‘Made to fade’ tattoo parlor chain opens in D.C. as locations spread across US

Media Credit: Daria Nastasia | Staff Photographer

Once you arrive for your scheduled time, you’ll enter the sleek, artsy spot as soft music and the hum of tattoo machines fill the atmosphere.

If you’ve ever wanted a tattoo but weren’t sure about the commitment, Ephemeral Tattoo will make those worries – and your ink – disappear.

At this “made to fade” tattoo parlor, which opened last month on the H Street Corridor, visitors can get real tattoos applied through the regular ink-and-needle process, but with Ephemeral’s first-of-its-kind ink, the tattoo will gradually fade away in about one to three years. Ephemeral’s D.C. studio is the most recent edition to join six other locations in cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York City as a comfortable outlet to test out the world of tattoo artistry without the fear of subsequent regret hanging over your head.

Since tattoo parlors shut down during the onset of COVID-19, temporary tattoos have peaked in popularity as people began experimenting with temporary ink they could apply at home. Ephemeral bases each studio around its respective location, nodding to the club culture of Atlanta for its studio in The Big Peach, drawing inspiration from the desert for its Houston location and highlighting a gallery of local art for its D.C. spot. Since Ephemeral started testing their ink around five years ago, about 50 tattoo artists have administered more than 10,000 Ephemeral tattoos across their locations.

“We’re excited to join Maketto, The Atlas Performing Arts Center and the Mehari Sequar Gallery as another form of creative expression in a neighborhood that feels very evocative of the creative side of D.C.,” Danny Orenstein, Ephemeral’s vice president of development, said in an email.

The key difference between this tattoo parlor and others is the ink. Their ink uses plant-based and bio-absorbable ingredients instead of metal-based pigments or paraphenylenediamine, the most common allergen in temporary tattoos. The ingredients in Ephemeral’s ink shrink as your body breaks them down over time – about 70 percent of Ephemeral tattoos fade in fewer than two years, and the rest takes no more than three, according to a money-back guarantee.

The fading time varies from person to person, depending on the placement and design of your tattoo, your body’s response, skin tone and how well you care for the affected area. Ephemeral provides customers with a complimentary body wash and moisturizer in addition to a protective patch and anti-itch cream if needed, making aftercare simple.

Ahead of your appointment, you’ll fill out a form to share your design idea, placement and style. Once you arrive for your scheduled time, you’ll enter the sleek, artsy spot as soft music and the hum of tattoo machines fill the atmosphere. While you wait for your name to be called, you can leaf through a selection of tattoo designs on the coffee table. Potted plants are spread throughout the naturally lit studio while vibrant paintings and prints adorn the yellow floor-to-ceiling gates, sectioning off space to prep and receive a tattoo.

Daria Nastasia | Staff Photographer

At Ephemeral, your design will fall into one of two defined categories – “The Subtle” or “The Statement” – depending on the size, shading and complexity of your design. A smaller, more minimalist tattoo will fall on the subtle side, with prices ranging from $195 to $245. For a bigger, prominent choice, your design will land on the statement side, costing between $350 and $550.

Customers can also choose from six designs from Ephemeral’s Y2K Flash Collection, including a pair of dice and “baby” written in gothic font, which each go at $150 a pop and can be up to two inches in length and width. The parlor only offers black ink, and particular locations are not available for inking, like hands and feet. But Ephemeral is in the works to expand its color and placement selection with more complex and vibrant ink designs.

Daria Nastasia | Staff Photographer

For my visit, I opted for a small and dainty fleur de lis design on the back of my shoulder with strokes of varying thickness but mostly consisting of fine lines. My tattoo artist printed out four sizes of my design for me to choose from, ranging from a few centimeters to about two inches in length and width. My session was complimentary, but a small tattoo like that would cost between $195 and $245.

Walking up to the chopping block, I worried about the intensity of the pain, but my nerves subsided as the process began. In my experience, the pain level felt equivalent to receiving a shot at a doctor’s office. While laying on the bed and chatting with the artist about music, I actually had a quite comfortable experience during the roughly 10 minutes it took him to transfer the design onto my shoulder.

Daria Nastasia | Staff Photographer

Knowing my tattoo would fade in a few years, I could concentrate on the excitement of how the temporary design would accessorize my body instead of fretting about a lasting permanence. The ink had barely gotten to dry by the time I was itching to show off the design.

While the tattoo is expected to vanish between one to three years, Ephemeral offers a complimentary tattoo if your tattoo lasts less than a year. If your tattoo lasts longer than three years, you’ll get your money back. And if you think your tattoo could use some perfecting, Ephemeral will give you a free touch-up within 60 days after your appointment.

For those eager to experiment with a tattoo or two, Ephemeral gives you an excuse to test the waters. Derek Burgess, a tattoo artist at Ephemeral, said the majority of Ephemeral’s clientele falls within a young, 18 to mid-20s range of people who are often unsure about their first tattoo, but he’s seen them emerge happy with their new ink.

“I understand a lot of our clients are first-timers, and they don’t know,” Burgess said. “And they’re really unsure. To actually see them happy at the end is – it’s rewarding.”

Julia Koscelnik contributed reporting.

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