You'll Never Regret an Ephemeral Tattoo

You'll Never Regret an Ephemeral Tattoo

Story by Ellen Atlanta / Photography by Tanner Abel and Nicholas Needham / Styling by Evan Dombkowski

How many times have you been tempted to get a tattoo, if only you didn’t have to commit to forever? Whether it’s a moment of rebellion, a burst of creativity or a long-term lusting that risks upsetting your grandma — why do tattoos have to be permanent? That’s exactly the question Ephemeral Tattoo founders Josh Sakhai, Dr. Brennal Pierre and Dr. Vandan Shah were asking themselves while studying together at NYU. Their solution? The creation of a revolutionary tattoo ink that is made to fade over the course of a year.

Developed and tested over six years by a team of scientists, Ephemeral Tattoos are applied like traditional ink (with a needle and gun), but are designed to fade over nine to 15 months. The medical-grade ink, which is totally safe and FDA-approved, starts off vibrant and then gradually dissolves until the design has disappeared completely.

Shirt: Bone, Pants: Tripp NYC, Shoes: R13, Nails: Kate Mangieri

Since opening in Brooklyn in 2021, Ephemeral has launched studios in Los Angeles, San Francisco and most recently, Atlanta. The proprietary ink formula is only available via Ephemeral, but has already gained a roster of celebrity fans. In April, the studio collaborated with Hollywood’s favorite tattoo artist JonBoy at Kourtney Kardashian’s Camp Poosh, and have since tattooed the likes of Rumer Willis, Alana Hadid, Debby Ryan and The Clermont Twins.

Culturally, Ephemeral has arrived at the perfect time. As we move away from the idea of fixed identities, binaried boundaries or set styles, made-to-fade tattoos provide a more fluid and creative approach to body modification. As the trend cycles shorten and our lives seem continually rocked by global catastrophes, the concept of "forever" (or even just a few years in the future) can seem daunting. Ephemeral Tattoos allow us to lean into the now, into crazy, spur of the moment creativity that only needs to represent how we feel in the moment. The company’s mission is to envision a world in which “every body is a canvas for limitless self-expression,” and their game-changing ink formula is making it happen. Ephemeral reassures us that you don’t have to have it all figured out just yet; you can experiment without the fear of consequences, and switch up your ink every year.

Sweater: Tripp NYC, Pants: Tripp NYC, Necklace: Gabriel Held Vintage

Ephemeral's Brooklyn studio blends the industrial charm of a downtown loft with plush furnishings, translucent pastel curtains, soft Scandi woods and an abundance of potted plants. This is a tattoo parlor where all are welcome — an enviable Insta-worthy hangout spot that’s both inspiring and serene.

Below, Ephemeral’s Head of Content, Kate Messinger, tells us more about made-to-fade ink, trending designs and the freedom that comes from tattoos with No Ragrets.

We’d love to know where the idea for Ephemeral came from - can you tell us a bit more about how the business started?

Yeah! Ephemeral was started by a team of scientists that were all at NYU. For a couple different reasons, they felt like they couldn’t get tattoos - some had religious families, some of their parents just weren’t into the idea and they didn’t want to cause a rift. But they always wanted tattoos, so started to think about how to create a tattoo ink that doesn’t last forever. They ended up developing a tattoo ink that fades in about 9-15 months, depending on the skin type. From there, it was years of R&D, trying different versions of the ink, testing, clinical studies, and dermatologist approvals. About a year ago, we opened Ephemeral Tattoo in Brooklyn, which was our first bricks and mortar studio. Since then, we’ve been opening all around the country. Our studios are the only places that do these made to fade tattoos.

Top and buttons: Gabriel Held Vintage, Skirt: Tripp NYC, Nails: Kate Mangieri

So, how does the Ephemeral ink work? How does it disappear?

The tattoo is done just like a traditional tattoo, the only thing that’s different is the ink. Ephemeral ink is made of biodegradable polymers that dissolve naturally through your blood and break down over nine to 15 months.

Permanent tattoos have really big particles and your body doesn’t know what to do with them, so they sit underneath the skin. Your body can’t process the ink particles, and your tattoo remains there forever. Our ink is made of biodegradable polymer particles that break down over time, they get smaller and smaller until your body can process them, and that’s how they fade. It’s similar to when you get medical stitches that dissolve.

