I don't know exactly how many tattoos I have.

It’s probably in the world of 50–70. I started getting them right as I was legally able and have collected them ever since. When I was younger, I tried to make sure each one had a “meaning.” Something prepared for when someone asked me, “what does that tattoo mean?” I figured that way, there’d be no chance of me getting ink that I look back on somewhere down the line with regret.

Except that turned out not to be the case. All of the tattoos I got to mark some sort of trying or significant time in my life have aged pretty poorly. An e.e. cummings quote. [gurgle] A Bon Iver lyric. [lurch] A Harry Potter spell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! [heaves] I’m just glad I never got a full-on deer head tattoo on my chest in the deep V-neck era of gay culture.

Within the last few years, I’ve began taking a much more lighthearted approach to my body mods.  A Jerry (from Tom and Jerry) tattoo? Great. A Gucci loafer? Funny! Two Snoopy tattoos? Make it three!

Luckily for me, and soon — you, there is now such thing as real semi-permanent tattoos. Not temporary tattoos or henna. Real tattoos administered the same way a traditional tattoo is (via needles), except it only lasts around a year.

What is Ephemeral Tattoo?

Ephemeral is a tattoo company with four locations — Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta. As mentioned, they hire real tattoo artists to perform real tattoos with real tattoo machines with real needles. The difference is in the ink. Their proprietary ink is biodegradable, which means that over the course of 9–15 months, the ink particles shrink and get flushed out naturally by your immune system. Wild, right?

It basically takes every single implication about tattoos and turns them on its head. Literally, I’d say the first core tenet of tattoos is their permanence. That’s where the stigma of them stems from, right? That you, in one moment, make a decision for you, decades into the future. Imagine what you could get if that weren’t the case. In my case, it was a drawing of lychees. I knew I wanted something fruity and Filipino. I played around with mangoes and jackfruit and coconuts before landing on my favorite childhood fruit.

In the Phillipines, you can get a big bag of them for practically nothing. If you've never had one, they taste like grapes and honey.

I also knew I wanted it on my ass.

Does it hurt?

Pain is, of course, relative. What could feel like a little pinch to one person can have another person in absolute ecstasy.

So, for context, I have a fairly low pain threshold. I’m not one of those people who make it seem like tattoos aren’t painful and that my heart doesn’t do jumps as soon as I hear the machine turn on. So, the short version is this: butt tattoos are medium painful. Less painful than ribs. People often use the “cat scratching” metaphor to describe the sensation. It’s usually a dull, annoying pain, rather than a sharp, excruciating pain.

Do Ephemeral tattoos work on dark skin?

I was pretty concerned about this. I have a medium dark tan complexion, and I regularly deal with hyperpigmentation and was worried the tattoo would leave behind some sort of ghost-image after it has faded. I was sure to ask the staff about this. My understanding is this: Ephemeral tested on a wide range of skin tones to make sure the disappearing aspect of the tattoo is inclusive to all.

Once my tattoo has completely faded, I will be sure to post an update on VGL.

Designing your Ephemeral tattoo:

I already knew what I wanted, but if you don’t, Ephemeral makes the process of landing on a design simple as hell. After booking your appointment, there’s an opportunity to upload different inspiration pics that your artist can start noodling on.

In for a penny, in for a pound: If you were wondering why I am shirtless, it is because I was wearing a gigantic oversized shirt to my appointment that I didn't want accidentally stained. I mean, my artist was already staring at my yams. So what if she sees my flanks!

Are Ephemeral tattoo artists nice?

In my experience, yes. Anyone who has been to a tattoo shop can attest to the fact that sometimes, it’s like walking into a biker gang’s top secret conference — and they are not happy you’re there. This isn’t to say that I haven’t met nice tattooers in the past. I have! There’s plenty. But there also can be a fake tough/fake mean mentality surrounding tattoo culture, and I won’t be gaslit into believing it’s all in my head.

My artist was kind, friendly, and a great conversationalist. There was no attitude or scaly exterior to break through. From the receptionist to my artist to the person who came in to do my aftercare: 10/10 on the pleasantness scale. My tattoo artist, Sarah Michelle, asked if I had breakfast before our session as you should always eat before a tattoo. I had, but inquired:

“Why? Do you have snacks if I didn’t?”

“Yeah, sometimes people’s blood sugar gets low.”

“Can I still have some?”

She vanished briefly and returned with three flavors of fruit leather.

The impression I had was this: If it were my first or fiftieth tattoo, they would treat me with the same amount of respect and compassion.

How clean is the Ephemeral shop?


What kind of music do they play in the Ephemeral shop? Probably Metallica or something, right?

Wrong! They were playing Top 40 during my tattoo. If I had to guess — based on stereotypes alone — the playlist was created by a gay person with impeccable taste in music.

How much do they cost?

Between $190 to $550 (tip included) depending on the complexity of your tattoo.

How long does it take to heal?

3-4 weeks.

How do you take care of it?

The process of taking care of an Ephemeral tattoo is pretty on par with taking care of other tattoos — with only a few minor differences here and there. When you finish your session, you’ll be sent home with a hydrocolloid patch that covers your tattoo. (Hydrocolloid is the protective material that pimple patches are made from!) You leave it on for three days and then peel it off. If your tattoo was placed on a more sensitive region, you might need to recover it with a second (provided) patch for two days. For the tattoo on my dump truck, I did not need to do this.

My Ephemeral goodie bag, excluding the Sour Patch Kids that I already ate! 

Ephemeral sends you home with everything you’ll need. A Polaroid of your new tattoo (where I looked like a crime scene cadaver) so you can show it to people even while it’s covered in a bandage. An unscented soap, which you’ll wash your tattoo with in the shower and then apply unscented lotion. Candy. Stickers. If it gets itchy, as some tattoos do, Ephemeral has also provided a bit of hydrocortisone cream. It sounds like they thought of everything, right? Funny. I was just thinking the same thing.


Everything to know about tattooing your face before its too late
If you’re planning on upping your ink, here’s what to consider before taking a needle to your face.
Everything you need to know before getting your first hand tattoos
Here’s everyth ing you need to know before you take the plunge on your first hand tattoos.
Everything you need to know about getting your first tattoo
Here’s everything you need to know before getting your first tattoo. Experts from West 4 Tattoo and Mount Sinai weigh in.
I have 57 tattoos. Here’s what I wish I knew before I got my first one. - Very Good Light
I don’t have any tattoo regrets (yet!) but I do wish I could have told myself a few important things at the outset of my body art journey.
Share this post