Between the indelible mark and the decals, a New York start-up offers an alternative, an ephemeral tattoo that disappears after about a year, and aims to open the market to a new clientele.

Abigail Glasgow chose. This time, it will be an “m”, the first letter of her fiancé’s first name, tattooed on the forearm. A risky choice? “It’s going to go away, so I’m not too worried,” she said, her gaze mischievous.

Also read: How do tattoos age?

Between 9 and 15 months

After six years of development, the young company Ephemeral has found the formula for an ink composed of biodegradable polymers, which dissolves naturally between 9 and 15 months after injection according to the same process as a conventional tattoo.

Then a student at NYU University, Josh Sakhai, one of the three co-founders of Ephemeral, wanted a permanent tattoo. But “I was afraid to get involved”, remembers this son of a family of Iranian origin, which did not really taste tattooing.

Then came the idea for a temporary tattoo and fading ink, which required 50 successive formulations, a number of which Josh Sakhai tested on himself.

Uniform degradation

Everything is developed in-house in the in-house laboratory in Milford (Connecticut), in collaboration with dermatologists, only from components already authorized for other products by the American regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

No blurring or dilution over time, like some permanent tattoos, Josh Sakhai assures us. The lines remain crisp and the design fades evenly, as evidenced by the examples on her arms.

For now, only black is available, but other colors could one day enrich the palette.

Dangerous alternatives

In several regions of the world, particularly in Asia, amateur tattooists have been offering, for several years, tattoos presented as “semi-permanent”, thanks, according to their promoters, to “vegetable” ink and less penetration of the needle.

In practice, these tattoos, with a very rough technique, degrade but do not disappear completely and often cause lesions, to the point that several professional tattooists have sounded the alarm.

“Guinea pig,” as he jokingly describes himself, Josh Sakhai points to several places on his arms where he believes tattoos were now invisible. Her own mother had just taken the plunge two hours earlier and had three butterflies tattooed in the Ephemeral salon, which opened at the end of March in the “bobo” neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

A new clientele

“We are making tattooing possible for a whole new clientele who would not have wanted a permanent tattoo,” explains Josh Sakhai, for whom this new technique does not compete with traditional tattooing.

The ephemeral tattoo, which costs between $ 175 and $ 450 at Ephemeral, can become a gateway to permanent branding, according to the young entrepreneur. “It expands the possibilities for the traditional tattoo community.”

Changing the tattoo culture?

Ephemeral has only recruited tattoo artists from the permanent world, including Marissa Boulay, who writes on the dermograph (the tattoo machine) the famous “m” on Abigail’s forearm, which features also permanent tattoos.

“I can have a little more fun,” Abigail says, “I can decide in the moment” of the design or the location. For her, it is also an opportunity to test this little flower that she plans to get a tattoo permanently, later.

“A lot of people think we’re changing the culture” of tattooing, she says, even though she disagrees.

“A mode of expression and an art”

Formerly territory of “rebels”, even marginalized, symbol of radicalism, tattooing has been democratized for 20 years, to the point of being now widespread among “millennials”. Some 40% of 18-34 year olds have at least one tattoo, according to a 2019 study in the United States by the Nielsen Institute.

“We are not trying to change anything,” says Marissa Boulay, who trained in tattooing on her own and has practiced it for 11 years. “We are only accompanying changes that are taking place.”

“The essence of tattooing is a mode of expression and an art”, underlines the young woman of 29, whose body is covered with permanent drawings. “We’re just trying to make it more accessible.”