I really like the example of medical stitches. It sounds like there’s also some similarities with dermal filler, which can last anywhere from three to 18 months, depending on how quickly your body metabolizes the product. I’m sure you get this a lot, but how can you guarantee it will definitely fade?

The thing is, when the scientists were developing the product, they found it’s actually harder to make a tattoo ink that stays around. It’s easier to make an ink that fades fast, but to make an ink that lasts 15 months, maybe a little bit more, that’s what’s harder. So it will fade because we’ve made it that way.

The fade time varies from nine to 15 months because everybody is different, every person’s skin is different. When your body is reacting to this foreign thing, it really depends on your immune system and how quickly it responds. The fade time also depends on how big your tattoo is, the placement you chose and what design you got. If the lines are thicker, it’s going to last longer because there’s more ink; if it's more exposed or it’s in an area that’s constantly rubbing against things, it could potentially make it fade faster. It really depends on the person and placement and also how you take care of the tattoo.

Shoes: R13

What does the fading process look like?

Your tattoo will be pretty vibrant for about six months, and then it starts to break down and dissolve pretty fast, usually over another six months. Our artists work with you to create a design that will fade evenly until it’s gone completely.

Your studios are so beautifully designed! Can you tell us a bit about the experience customers will have with you? From first reaching out to leaving with their finished tattoo?

Yeah, totally! So if you think Ephemeral Tattoos are for you, you can reserve your spot by paying a $20 deposit. You then get access to a design survey, and this is a really easy way to show your artist and our studio what tattoo you want. You can be super vague or you can pick a font, upload photos, write a description, draw something and really have fun with it. After you fill in your design survey, you’re added into our drop system. It’s like Supreme — every Thursday at 10 AM our appointments open up for the next two weeks.

Once you get to the studio, that’s when your artist is going to work with you to make your design perfect. It’s a different experience than a lot of tattoo shops, because we want to empower the customer to get whatever design they want.

Each of our studios is totally different and inspired by the local area and its tattooing culture. You’re going to get a lot of moments to take a picture of your tattoo while you’re there. After your tattoo is done, you get a bag of aftercare goodies and we also take a Polaroid of your tattoo, so you can remember it when it fades!

Cardigan: Lu'u Dan, Necklace: Gabriel Held Vintage

Can you tell us about the artists you have in your studios?

All of our artists have been tattooing for years, and they’ve also gone through a rigorous training program so that they know how to use our ink. We really strive to be inclusive within the tattoo community as well, and that means employing artists of all backgrounds, of all races and gender identities, so that you don’t have to feel intimidated to participate in tattoo culture. Unfortunately, tattooing is still a male white dominated industry, but 50% of our artists are women.

Can you get an Ephemeral Tattoo in any design?

We’re only doing black ink right now, but we’re testing colors at the moment. The biggest design that we can do is around 5-inch in diameter, largely because we want it to fade evenly and we need to do it all in one session. We also can’t do tattoos that are completely filled in, but we can do a stippling technique and etching. Our artists have really done amazing things with the ink — the longer we’re open, the more they’re innovating.

Nails: Kate Mangieri

What kind of trends are you noticing in the designs people are choosing to get? Are people being more adventurous with their designs knowing that they aren’t permanent?

Yeah, totally! Because our ink is not forever, it’s a great opportunity to be able to try something crazy. Our tagline is, “Regret nothing” and we really stand by that. One trend that we’ve been seeing a lot is the whole y2k vibe that’s everywhere in fashion and beauty — a lot of people are getting lower back tattoos because they won’t last forever. We also see a lot of angel numbers and snakes.

Do you see more people getting their partner’s name or cute couples’ tattoos, knowing it’s less risky because it won’t last forever?

Yeah, people totally do that! People come and get couples’ tattoos all the time, or best friend tattoos. One thing I thought was really cool around the new year, is that a lot of people came in and got mantras or resolutions tattooed on them. Or, for example, it’s the year of the tiger so a lot of people got tigers. There’s a lot of designs that play into this idea that it’s not forever. We’ve also had people come in who have lost a pet recently, and actually it’s a very therapeutic thing to get a little picture of their dog or cat or their pet's name, because their grief then fades with the tattoo.

