Truth or Myth? Semi-Permanent Tattoos That Fade Away On Their Own

Tattoos That Only Last Several Weeks or Months?

Tattoo on young woman's nape
Rosmarie Wirz / Getty Images

I’m guessing you’ve probably heard of the semi-permanent tattoo–the one that only lasts six weeks or six months. Or was that 6 years? No one seems to knows for sure because it can’t be done. However, what can be done is buy some stock footage of pretty people sporting hip tattoos or hang a shingle saying you're a tattooist who offers temporary inked art. 

Lately, I've been wondering why people want a semi-permanent tattoo to begin with.

So, I did the research and discovered that over 40 percent of American marriages end in divorce and, logically, a higher percentage of long-term serious relationships fail. That means that you may have to live with your tattoo longer than your spouse or significant other. It's easy to see why the idea of a tattoo with a short lifespan is so appealing to so many people. 

Is There Really Such a Thing as a Non-Commital Tattoo?

The fact is, when you insert tattoo ink under the skin, it's there for good because essentially, you're "digging" into the skin. Yes, the ink may fade over time, but it won't disappear—ever. There is no magical ink that fades completely away after a predetermined length of time.

Some tattoo artists will say that they tattoo the ink so lightly that it doesn't become permanent. As though somehow it's only embedded into a temporary layer of skin that will wash away, much like applying rinse to color one's hair.

Except that a hair rinse will indeed fade after about two months because it rinses out with shampooing.

What the Professionals Have to Say

Consider this: the human body has three main layers of skin, and most tattoos are embedded into the second layer. However, if you only go into the first layer of skin (which would require surgical if not magical precision) the ink may indeed fade but it won't fade evenly and will never fade completely.

If you went this route, you'd be left with an unsightly half-tattoo with splotches of ink that will like they were haphazardly applied here and there.

Klicks Tattoo quotes an article from The New York Times in which Dr. Arthur Morris, a plastic surgeon, says, "A tattoo only lasts if it goes into the dermis (the layer of cells below the epidermis). In other words, there is no possible middle ground." In the same article, Lal Hardy, of The Alliance of Professional Tattooists says, "Professional tattoo studios won't go near these so-called temporary tattoos. It is hairdressers and market stalls who are doing them. The people doing it may even believe the tattoos are temporary, but those getting them are guinea pigs."

The Sucker Scam

Basically, the art of the semi-permanent is nothing but a scam. Stick-on tattoos are temporary (and last three to seven days) and henna art is temporary (and lasts two to four weeks) and tattoos are permanent. Those are the only real choices you have.

I recently visited a website promoting its semi-permanent tattoos that are guaranteed to stay on, and look good, for up to seven weeks and then disappear. There was even an image of how you can easily apply your own tattoo at home.

There was also a promotion at the bottom of the page promising to send you $100-worth of free tattoo ink if you submit your email. This site, and many others like it, scream scam. 

In the end, if you are not prepared to keep your tattoo for the rest of your life, you'd be best off not to get one at all.