You Can Now Get Tattoos That Fade After A Year For Less Than $200, So We Did It And Here's Everything You Need To Know

·12 min read

Howdy, internet users! We're Shelby and Ehis. One of us is a tattoo veteran with six tats and counting, and the other has always been too chicken to let a tattoo needle grace her skin.

arrows pointing to the authors showing Ehis has been tatted and Shelby has not

Here's us dressed up in honor of our favorite movie, Josie and the Pussycats.

Shelby Heinrich/Ehis Osifo/BuzzFeed

Despite our difference in tatted-ness, we've both always appreciated the artistry and expression of tattoos. So, color us intrigued when we started seeing a ton of TikToks about Ephemeral Tattoo — a studio that offers tattoos made to fade within 9–15 months — pop up on our For You pages:

  Ephemeral Tattoo
Ephemeral Tattoo

Seriously, a lot of people are talking about this.

  TikTok
TikTok

Since we come from completely opposite ends of the tattoo spectrum and just so happen to live in Los Angeles — one of Ephemeral's four studio locations — we decided to get some Ephemeral tattoos of our own and see if the experience lived up to the hype.

Netflix

But first! We wanted to learn a little more about Ephemeral and how exactly their "made-to-fade" tattoos work.

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What really sets Ephemeral apart from traditional tattooing is its ink. Although it's applied just like a regular tattoo (gun and all), Ephemeral's ink is made of a medical-grade, biodegradable solution specifically designed to be broken down by your body. The ink particles get smaller and smaller over time, allowing your immune system to break them down until eventually, they're completely gone.

a tattoo design fading over time

Keep in mind that Ephemeral has a lot of limitations — at the moment!!! — that include not being able to do tattoos that exceed five inches, tattoos on the hands/fingers/face, band tattoos, and only tattooing with black ink.

Ephemeral

Ephemeral's co-founders, Vandan Shah, Ph.D., and Brennal Pierre Ph.D., originally came up with the idea for Ephemeral tattoos in 2014, when they were (respectively) teaching and studying chemical engineering at NYU. From there, they brought on a third co-founder, NYU business student Josh Sakhai, and spent nearly a decade developing, testing, and perfecting the ink until it was safe and ready for human bodies. To date, the Ephemeral team has tested over 50 ink formulations.

"Our goal is really to provide another platform for artists, and also for users." said Brennal Pierre, who was kind enough to sit down with us for an interview. "Who, you know, just aren't sure what they want, and still want to have tattoos. So our goal is to make it accessible to everyone."

In terms of pricing, Ephemeral tattoos cost between $195–$550, based on whether they're considered "Subtle Style" or "Statement Piece" tattoos. Subtle Style tattoos are smaller with simple line designs, and cost between $195–$245. Statement Piece tattoos are medium-large, have a more complete design, use more ink, and cost between $350–$550. Reserving your appointment costs $20, which does go towards the price of your tattoo, and is fully refundable if you change your mind.

$550 is the absolute highest price for Ephemeral tattoos at the moment, but that may change as they begin to expand and offer larger, more intricate tattoos. Also, you don't know exactly how much your tattoo will cost when you go to the studio since changes to the design and size might happen on the spot and affect the price. Basically, you know you're either paying between $195–$245, or $350–$550, and have to prepare accordingly. But remember, there's no need to tip your artist afterward because the tip is already built into the price.

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Note: Ephemeral provided our tattoos free of charge, and this is our honest review of the process. We were under no obligation to cover this procedure. And just so you know, our tattoos would have cost between $195—$245.

And now, without further adieu, here's the nitty-gritty of our Ephemeral Tattoo experience...

  Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed
Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

After making our appointment, Ephemeral sent us a survey asking for design ideas to send to our tattoo artists. We were able to provide pictures, choose our tattoo size, and explain what we wanted them to look like*. At the end of the survey, Ephemeral gave us the price range for our tattoos based on our submissions. Then, on the big day, we moseyed on over to Ephemeral Tattoo in Los Angeles.

the outside of the building

LA's Ephemeral Tattoo studio is located at 131 N La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036. For info on their other studios, click here.

