'Made-to-fade' ink is changing the permanent tattoo scene
Can't commit to a permanent tattoo? This shop might be your best alternative.
Tattoos have been decorating organic canvases for thousands of years.
From line work to portraits, black and white or color, the designs are limitless. So is a traditional tattoo's life expectancy.
But that literal mainstay feature of the practice doesn't always work for everyone.
“My parents are from Iran and I’m a first-generation born in the U.S.," said Josh Sakhai, cofounder of Ephemeral, a tattoo parlor with several locations around the country. "Underneath that is really this story of me and my cofounders from different corners of the world with different cultures, backgrounds and traditions, all of which didn’t really allow us to express ourselves with permanent tattooing."
That cultural skepticism sparked the idea of Ephemeral for the group of entrepreneurs. Now, it's innovated the tattoo industry.
: The science behind the art
The trio in 2014 turned to science to make their made-to-fade artwork a reality, with the goal of creating a new kind of tattoo that will naturally fade over time.
“The simplest way to understand the ink is it's made up of really small particles that go into the same layer of the skin as permanent ink," Sakhai said. "The only difference is our ink particles break down over the course of a couple of years."
After years of testing, their ink hit the market in 2021. A first studio was close behind, opening in Brooklyn.
Ephemeral's youngest store opened in Houston in 2022, marking their first Lone Star State location.
Sina Motavvef, team lead at Ephemeral Houston, says there are trends they’ve already noticed as a result of their advanced take on tattooing.
“Couples' tattoos are the biggest ones, and another one that is really good for ephemeral are prank tattoos," Motavvef said. “I’ve seen a lot of Muslims come in and get tattooed for the first time. I’ve seen a lot of people come in with their kids who have just turned 18."
: A tattoo Mom can approve of
One of those barely legal customers is 18-year-old Megan Orler, whose age fits the mold of many of Ephemeral's first-time customers.
“(My mom) doesn’t love tattoos, but she was a little more on board with this one,” she said.
Orler traveled with her mom to Houston from Dallas for the milestone appointment at Ephemeral.
“Yes, I have never been a big fan of anything permanent," Allison Orler said. “But I can appreciate and understand the idea of getting one that lasts for a while, but not for forever.”
Megan came to Ephemeral to get "Enough" tattooed on her right thigh.
"I went through some hard times a couple of years ago, but it is just a reminder to me that I am good enough for myself and for others," Megan said. "It gave me confidence because I didn’t know if I wanted that reminder of the hard times in years to come. It also gave me peace that she was OK with it because I wanted her approval.”
: 'There is variability.'
Ephemeral's ink, however, hasn’t gained the approval of all the shop's customers. Many have taken to social media to point out that a year had passed without any sign of fading on their tattoos, per the timeline that was first promised by the company.
“The truth is there is variability. When we first went out to market, we based the fade estimate on our own internal clinical study," Sakhai said, adding that study included tattoos of the same design being done by the same artist in the same place on different peoples' bodies.
But when they opened the business, Sakhai said, "those controls went out the window."
"As a brand, as a company, we are committed with communicating with the market and communicating with our customers as honestly as we know. We always are going to share data that we have with our customers, and what we know for sure is that all Ephemeral tattoos will fade away. For most people, it will be in the range of one to three years."
As a result, the company's CEO this year updated Ephemeral's "Regret nothing guarantee" to a promise of a three-year fade. That timeline was enough for Megan Orler.
Unlike Megan’s tattoo, which won’t last forever, Ephemeral says they plan to.
“My hope for the company always goes back to why we started it and it’s really about giving people the tools and technology to express themselves," Sakhai said. "To own their stories and to wear it on their bodies."
Customers can expect to pay about double the price for Ephemeral ink. But that's still cheaper than having to remove a permanent one, which can cost in the hundreds of dollars over the course of several sessions.
Ephemeral only offers black ink tattoo at this point, but is continuously working to maximize the complexity and intricacy of its designs.
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