I’d be able to write essays about), I decided to throw caution to the wind and get something cool and pretty, just because. I went with a line drawing of a rose that means nothing to me—and I couldn’t care less, because it will be gone in a year.
When I got to the studio, the receptionist walked me through a presentation on how the tattoos both look and fade on different skin tones, so I felt prepared going into my appointment.
From here on out, the process goes almost exactly like a normal tattoo appointment. I met my artist, Phil, and showed him an inspiration photo I found on Pinterest. He drew a similar (and much better) version of it and gave me three sizes to choose from.
After I picked the perfect size, Phil shaved the area of my bicep I wanted my tattoo on and transferred the drawing to my arm. I inspected it in the mirror and Phil went to the back to prepare the ink, which is mixed on-site.
The ink itself is a major feat. Josh Sakhai, co-founder of Ephemeral, explains that the ink took six years of research and development to make and has gone through many different iterations since. You can also feel good about what’s going onto your skin. “Every single one of the materials in our ink is already FDA approved for use in medical devices, cosmetics, and drugs,” Sakhai says. “No tattoo ink is approved or regulated by the FDA. That being said, we took a ton of precautions because for us, that's super important.”
Though it penetrates the dermis, or the inner layer of your skin, just like a normal tattoo, the ink has some major differences that make it special. “Permanent tattoos basically clump together and aggregate and become these larger blocks of ink that are too big for your body to remove,” Sakhai says. “So they stay permanent. Ephemeral ink does something similar and goes into your skin and clumps together, but our ink is made of biodegradable components that break down over time, and as [they] break down, your body’s able to remove them.”
For now, Ephemeral only has black ink, but Sakhai says other colors are on the horizon. Once the ink is mixed, it’s loaded into a tattoo pen.
Getting an Ephemeral tattoo feels the same as getting a normal tattoo. So be warned it’s not a painless process. If you’ve never gotten a tattoo before, it feels kind of like a bunch of tiny cat scratches in a concentrated area. That might sound daunting, but it’s a quick process. My tattoo was finished in under 30 minutes.
Once I’d marveled at my new ink, a member of the aftercare team came to walk me through how to care for my new made-to-fade tattoo and gave me a bag of products to use. Tattoos at Ephemeral cost between $195 to $550, depending on the size and detail, and unlike most tattoo parlors, each tattoo price has the cost of aftercare products baked in.
Sakhai explains that this is because Ephemeral takes healing very seriously. “Healing is a critical part of how your tattoo will fade and look throughout its lifespan. If we want to give our customers the best possible product and tattoo, we have to stand for how it heals. We have done a lot of research into the best materials and work with our dermatologists in order to handpick the best things for your tattoo to heal.”
Aftercare for Ephemeral tattoos is a bit different from a normal tattoo, so this is extra important. Immediately after application, the aftercare specialist covered my tattoo with a hydrocolloid bandage and walked me through a presentation of how my tattoo would look over the course of the healing process so I wouldn’t get freaked out by any surprises.
After 48 hours, I’m supposed to remove it in the shower, then cover it with a new hydrocolloid patch, and then after another 48 hours, I can wash with Dr. Bronner’s soap and moisturize with Vanicream. (FYI: All of these products are good to keep in your arsenal anyway.)
I love my little rose, and I can’t wait to show it off for the next year (give or take). So far, the only unpleasant part of my experience is how gross my new ink looks under the hydrocolloid bandage. (I’ll spare you a photo, but there’s blue-ish white fluid covering the tattoo). Luckily, that part won’t be permanent.
It’s important to note that fading isn’t perfect. Some people may experience hyperpigmentation (where skin becomes darker) or hypopigmentation (where skin becomes lighter) for longer than 15 months. Ephemeral assured me that even if either of these conditions happens, they typically go away too. It just may be a longer healing process.
I’d recommend getting an Ephemeral tattoo to anyone who wants a tattoo but is scared of commitment and is willing to pay the price of a normal tattoo for one that only lasts a year. It’s also a good way to trial a tattoo you’re unsure about. Who knows? Maybe after a year, I’ll make this baby permanent. Or I’ll just keep getting made-to-fade roses until it’s basically permanent—dealer’s choice.
The best aftercare products to use for an Ephermal tattoo: