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This new tattoo ink is designed to disappear after a year

Afraid of commitment?

DAVID NIELD
13 MAY 2016
 

If you've ever considered getting a tattoo but have been put off by its permanence - who knows how you'll feel about that "E = mc2" face tattoo in 10 year's time? - then a new startup called Ephemeral has you covered. The fledgling company, run by a team of New York University graduates, is developing a special kind of tattoo ink that disappears in just one year.

Basically, after a year has passed, the tattoo starts to fade, and you have the opportunity to either adapt the original design or simply get rid of it. Oh, and current tattoo artists won't need specialised equipment to use the new ink, so if this stuff makes it to market, it shouldn't be too hard to find. 

 

So here's the science behind it: a standard tattoo remains permanent because the dye molecules are too big for your body's immune system to clear them up, as Brian Heater explains at TechCrunch

The ink developed by Ephemeral uses smaller molecules that can be 'flushed out' by a special removal solution, which is tattooed over the temporary tat after a year's use. 

Before now, laser surgery was the only way to fully remove a tattoo - a process that's expensive, lengthy, and painful. Basically, laser tattoo removal works by pulverising the ink particles trapped in your skin, allowing your body to carry them away to get pooped out. Yes, pooped out.

As ScienceAlert's Josh Hrala explained to Modern Notion last year:

"After your white blood cells obtain the ink particles, they take them to your liver, which sends it out of your body when you poop - the same way your body gets rid of all of its waste. In essence, the laser only plays a very small role in the whole ordeal because it just aids your body's natural response to contamination."

You can see this process in action below:

The new, less painful service won't be available till 2017, but the team already has plenty of backing to get it done - the company was spun out of an entrepreneurship competition held at New York University in 2015, which saw them receive $200K worth of funding to develop the ink.

"Ephemeral was born through a personal experience of mine," said CEO Seung Shin. "Ever since I was young, I was always interested in tattoos but my parents were extremely against it, mostly because of its permanence."

In the end, Shin got a tattoo, but had to have it removed via laser surgery - an uncomfortable experience that inspired the creation of Ephemeral.

Painful memories of past relationships, misspellings and awkward translations, or just bad ideas (that seemed great at the time) could all become a thing of the past, if the team end up commercialising this technology.

They're currently testing the product on pigs, because of their close genetic links to human beings, so we'll have to wait and see the results.

Ephemeral says an average-sized tattoo would cost in the region of US$50-100, and you've got plenty of time to save up. The only other thing you need to do is decide on a design for your 12-month tattoo.

If Ephemeral is able to launch as planned, it seems like they'll have a pretty large market: a survey carried out last year found that 22 percent of Americans and 14 percent of British adults with tattoos had regrets about getting inked. 

"There are still millions of people that aren’t getting tattoos because they demand a lifetime commitment," says the Ephemeral team

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