Ephemeral Tattoos Were ‘Made to Fade.’ Some Have a Ways to Go.

In May 2021, Claudia Mangione got a tattoo of a match on her rib cage. Ephemeral, the studio that tattooed her, had just opened in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, and its draw was a trademarked tattoo ink that was advertised as “made to fade” nine to 15 months after application.

Not so for Ms. Mangione, 25. The crisp line drawing “looks like a spatula now,” she said, almost 22 months later.

For some customers, the company’s tattoos have proved less ephemeral than they had hoped. Nearly two years after the start-up opened its studio to a flurry of articles, including one in The New York Times, some early customers have congregated on Reddit and TikTok to bemoan tattoos that have lasted beyond 15 months. Several shared their regrets in an article published in The San Francisco Chronicle in November.

From the start, Ephemeral’s waiver included warnings that “the exact amount of time that the tattoo will last may be shorter or longer” than nine to 15 months, and that the tattooing process “might leave individuals with permanent marks.”

But the company’s public-facing descriptions of the tattoos’ fade times have shifted. The company’s website once claimed the tattoos would be “gone in a year” — despite the caveat in the waivers — but that language no longer exists. As of Friday, the tagline reads: “Real tattoos, made to fade.”

On Feb. 3, Jeff Liu, the chief executive of Ephemeral, emailed customers with an update of the company’s explanation of how long the tattoos would last; the email also introduced a “regret nothing guarantee” that offers refunds to customers whose tattoos last longer than three years.

The nine- to 15-month time frame was supplanted in Mr. Liu’s email by an expectation that “70 percent of all Ephemerals will disappear in under two years and others longer.” The website also says: “Don’t worry: your Ephemeral will disappear.”

In an interview with The New York Times on Feb. 10, Mr. Liu said that describing the tattoos as “gone in a year” was “oversimplifying” and had caused confusion among customers. The nine- to 15-month time frame reflected what the company had expected the majority of customers to experience, he said in an email, adding that the company was continuously testing new language on its website.

Mr. Liu said he had learned that “some customers will just take the initial tag line at face value.” Beginning last summer, he said, the company had “started to be more deliberate about how we drive home a message about variability.”

Mr. Liu also said that “a vast majority of our customers are very happy with their tattoos and their fade.”

Tattoos are notably unpredictable, said John Swierk, an assistant professor of chemistry at Binghamton University in New York, who studies why light causes tattoos to fade. He said that factors including genetics, skin type, tattoo placement and light exposure could all affect how each body might respond to tattoo ink, which has not traditionally been regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

“I’m not surprised that they would have difficulty in pinpointing how long this is going to last,” Professor Swierk said.

When Ephemeral began tattooing customers in 2021, it introduced itself as a breakthrough for the tattoo industry. It promised at least some of the cool — though a number of permanent tattoo artists had their doubts, with one telling The Times that the concept “makes me want to cry” — without the commitment. The promise of disappearing ink was summed up in the company’s tag line: “Regret nothing.”

The pitch was attractive to investors and customers. Ephemeral said it had raised more than $20 million in a Series A round and has opened six studios across the country, with a seventh expected to open in Washington, D.C., in March. According to the company, more than 10,000 customers have gotten Ephemeral tattoos.

Eden Bekele, 26, a D.J. in Brooklyn, got a two-inch chili pepper tattooed on her right arm after her boyfriend won a free Ephemeral in a raffle. It was a “spur-of-the-moment” decision, she said, based on her belief at the time that the tattoo would be gone in 15 months. It is still visible 18 months later.

“Now it feels like something I should have thought about a little bit more,” Ms. Bekele said.

The company’s primary innovation was its ink, which was invented by Brennal Pierre and Vandan Shah, both chemical engineers who met at New York University. In 2014, they began work developing an ink formulation that breaks down over time. Mr. Liu said that the ingredients in the ink are all F.D.A. approved and are similar to those used in dissolvable stitches, but did not specifically disclose them.

Mr. Liu declined to say how many people the ink was tested on before it was in use. He said that in six years of development, there had been case studies and “clinical studies” under the supervision of an Institutional Review Board, one of which he said was being reviewed for publication in a medical journal. The founders — Mr. Pierre, Mr. Shah and Josh Sakhai — also tested the ink on each other, and on family and friends.

“The company was founded by chemical engineers, not just a bunch of bozos with an idea,” said Laura Neilson, 41, who regrets the still-visible Ephemeral tattoo she detailed getting in a story for Vogue, 22 months ago. “I took their word for it.”

In the summer of 2021, Barbara Edmonds, 28, a media sales coordinator in Brooklyn whose tattoo of a Claddagh ring is still visible after 18 months, started posting photo updates of her Ephemeral tattoo to a Reddit group she created. She began hearing from others who were also frustrated.

Mr. Pierre, one of the company’s founders, responded to several messages in the group; in July 2022, the company created its own.

Though the company’s original guidance aligned with the data it had at the time, Mr. Liu said, the data on fade times started to vary more once the studios opened, both at the higher and lower ends of the spectrum.

“What happened after launch, which makes a ton of sense, is we started to have tons of permutations of placement and designs,” Mr. Liu said. The “variability” of how long a tattoo will last has risen alongside the variability of what kinds of tattoos customers get, he said.

He also said the company had begun testing various removal options and that it planned to test laser removal in addition to other removal methods.

The new messaging may make a difference for people considering an Ephemeral tattoo. But for some who still have tattoos they got before the company’s language shifted, the updated guidelines read more like a mea culpa.

Heather Plunkett, 36, who works in advertising in Brooklyn, paid more than $500 for three Ephemeral tattoos. Her oldest tattoo, the name of a bar from her favorite book, has lasted more than 21 months.

She’ll take a refund, she said, but she wishes she had not gotten the tattoo at all. “I feel a little silly for being so trusting of a start-up that is marking my body,” she said.

Sumber: www.nytimes.com