It's the night before my appointment at Ephemeral Tattoo in Williamsburg and I'm 30 minutes deep in a Pinterest hole scrolling through a grid of 'tiny tattoos' hoping one will jump out at me. I booked my appointment the week prior, after my TikTok algorithm served me a viral Ephemeral Tattoo review that influenced me to try it — but I still had no idea what I wanted to get. Perhaps it's because there wasn't as much pressure to decide on a design because the tattoo wouldn't be super permanent.
The tl;dr on Ephemeral is that the studio — with locations in Brooklyn, L.A., and San Francisco — offers what presents as a real tattoo experience. It's staffed by trained artists, they use a tattoo gun, so it's equally as painful, and the cost is comparable. The difference? Their ink is biodegradable, which means your body breaks it down. As it does, the tattoo fades, and over the course of a year, completely disappears. Low stakes, I thought.
I have two permanent tattoos, one on the inside of each wrist. They're tiny, by design, and no one ever notices them. For this third one that's just for fun, I thought my left outer wrist, arm bone area, would be a cute placement. Though, comparatively speaking, it's a bit more visible than the others. For the design, I knew I wanted a word or a phrase in cursive script. In my Pinterest digging, I find a teeny-tiny script that read, 'C'est la vie', or such is life. I like the sentiment, accepting what comes, and it looks dainty on someone else's arm. I take a screen shot and bring it to my appointment the next morning.
I arrive at the bright, sunlit Ephemeral Williamsburg studio the next morning and the staff briefs me on what's going to happen with my tattoo. "Have you ever had your wisdom teeth taken out? Do you remember the stitches?" I'm asked as my 'C'est la vie' is screen-printed in the back. I nod yes, recalling the painful surgery and the tiny black 'x's on my back gums that eventually dissolved. "This ink is like those stitches. Your body will break down the pigment over the next nine to twelve months." I'm then shown photos of the tattoo-fading process, which appears to be a uniform lightening: black, charcoal, a pencil gray, then gone.
My tattoo artist, Gusti, who has been with Ephemeral since the studio opened almost a year ago, stamps the cursive French down my arm. Once I'm good with the size and placement of the sketch, I lay down and he starts tracing with ink. If you've ever had a tattoo, the pain is exactly the same, like a tiny vibrating knife scratching your skin. It's not pleasant, but it's quick. According to Gusti, the Ephemeral clientele is mostly into small-script and fine-like tattoos. "Most people come in for tiny tattoos," he tells me, adding that my outer-arm placement is pretty trendy at the moment.
After about five minutes, we're done. I love the accessory of it right away. "It's so cool," I admire, checking my arm in the mirror. I'm briefed on the aftercare, which also follows the general guidance of a traditional tattoo. I have to keep it wrapped for two days, and then treat it with gentle soap and water and unscented Vanicream to keep it moisturized. I'm a week out and there's still a little bit of redness, but the healing looks good. I don't have any regrets — as promised — but I kind of like the idea that one day I'm going to look down and see my 'C'est la vie' has vanished. Like it has served it's purpose for that period of time. In the meantime, it's a good story.