Temporary tattoos have been around for a long time, but as any inking enthusiast would agree, they’re nothing compared to the real deal. And yet, there are times when tattoos don’t end up like you wanted them to, or you just get bored with them after a while. In such cases, getting a tattoo removed involves laser treatments that are both expensive and painful. But not anymore. It might soon be possible to temporarily get a permanent tattoo, thanks to this new type of tattoo ink developed by a group of engineering students.
The special ink has a huge advantage over regular tattoo ink – it can be removed from your skin through an extraordinarily simple and inexpensive process. You simply visit your tattoo artist and have them trace over the tattoo with a removal solution. Voila! It’s all gone. Or, you can just erase the part of it that you don’t like and turn it into a whole new artwork. The choice is yours.
The product is named ‘Ephemeral’, after the team of Chemical and Biomolecular engineering students who took part in the recent $200,000 Entrepreneurs Challenge held by NYU Stern’s Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The team comprised of five School of Engineering students and a sixth one from Stern won the grand prize of $75,000 for their unique invention.
“Ephemeral was born through a personal experience of mine,” said Seung Shin, one of the team members. “Ever since I was young, I was always interested in tattoos but my parents were extremely against it mostly because of its permanence.” Shin later went on to get a tattoo anyway, but eventually had it removed as well. “It was the worst experience of my life,” he said. “It was extremely painful, ineffective, and costly.” The experience got him thinking about simpler methods of tattoo removal, and ultimately brought the idea to fruition during the competition. The trick was to reduce the size of the ink molecules, making it easier to simply wipe away.
“Tattoo inks today are permanent because of the fact that the dye molecules are too big for your body’s immune system to take away,” explained Anthony Lam, another team member. “By using smaller molecules, we’ve encapsulated them inside this spherical structure that’s big enough that your immune system doesn’t take it away. But when you remove it, it essentially eats away one of the components and the dye molecules are flushed out.”
Photo: Tandon School of Engineering
The team spent eight months developing the product, competing against 249 other teams from seven other NYU schools. Starting with initial idea pitches, they worked their way through elimination rounds, coaching sessions, and a Q&A before a panel of judges on May 1. After presenting a three-minute pitch and video explaining their concept, Ephemeral was voted the winner in the ‘Technology Venture Competition’, securing the $75,000 grand prize.
“Although the past eight months have been the most challenging months of my career thus far, they have also been the most joyful,” Shin said. “I would recommend any of my fellow colleagues with an idea to join this competition – a truly priceless learning experience.”
Ephemeral is currently being tested – first on cells, then on pigs – and Shin says that they hope to release the product commercially by fall next year. They’re also planning to start accepting seed funds on June 1. “We haven’t really sealed down the pricing yet, but we’re looking at anywhere from $50 to $100 for an average sized tattoo,” he said. “Right now, we’re planning for our financing round and we hope to have it up in the next 10 months or so.”