NYU Graduates Are Developing a New Tattoo Ink That Will Disappear in a Year

May 11, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Tattoo of a neuron on a woman's shoulder
Photo credit: Andra Mlhali/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

They’ve already run preliminary studies to test the ink on living organisms.

Tattoos are becoming more commonplace in our society, but many people still have reservations about etching their bodies with something that will be there forever. On the other hand, there’s those who already went forward with the body art, and now have a permanent reminder of an ex or something that seemed a lot cooler when they were 18.

However, a team of New York University graduates and students are developing a new ink that may change the game. The company, Ephemeral Tattoos, says the ink will eventually fade and can be easily changed or removed.

In an interview with Allure, engineering student and company founder Seung Shin says the idea for Ephemeral Tattoos came after he got inked and his family angrily disapproved. His parents convinced him to get the body art removed, but Shin quickly realized that the process of laser tattoo removal is extremely painful and expensive. His experience inspired him to partner up with some fellow engineering and business students to create a removable tattoo ink.

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In traditional tattoos, the ink travels through the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis, to the dermis, the layer just underneath. As the tattoo artist maneuvers the tattoo machine, dye-filled needles are piercing the skin at a frequency of 50 to 3,000 times per minute, and each time the needle penetrates the skin, it causes a wound that alerts the body to start the inflammatory process. Then, the immune system responds and attempts to eat up the ink, but the remaining ink gets soaked into skin cells, which is how the tattoo becomes a permanent part of you.

Ephemeral COO Joshua Sakhai tells Tech Insider that the company developed an ink made of smaller dye molecules encapsulated in a sphere of biomaterials that the body can break down more easily than permanent inks.

He says the team started working on the ink back in August of 2014 and has gone through “countless iterations” to perfect it.

In theory, not only will tattoos done with Ephemeral ink begin to break down and fade in about a year, but they can also be removed by going back over the skin with a removal solution that speeds up the breakdown process, the team says.

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"The removal solution simply breaks down parts of the sphere and the immune system cells can remove the dye molecules naturally through your body's lymphatic system," Sakhai says.

Plus, their ink and removal solution can be applied with the same tools that tattoo artists use today, so no new training would be necessary. The creators also say that there’s no visible difference between a tattoo with Ephemeral ink versus traditional permanent ink.

So far, the ink has gone through a series of steps in testing. First, the creators perfected the function of the product in a controlled lab environment, Sakhai says.

Second, they ran “preliminary biocompatibility studies,” which involved testing the ink in living cells outside of a living organism, he told Tech Insider. He declined to specify what these living organisms are, but stressed that the team has “undergone strenuous studies, tests, and iterations to ensure that none of the organisms get hurt throughout the study."

Third, the step that the ink is currently in, is to test the ink in the living cells inside of a living organism, in order to ensure the safety and efficiency of the product.

The team expects to launch the ink in August of 2017, so if you’ve always wanted a tattoo but didn’t want the permanent commitment, an alternate option may soon be a reality.

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