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Photo by Joao Guerreiro

What’s An Ephemeral Tattoo?

If I had access to a tattoo gun at the ripe age of 14, I would have tattooed the infamous “okay, okay” clouds from The Fault In Our Stars alongside some other 2014 Tumblr reference on my forearm. Now, as a Gen Z with commitment issues, I realize this would be a terrible idea. Thank the universe for granting me a strict Filipino mother who forbade tattoos until forever: imagining current me with a massive John Green sprawled across my arm makes my stomach churn. Tattoos are permanent—at least before “ephemeral tattoos” broke into the scene.

Besides being one of my favorite words, “ephemeral” is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “lasting for a very short time.” And while an ephemeral tattoo just sounds like those little peel-and-stick tattoos from a gumball machine that you’d slap on to feel cool, this viral tattooing process is a little more hardcore.

Amassing over 35.2 million views as of July 2022, #ephemeraltattoos is full of Gen Zers showing off their new temporary ink, along with posts from the shop that started it all. Based in Brooklyn, LA, San Francisco, and Atlanta, Ephemeral Tattoo specializes in making the permanent, impermanent.

Ephemeral tattoos are done with a real tattooing needle, but saturated in biodegradable ink that’s designed to fade away within nine months to a year. A departure from the idea that tattoos last forever, ephemeral ink has made the one thing that everyone considers permanent fade away. And it’s just the thing for Gen Z.

It’s no secret that Gen Z, collectively, struggles with the concept of commitment. According to a 2020 study by Vice, only 1 in 10 Gen Zers are “committed to being committed” in terms of romantic relationships. But this goes further than committing to relationships. With the “white boy of the month” trend, Gen Z has been known for hopping to obsession-to-obsession: Jack Harlow one day, and Miles Teller the next. If I can’t even commit to a celebrity crush, how am I supposed to commit to permanent ink?

Similarly, in Gen Z, the fashion trend cycle has been moving faster than ever thanks to micro-trends and fast-fashion clothing websites. With a variety of aesthetics trending by the day, tattoos have become an accessory that Gen Z uses to express themselves and enhance their outfits. Whether it be cool pop-punk-inspired ink, or a cute Y2K lower back tattoo, ephemeral ink gives Gen Z the ability to play with tattoos in a way they could never before.

But above all, ephemeral ink is the culmination of Gen Z’s viewpoint on the world. With social justice issues and the climate crisis constantly on the rise, Gen Z has adopted a nihilistic mindset that enables us to think critically about the meaning of well, anything. And while so many of us are trying to figure out the meaning of life, who can expect us to assign a meaning to a tattoo—especially if, now, it’ll just fade away.

For the generation that thinks nothing matters, why not make nothing permanent? It’s only fitting! Get that tattoo you’ve always wanted with absolutely zero meaning. In fact, get five tattoos with absolutely zero meaning, if that’s what you want! With ephemeral ink, they’ll eventually disappear anyway.

Just, please don’t get that TFIOS tattoo. Even if it’ll fade, I’m sure you’ll still regret it.

julianna (she/her) is an associate editor at her campus where she oversees the wellness vertical and all things sex and relationships, wellness, mental health, astrology, and gen-z. during her undergraduate career at chapman university, julianna's work appeared in as if magazine and taylor magazine. additionally, her work as a screenwriter has been recognized and awarded at film festivals worldwide. when she's not writing burning hot takes and spilling way too much about her personal life online, you can find julianna anywhere books, beers, and bands are.