Sweater: Tripp NYC, Hat: R13

Over the past few years we’ve definitely seen a cultural shift away from fixed identities or styles — Ephemeral to me really speaks to that fluidity, freedom and creative approach to the self — was that intentional? Is that something you’re seeing with your clients?

Yeah, totally. We’re all about self-expression, and I think that’s what tattoos have always been about. We present an opportunity for everyone to express themselves in whatever way they want without having to commit to forever. It’s just like bleaching your hair blonde or shaving your head because you want to switch up your look for a while. It gives you control and it gives you freedom, freedom to be whoever the hell you want to be right now, without having to say “this is who I am forever.”

You mentioned earlier that Ephemeral can be a solution to cultural stigma around tattoos — can you tell us a bit more about that and how you’ve seen it play out amongst your team and your clients?

100%. We’ve had people come in who, for religious or cultural reasons, felt like they were never really allowed to get a tattoo. They’ve come in, and then they’ve come with their parents, and their parents have gotten a tattoo with them. For a lot of families, Ephemeral Tattoos can be a really cool bonding experience.

When I got my first tattoo, my mom was like, “God, please tell your grandma that that’s just drawn on,” and I did for years. But now you don’t have to do that. You can say, “Oh, this is Ephemeral and only lasts a year.” I mean, even my mom has an Ephemeral Tattoo now! She’s in her 70s. We should all have the freedom to be a little crazy sometimes.

One of my favorite client stories was a girl who came in because her grandfather had a Jaguar tattoo that he’d got in the navy. He’s in his 90s and would always tell her, “don’t get a tattoo, it’s forever.” She really wanted to pay homage to him, and so she got the same Jaguar in our ink and showed her grandpa, but she’s like, “don’t worry grandpa, it won’t last forever.” It was such a cute moment.

Skirt: Tripp NYC, Shoes: R13, Nails: Kate Mangieri

Can you tattoo with permanent ink over an Ephemeral Tattoo?

You should wait about six months or so, just so your tattoo is fully healed, but yeah you can absolutely tattoo over it to make it permanent. What I love is that you can use Ephemeral ink to add to a permanent tattoo. I have a traditional tattoo of a lady on my arm, and we’ve been playing with adding little Ephemeral clouds that fade away, or when we launch color, I could put her in a little bathing suit, so that every year she changes her outfit. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to work with permanent ink.

I love that idea of playing with the permanency to create an ever-changing piece of art on your body. What kind of reaction have you seen from the wider tattoo community?

We’ve had a lot of interest, but also some mixed reactions. A lot of people in the tattoo industry are very skeptical of what we do because it doesn’t follow the classic tattooing creed of “this is my art, it is forever.” The tattoo industry has historically been a place for those who have been "othered," so people can be quite protective over it, but we’re not telling people that they have to get Ephemeral Tattoos. In actuality, having a made-to-fade option has meant that many of our clients go on to get permanent tattoos. They gain the confidence to walk into a tattoo studio and engage in tattoo culture.

We’re trying to change the industry for the better, by hiring experienced artists, giving them a salary, benefits, healthcare and in some cases, equity. We believe you should be able to work three days a week and still have consistency and security. It really changes the game for a lot of artists, who previously had been managing all of their own bookings whilst tattooing full-time, and had to rely on a client showing up to get paid.

I know you just opened a new studio in Atlanta and you’ve mentioned launching color ink in the future, but what else is in store for Ephemeral?

We’re constantly working on expanding our ink — its capabilities, the colors, the placements and all of that. We’re constantly listening to our customers and our artists and learning from them. We’re definitely opening more stores and eventually, we will go global!

Photography: Tanner Abel and Nicholas Needham
Styling: Evan Dombkowski
Hair and makeup: Coco Campbell
Models: Tyler Twitty and Fabiana Gomez
Casting: Tanner Abel
Production: Nicholas Needham Studio
Creative direction: Evan Dombkowski
Ephemeral Tattoo