Monday, October 18, 2021

Disappearing tattoo ink?

This is a cool science entrepreneurship story (via The New York Times): 
...Ephemeral’s fading ink was invented by two chemical engineers who specialize in protein, Brennal Pierre, 41, and Vandan Shah, 33. They met at New York University, where Mr. Pierre was an adjunct professor, and Mr. Shah was a Ph.D. candidate.

Their work began in 2014 when one of Mr. Pierre’s students, who was also Mr. Shah’s research assistant, was going through a very painful and expensive laser removal process for a tattoo, and he wanted to know if it would be possible to remove it with an enzyme.

Once the question was asked, Mr. Pierre and Mr. Shah were hooked. “It was so intriguing to us,” Mr. Pierre said. They spent the next seven years developing an ink that would be broken down by the body’s natural mechanism.

...When you get a tattoo made of permanent ink, most of the ink remains where it is deposited. By contrast, Ephemeral’s ink is made of a material that the body naturally breaks down over time. The ink works in a similar way to biodegradable medical devices like stents used in implants or sutures used in stitches. These products, like the ink, are broken down naturally by available oxygen and water in the body.
Looks like to me that the inks are pretty typical inks, but the encapsulation is where the secret sauce is? 

I used to be pretty skeptical of science entrepreneurship stories, but the last ~5 years have changed my opinion broadly as to its potential applicability. I still think the problems are pretty tough to surmount (i.e. I think you (the scientist) basically needs a full-time spouse to provide health insurance, etc). Makes you wonder if the inevitable climb in interest rates will clamp down on rates of entrepreneurship...


  1. As someone with a lot of tattoos, I ask why would anyone getting a tattoo want this unless it was one of those "I lost a bet and had to get this tattoo" type of thing? Additionally, I wonder how many tattoo artists know this product exists AND actually use it.

    1. As someone without any tattoos, their permanent nature scares me off. A temporary tattoo is the perfect way for someone to try it out without making a lifetime commitment. A visible facial tattoo might cause a problem if the owner moves into a more conservative career field in the future. It's also a great idea for something faddish like a tramp stamp that was current in the early 00's, but looks as dated as 1980's permed hair today.

    2. looking at the patent file the tattoo at the last 20 days would look like fuzzy as the ink was broken down into smaller dots? wonder how it looks irl.
      I guess this is useful for people to "try out" a tattoo before they are committed - theres a market for anyone and everyone it appears.

    3. I have a few tattoos in high-wear ares, around my ankles, feet and heels, and the ink does not last long there, heel especially. But it never got fuzzy, it just sort of faded away. So that transition from fresh to "gone" it can look kinda bad, depending on how big of a perfectionist you are, but it kind of has a faded jeans sort of look to it, if that makes any sense. My oldest tattoos are around 20 years old now and are still as sharp and vibrant as they were from day 1, but I also am super diligent with various lotions and sunscreen. Most of my work was done by one artist so I don't know if it's something he does technique-wise or the ink he uses, but they do not look faded at all in the areas above my achilles and ankle.

    4. High-wear areas*

  2. There is a "temporary tattoo" company in Toronto that has been at it for a number of years. The ink is deposited by means of a kind of decal (like a kids' temporary tattoo) but it "tans" the skin like henna, which fades over time. The company seems to have a decent sized chemistry team.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20