*From what we can tell, lots of tattoo artists at Ephemeral also have flash tattoos you can choose from, so if you'd rather be spontaneous and just choose something the day of, you can!

Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

Once inside, we were greeted and asked to wait until our tattoo artists were ready for us. The staff was super friendly and the waiting area was VERY welcoming and cozy. We even got to drink some cute lil' waters while we waited!

  Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed
Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

Prior to meeting our artists and seeing our designs, an Ephemeral associate took us through a pre-appointment walkthrough, which told us all about the ink, what to expect during our appointment, and the aftercare (we'll get into that later).

holding up the tablet that has the walkthrough info
Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

From there, we went into the back area where the actual tattoo would be happening. A moment for that GIANT DISCO BALL, please!!!

the clean and modern interior with large couches and large disco ball above
Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

After a little more waiting, we met our artists, Hunter and Kadriya, who showed us their mockups of our designs for the very first time. Neither of us were super in love with the first drafts, so they both worked with us on tweaking the designs and deciding on something we'd be happy putting on our bodies for a year. In fact, Ehis ended up going with a flash tattoo, so there are plenty of options in case you aren't super feeling the design!

close up of the artist drawing out a design on a tablet

PS: Hunter and Kadriya tattoo at Ephemeral and also do permanent work in tattoo shops around LA. Check out their work!!! It's fantastic.

Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

Shelby's thoughts on the shop: Since this was my first-ever tattoo, I was preeeettty nervous. At one point, I heard the shop's printer going, thought it was a tattoo gun, and freaked out a little! But the whole vibe of Ephemeral's space really put me at ease. l also really appreciated how kind and attentive everyone was from start to finish. It totally took the edge off and helped me feel excited about my tattoo instead of worried about the pain (lol).

Ehis' thoughts on the shop: This is definitely not my first tattoo shop — and 100% won't be my last — but it has been one of my fave experiences! The space was large and cozy and had tons of candy, which satiated my sweet tooth and ensured that Shelby's blood sugar didn't drop too low since she was nervous. I honestly would love to hang there even if I wasn't getting a tattoo, haha.

  Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed
Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

Once we'd decided on our tattoo designs, It was time to bzzzzz. Hunter and Kadriya made up stencils of our tattoos and helped us decide on the size and placement. We both opted for our lower forearms.

an arm being put on a table to tattoo
Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

Then, after shaving, sanitizing, and prepping, just as they would a permanent tattoo, they fired up their tattoo guns and broke skin. Ephemeral was kind enough to put us in the "honeymoon" tattoo stall, so we were able to get our tattoos side-by-side. Both took between 30–45 minutes total.

Ehis getting tattood

Shelby's thoughts on the pain: Again, this was my first tattoo, so I had NO IDEA what it would feel like. Hunter described the feeling as *spicy,* and I'd agree with her! It sort of felt similar to laser hair removal, which I've gotten in the past. But instead of a zap-zap-zap, it was more of a consistent pricking. During the first few minutes I was thinking, "I'm never doing this again," but as time went on, I got more used to it and it became NBD.

Ehis' thoughts on the pain: I'm a little chaotic and kinda like the feeling of getting tattoos. The "hurts too good" mentality and all that. That being said, this tattoo was definitely a bit more painful than previous tattoos, mostly because of the way the Ephemeral ink works. The tattoo artists have to move a bit slower with the gun and go over the tattoo a few times to make sure the ink properly penetrates, so it was a bit *spicer* but nothing too painful.

Ehis Osifo/BuzzFeed, Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

Once the bzzzing was complete, this is what our Ephemeral tats looked like in all their fresh-ink glory. We were obsessssssed.

Shelby showing off a floral tat and Ehis showing a line tat of two figures about to kiss

Shelby's touch-me-not flowers were considered a Subtle Style tattoo and would've cost between $195–$245 based on size, intricacy, and the amount of ink used.

Ehis' outline of people kissing was considered a Subtle Style tattoo and would've cost between $195–$245 based on size, intricacy, and the amount of ink used.

