Tattoos that fade away seem like the stuff of science fiction, a quirk of the wizarding world, or, to be more realistic, a poorly done tattoo. Growing up, if you wanted a tattoo you wouldn’t be taking to the grave, you needed a pack of temporary tattoos from the nearest Walmart or from one of those 25 cent vending machines where every toy comes in a plastic egg. At Ephemeral, what used to be science fiction has become a reality, and a wet cloth or sponge is no longer needed to get the temporary tattoo of your dreams.
Ephemeral Tattoos in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is the first tattoo studio of its kind, offering clients beautifully designed tattoos by actual tattoo artists without the long-term commitment. You read that right, real tattoos that are designed to fade away on purpose. This studio just might be every parents' collective dream.
CEO Jeff Liu and co-founder Josh Sakhai designed the studio to fight against the taboo nature of tattoos they grew up with in their households. "This company extends from a real desire to bridge the gap between conventional ink and temporary tattoos, making the artistry more accessible," Liu says. However, it was watching the painful ordeal of seeing a team member getting his tattoo removed that set the flame for Ephemeral alight. "What if tattoo ink was made to fade? The full tattoo experience minus the permanence?"
"The concept was based on microparticle encapsulation technology that was already well researched, so we believed that we could bring our vision of made-to-fade tattoos to the world," Sakhai explains. Two of Ephemeral’s five co-founders have PhDs in Chemical Engineering from NYU and started working on the formula back in 2014. After six years of research, 50 different formulations, and hundreds of tattoos, the ink was finally ready.
What makes traditional tattoos permanent is your body's inability to remove the large ink particles from the skin. The moment you get a tattoo, your body starts fighting the ink because it views it as a foreign object. With traditional ink, the molecules are too large to be broken down by the body, your body effectively "walls off" the area, and the ink stays put. Ephemeral's ink is designed to be broken down over time because of the smaller ink particles that work with the body's natural removal processes. Ephemeral's ink is composed of medical-grade, bio-absorbable, and biocompatible polymers with high-quality pigments that are routinely used in food and cosmetics.
"Ephemeral tattoo ink particles break down over time and become small enough to be removed by the body,” Sakhai says. “The rate at which this happens varies from person to person.”The average rate for an Ephemeral tattoo to fade is currently nine to 15 months and depends on a large number of factors: skin type, placement, size and aftercare. "Fading looks a bit different on every one since everyone's skin is unique."
The studio fully embraces the "nothing lasts forever" mantra that Gen-Z has relished in recent years, proudly displaying "Regret Nothing" on its storefront and website. Even the name "Ephemeral" itself ties to the tattoos' fleeting nature, as the word means lasting for a short time.
"We see Ephemeral as an opportunity to celebrate our journeys through beautiful artwork that fades as we unfold," Sakhai says. "If there's one thing we know for sure, it's that we will change. Hairstyles, clothing choices, music taste, jobs… these all evolve as we move through our own lives."
Tattoo prices range from $175 to $450. At this time, Ephemeral only offers small to medium size tattoos, and the only color available is black. However, there are plans to add color inks in the future. "Ephemeral tattoos are applied by real tattoo artists with real tattoo machinery,” Liu says. “Like traditional tattoos, Ephemeral tattoos are applied through an intrusive process in which the ink is being applied into the dermis layer by breaking open the skin.” Clients are encouraged to design their pieces, and Ephemeral offers one-on-one consultations for clients who need help deciding. "The entire Ephemeral experience is centered around giving an authentic tattoo experience without any of the intimidation or pressure."
"We take aftercare seriously and have done extensive research into supplies and processes to best heal tattoos,” Sakhai says, “some of which are used in conventional tattoo aftercare." Clients receive aftercare goodie bags at the end of their appointments with products curated to ensure their tattoos heal beautifully within a period of around four-to-six weeks, roughly the same amount of time it takes a traditional tattoo to heal. Like traditional tattooing, clients can expect some redness, irritation and itchiness while their skin heals.
Sakhai views Ephemeral as the stepping stone clients can take before deciding on getting a permanent tattoo and a way to try pieces before making the final commitment. "For most of our clients, Ephemeral is the first introduction to the tattoo experience,” he says. “One thing we commonly hear in the studio is, ‘wow, I'd love to get that permanently.’ This is one of the ways that Ephemeral benefits the tattoo industry by bringing in new clients who previously never would have gotten a permanent tattoo—we're effectively breaking the tattoo seal."
Liu and Sakhai are incredibly proud of the inclusivity their space provides for clients new to getting tattoos. "The entire Ephemeral experience is centered around giving an authentic tattoo experience without any of the intimidation or pressure," Liu explains. "Ephemeral was an opportunity to address this question and redirect the future of the tattoo industry by creating a new category of tattoos— expanding the industry to make it more inclusive and approachable to everyone, including those who were previously turned off by the idea of permanence."
In the age of COVID, Ephemeral has ensured their artists' and clients' health and safety are their top priorities. "Our team goes above and beyond CDC recommendations and government guidelines to ensure we provide a safe experience for all," Liu says. In addition to regular deep cleanings, the studio is currently working within an appointment-only model, and tattoos occur in private booths. Ephemeral's artists get routinely tested for COVID. Clients are required to sign a COVID contract and exposure form before their appointments with a temperature check when they arrive. Masks are also worn at all times.
"Now more than ever, the world needs authentic forms of self-expression and inspiring experiences," Liu explains. "We've observed that being able to enter a new world for an hour or two to experience something as deeply personal as getting a tattoo is the retreat many people are craving. And unlike merchant retail, service retail cannot be fulfilled with digital."
Although the studio has only been open since March, Liu expects to have plenty of clients return for more tattoos in the future. "Whether it's the made-to-fade ink, the incredible artists, the inclusive culture, or the beautiful space, we're grateful to be the first to offer made-to-fade ink to the world."
While their tattoos will fade, Ephemeral is anything but temporary. The team plan to expand beyond their Williamsburg location in the future, looking at their clients' demands to scout their next locations based on where clients are placing their reservations."We view Ephemeral as a global brand,” Liu says. “And we are committed to realizing our vision of a world where everybody is a canvas for limitless self-expression."