In this post, Ephemeral co-founder and chief technology officer Brennal Pierre shares they story of why he wanted to develop a made-to-fade tattoo ink, how he did it, and where we’re going from here.
In 2015, while conducting research at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, an interesting problem was brought to my attention: Can we make tattoos disappear without the help of laser surgery? My colleague and co-founder Dr. Vandan Shah and I thought we had the solution, and so we embarked on this journey to create a novel tattoo ink that does not require laser surgery removal. After years of research and testing (more on that in a moment), here we are today, with the first tattoo ink that disappears by itself over time. What started for me as a purely technical problem has blossomed into Ephemeral Solutions Inc., otherwise known as Ephemeral Tattoo.
The journey to getting our made-to-fade ink ready for the world was quite a challenging one. While you may think that the difficult part is making the ink disappear, it was actually quite the opposite. In the early stages of product development, the biggest problem was getting our tattoos to last long enough. Our earliest ink only lasted a few days. After over seven years of iterations, figuring out the relationship between ink and the human body, we were able to push the fade time to weeks, then months. Here’s an early example on me:
The other challenge we encountered was making the ink easy for artists while also being able to execute a nice, fine line. We’ve had the pleasure of working with lots of tattoo artists over the years to make sure the ink felt good to them. Often we’d get feedback that the ink felt different or that we couldn’t make the types of lines the artists wanted. I recall working with a fine-line tattoo artist years ago who consistently gave us a 1 out of 10 for ink performance. Those were tough times but extremely satisfying to get feedback on what we could do better. We have tried to keep the spirit of tattooing with permanent ink. Our machines and tools are all the same as traditional permanent tattoo machinery, and the process is essentially the same.
In addition to artist input, we pushed the boundaries early and aggressively to find out what this ink could actually do. We wanted our ink to transfer similarly to traditional tattoo ink so that trauma to the skin would be minimized. We tried to understand what the ill-effects of a poorly executed tattoo would look like. We endured what is known in the tattoo community as blowouts (driving needles into our skin deeper than the tattoo artist would typically go, which oftentimes leads to scarring).
After years of tests on me and my fellow co-founder, and, when we felt confident in the safety and efficacy of the formulation, we began additional trials on close family and friends, followed by clinical trials. We worked (and still work) with the medical community to ensure that we could provide the safest product and best aftercare regimen for our tattoos. Fast-forward seven years, and today we have an ink that transfers nicely to the skin and is designed to last 9-15 months. We spare nothing to ensure consistent, satisfying results.
So then why does the fade time still vary? Our skin is one of the most complex organs. And I’m sure everyone on this forum knows this from experience trying different skin products. What works perfectly for one may not work well for others. We learned that, although we could vary the rate at which our ink fades, there’s still an intimate relationship between the way the ink breaks down and the immune system’s ability to remove the ink. Because of the variability in every human’s skin physiology and immune system, we can sometimes see huge differences in the way the ink fades. There are a plethora of other reasons for variation too, like the thickness of the line, whether there is shading, and the specific placement.
Have more questions? You can reach out to us at email@example.com.