Returning to England from the South Pacific at the end of the 18th century, famous adventurer and explorer Captain Cook brought back a heavily tattooed Polynesian called Omai, who quickly became a London sensation:

Omai - tattoed Polynesian

The word tattoo derives from the Tahitian word ‘tatu’ – meaning ‘to mark something’. Traditionally associated with sailors, who often sported designs brought back from overseas, by the 20th century tattoos had become a bit seedy – a rough, tough symbol of hard living. A permanent marker of a time when you were young and devil-may-care, tattoos were the painful work of a lifetime – eventually fading to a blue smudge over the course of very many years.

The appearance of authentic looking temporary tattoos in the 1980s changed the public perception of real tattoos. Founded in 1981, Temptu painted tattoo art onto movie stars, starting with the cult film classic ‘Tattoo’ – and tattooing became all the rage. If supermodels and actors could have them done, then so could you! The Temptu method was easy – apply a transfer, peel it off, paint the design, powder with talc. With care, they could last a few days – and of course, freak out your parents -”Yes, ma, it’s real!”

it seemed only a short step from this subterfuge to the adoption of permanent tattoos by many fashionistas and trend setters the world over.

empheral team

ephemeral staff line up

(Caption: Seung Shin, Vandan Shah, Joshua Sakhai, Brennal Pierre PhD, Anthony Lam)

Well now there’s a middle way between a three day party trick and the real, permanent deal. Harlem, NY based start-up company Ephemeral is made up of five graduates of NYU (pictured above). When their CEO, Seung Shin wanted to remove a tattoo his family didn’t like – he was left with scarring, skin damage and a projected $2,500 bill for total removal – which would take over two years. Like all true-born entrepreneurs, and allowing hope to triumph over experience, he came up with the idea for Ephemeral tattoos. Ephemeral means transient – they last for just one year.

”Afraid of commitment? Why not try Ephemeral tattoos. So, even if you two break up, that giant heart with your ex’s name inked across it will be gone before you know it!” according to the Ephemeral Facebook page.

Beautiful hipster girl with skateboard on light background

Clearly fidelity means nothing when you can chop and change your lovers – and their semi-permanently inked names – any time you like. The dyes in the transitory tattoos are made up of smaller molecules than traditional tattoos, although they are applied by conventional tattoo artists, who will be hand picked by the Ephemeral team across the US.

camera' tattoo in front of face

Eventually after the year ends, the design fades evenly away – though the company can also supply a special solution that removes or edits the tattoo whenever you decide you’ve had it for long enough.

cool gal on bike

Costing around $150 to $200 for an average size, and using FDA-approved materials, Ephemeral tattoos can be used as a trial run if you’re still building up the courage to go for that detailed bicep piece. Or why not just enjoy being able to change your tattoo at your (scrolled) heart’s content? Ephemeral are to be launched in New York in the fall of 2017.