Shelby Heinrich/Ehis Osifo/BuzzFeed

After thanking Hunter and Kadriya, another Ephemeral employee took us through the aftercare for our tattoos one more time. Then, we filled out a quick after-appointment survey and were free to go! We even got some cute goodie bags with aftercare instructions and supplies.

two of the goody bags being held up
Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed
  Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed
Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

Immediately after we got our tattoos, the folks at Ephemeral put on special hydrocolloid bandages (the same material used in pimple patches and blister bangdages) to help keep the fresh ink from bleeding or getting distorted, and protect it from the sun. Beyond that, main instructions were no exercise for the first week, and no submerging in water for the first week (ESPECIALLY no hot tubs, since the chlorine could cause the ink to fade and prolong the healing process). Showering was still OK.

the bandage over the tattoo

They also told us that the healing process for our tattoos might look completely different. It all depended on our bodies, skin sensitivity, how much ink our tattoos needed, etc.

Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

Here's everything we got to keep up our aftercare:

a second bandage patch, lotion, mild soap and hydrocortizone cream
Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

Brennal explained in our interview that the healing process for Ephemeral tattoos happens in three phases over the course of three to six weeks: Resealing, Rebuilding, and Remodeling. We noticed the Resealing phase happening RIGHT AWAY. Both of our tattoos filled up with a bluish liquid that was NOT cute, but apparently normal. Just our bodies and the patch doing its thing. The skin was also VERY tender, so we tried not to touch!

This is what our tats looked like literally the day after our appointment. Further proof that healing looks different for everyone.

This is what our tats looked like literally the day after our appointment. Further proof that healing looks different for everyone.

Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed, Ehis Osifo/BuzzFeed

After two days, we took off the first patch, washed our tattoos with mild soap and applied the second HC patch, which we wore for an additional two days.

the patch being removed under water
Shelby Heinrich/BuzzFeed

Once it was time to retire the patches, we washed our tattoos and moisturized the area with Vanicream twice a day, and still do that now as they continue to heal. Ephemeral also instructed us to protect them from the sun, so anytime we knew we're going to be outside for long periods of time, we apply sunscreen with SPF 50 or higher every two hours or so.

putting cream on the tat

Shelby's thoughts on the aftercare: I obviously have nothing to compare it to, but this aftercare seems pretty chill. I wish the healing process was shorter, but the washing and moisturizing easily fit into my morning and night routine, and I hardly ever think about it anymore! The only thing I'd say is it's probably more convenient to get an Ephemeral tattoo in the fall or winter, when there's less water and sun to worry about.

Ehis' thoughts on the aftercare: I'm not gonna lie — these tattoos are HIGH MAINTENANCE. It's nothing complex, but very involved and very long. It's been almost a month since we got our tattoos and mine still hasn't fully healed. I will say, my line work was thicker than Shelby's, which is why the healing is taking a bit longer, but a permanent tattoo would have already been healed by now.

Ehis Osifo/BuzzFeed

Here's what each of our tattoos look like about two weeks out from our appointment:

still healing

Throughout the healing process, we've both experienced itching, flakiness, and the ink looking raised in different places, but all of this has gotten less frequent and less intense over time.

Shelby Heinrich/Ehis Osifo/BuzzFeed

Shelby's final thoughts: I never considered getting a tattoo before this, because I just couldn't handle the permanence. So, honestly, this is WHAT I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR! I love the idea that I can express myself in different phases of my life and not worry about regretting it down the road. And it gives me the opportunity to test run different designs to see if I'd actually like to have them on my body permanently. I'd 1000% visit Ephemeral again.

Ehis' final thoughts: While the experience was pleasant and I'm excited to see what this tattoo looks like as it fades, I personally wouldn't do this again since Ephemeral tattoos cost more than traditional tattoos I've gotten in the past. That being said, I'm not afraid of the permanence of tattoos or the indecisiveness that comes with which tattoo to get. If that's a concern for you, then I would 100% suggest going to Ephemeral, however, if you're a tattoo veteran, then this may not be the way to go.

*I also suggest, if you go the Ephemeral route, definitely air on the side thin line work rather than thicker lines.

If you're interested in getting your own Ephemeral tattoo, you can reserve your spot at one of their locations on their website. And tell us what you think of the idea of made-to-fade tattoos in the comments!