More people are tattooing than ever before. Half A majority of American adults are now equipped with one. This is an increasing trend that has been fuelled by ink-loving millennials. But that doesn’t mean getting a tattoo isn’t still a question of commitment. Anyone who is considering getting a tattoo needs to ask: Am I willing to have this permanent marker on my body?
They did. They did. Ephemeral A new kind of tattoo is being offered by the company. It promises that it will fade in between 9 and 15 months. It might sound ridiculous, but it could also sound genius. In any case, the company has just opened its first location in Brooklyn and is taking reservations—which are already booked three months out.
“We saw there was a lot of innovation for tattoo removal,” says cofounder Joshua Sakhai. “We asked, what if we flip this, and start with making tattoos designed to let people express themselves without the fear of regret?”
It is important to be clear that getting an Ephemeral Tattoo can still be as painful as a regular one. It’s not a stick-on, temporary tattoo that just needs a wet washcloth. Ephemeral uses the exact same needle-based tattoo machines to apply the tattoo to a person’s skin, in the exact same way, as the permanent tattoos we know. Only the difference is that Ephemeral’s ink has been formulated to slowly break down within your skin.
Brennal Pierre (NYU professor of chemical engineering, Ephemeral founder) developed and tested the ink over six years. While the company is tight-lipped about exactly what’s inside, the ink is a patented formulation developed entirely from FDA-approved ingredients and validated with a commissioned medical study. As Sakhai explains, with any tattoo, your body’s immune system can and will break down stray ink particles. However, the ink clumps under your skin and resists removal. Ephemeral ink does not form these pools, however, the ink particles disassembles over time.
Are there any potential catches? Yes, there is. Ephemeral tattoos, like other tattoos, can traumatize your skin. So once they fade, it’s possible that your skin’s pigment will look lighter or darker where the tattoo was. Ephemeral tattoos can only be purchased in black at the moment, although other colors are being developed by the company. Finally, Ephemeral tattoos are relatively expensive—roughly three times the market rate for conventional tattoos. Tiny, jewelry-size tattoos start at $175. A statement piece, like a small tattoo on your bicep can run up to $450. You can also get an entire sleeve, or a huge flaming Eagle on your back. Ephemeral isn’t doing pieces of that magnitude yet.
What’s holding the company back? Sakhai has been testing the product on his own skin for years. For a while, he had dots and dashes sampling various inks on his arm—a look that friends told him looked like Morse code. “If you’re a chef, you want to serve the soup to your guests after you’ve tried it 1,000 times,” says Sakhai. And despite having gotten over 100 Ephemeral tattoos himself over the years, he hasn’t opted to get something as large as a sleeve yet. Until he can guarantee a level of satisfaction with the product on a large scale, he doesn’t want customers experimenting with their own bodies.
Ephemeral cares about its customers as it expands and builds its brand. The company hired five experienced and well-respected tattooists to give great tattoos. with proper technique to mitigate scarring. Brooklyn Studio has a beautiful sitting room with many plants. This makes it look more like a salon or hairdresser than a late-night studio. Tattoos are done in privacy, not in the open studio. And when you book the appointment online, you can share art styles you like to narrow down the “What should I get??” panic that can happen the first time you get into the chair.
Ephemeral is not going to wholesale their ink to tattoo shops that number more than 20,000 across the U.S.A.
Some of this plan is clearly born from Sakhai’s failed, first attempt to get a tattoo. To his immigrant parents—who are Persian and Jewish— tattoos were off-limits. He decided to rebel and go to a tattoo parlor while in college. But when he couldn’t make up his mind, he was shamed out of the tattoo studio and left feeling like a poseur. Sakhai never got a traditional tattoo, but he’s spent all of his professional energy since leaving school to bring Ephemeral about.
This plan was also influenced by Jeffrey Liu’s six-year tenure at Tesla. He saw how Elon Musk sold the world the burgeoning electric car market and maintained control over every element of it.
Even so, I can’t help but ask Ephemeral if its business plan makes sense. Is it possible to get rid of the regret and indecision by getting a one-year tattoo? The best case scenario is to not go through all the trouble only for a loved keepsake to be lost.
There are many compelling answers from the team. For one, they believe that there are 60 million Americans who want tattoos but can’t commit. They point out, secondly that tattoos can be addictive. We all have at least one, heavily tattooed friend who’s in and out of parlors all the time. Ephemeral says that market research shows that almost 80% of tattoo-seekers get at least one. Nearly everyone has more than 4. So if you get someone to get one tattoo, chances are they’ll be hooked.
Ephemeral has a bigger vision than just tattoos. They want to change the way people think about tattoos. “The behavior we’re taking a bet on is people are going to use this in a way that celebrates change. I think of apparel or hair coloring,” says Sakhai. “We’re taking a bet that this is the next frontier of expression.”
In other words, Ephemeral won’t give you a self-destructing tattoo to avoid regret; it will give you a seasonal tattoo to embrace the latest trends and even your latest self (for instance, two guys who recently got matching Karl Marx tattoos on their butt cheeks at Ephemeral). However, the concept gets even more powerful when the team shares some of its bigger long-term plans: cosmetic tattoos (like eyeliner) that you don’t have to live with once the look goes out of style. Ephemeral sees a potential opportunity for cancer patients. who must get a series of small tattoos for lining up radiology equipment. Instead of being left with some marks for life, patients can choose to have an Ephemeral Tattoo and get rid of the painful experience.
“As non-tattooers, approaching this with a fresh lens, we took a liberty to design this experience from the ground up,” says Sakhai. Ephemeral will be a temporary trend, or something that is poised to have a global presence. Only time will show.