How Long Do Temporary Tattoos Last?
See the science behind the fade.
Tattooing is an art form with ancient roots, going back to the beginning of time (or pretty close to it). In case you’re wondering, Ötzi the Iceman, discovered buried in the Alps in 1991, lived about 5,200 years ago and bears the earliest recorded tattoo. Throughout centuries and across cultures, tattooing has remained integral to different traditions and rituals, while also evolving into a widespread form of personal expression.
With tattoos resurging in popularity in recent years, it can feel like you’re seeing ink everywhere. And you’re not wrong—tattoos are showing up on everyone from Popeye the Sailor, to Lisbeth Salander, to The Hangover II’s Stu. Who can blame you if, just maybe, you kind of want one too…?
As we all know, permanent tattoos last a lifetime, making them a commitment that might not always age as well as you’d imagine. But if you’re tattoo curious, there are plenty of other options available that don’t last as long. Learning what types of temporary tattoos are out there will help you decide which one is right for you—even if you’re not quite ready for the long haul.
What Makes a Permanent Tattoo Permanent?
It’s easiest to understand how temporary tattoos work if you first know how they differ from permanent ones. And when it comes to permanent tattoos, skin-deep doesn’t mean superficial.
By design, tattoo needles are, well, needles, not brushes. So the design isn’t drawn or etched on the epidermis (your skin’s outermost layer); it's actually created by a series of punctures as the needle moves. The needle pushes ink into the dermis (your skin’s deeper layer, which houses collagen fibers, nerves, blood vessels, and the like) which, like any wound, sets off your body’s inflammatory response.
What happens next? Just like any puncture, your body tries to protect itself. Immune system cells soothe the inflammation by absorbing the ink particles. Many of those cells consume the dye, but remain suspended in the dermis. Stuck there and filled with ink, those cells—which are continually trying to “repair” the needle injury—keep your new design visible on the skin. So really, permanent tattoos stay permanent not just because of the needle and ink—but because of your body’s instinct for healing. Pretty cool, right?
TL;DR: for permanent tattoos, ink enters underneath the top skin layer. For (most) temporary tattoos, ink remains on that top layer.
How temporary is your temporary tattoo?
It Depends on the Type. Most temporary tattoos (we’ll discuss the exception in a moment!) don’t last for more than a couple of weeks. It’s possible to make your temporary tattoo last longer by taking extra care of its exposure—covering it while washing, wearing loose-fitting clothing that won’t chafe, etc.—but remember: the epidermis naturally regenerates every two weeks. And because the ink from temporary tattoos usually remains on that outer layer of skin, it will disappear on the same timeline as your skin’s renewal cycle.
Within the world of temporary tattoos, there is some variation. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.
Sticker Tattoos: Easily applied, these can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on the quality. You or a friend can do it yourselves—all you need is 30 seconds and a wet paper towel to press the decal onto your skin. These tattoos are also easy to remove with the help of rubbing alcohol or baby oil.
Airbrush Tattoos: These traditionally last just a few days, since they’re applied by an artist using a spray gun, special body paint, and stencils to achieve the design. They’re fragile enough that soap, water, moisturizer, and sweat can start to remove the tattoo.
Henna: Plant-based henna ink gets applied to your skin without a needle and typically lasts 1-2 weeks depending on how often the decorated area is exposed to water. You can apply it yourself or have a friend help.Ephemeral: And finally, the exception—unlike other temporary tattoos, an Ephemeral is applied by world-class tattoo artists using a needle, just like a permanent tattoo. However, Ephemeral’s patented ink is semi-permanent and naturally biodegradable. Even though the ink enters beneath the skin like permanent ink, it’s made to dissolve over time—making it a long lasting, real temporary tattoo that fades in 9-15 months.
Ready to Explore the World of Temporary Tattoos?
If you want a tattoo without the lifetime commitment, getting a temporary tattoo is a good way to get going. And at Ephemeral, you can experience getting a real tattoo while knowing that your design is made-to-fade in 9-15 months, meaning it can evolve with your tastes and your lifestyle. Tattoos allow us to use our skin as another form of expression, and they should be for everyone.
For those of us at Ephemeral, tattoos are serious fun. Our passion drives us to innovate every step of the process, from developing our patented ink to making our studio welcoming, inclusive spaces. Seems revolutionary? We think so, too. And yes, Ephemeral tattoos really do fade.