Why I’m writing this…
Part of growing up is learning how to express yourself. I grew up with a lot of remarkable artists and musicians, constantly exploring new modes of expression. Most of us were committed graffiti writers up until the age of 18 when it became a risk to go jail and pay thousands of dollars in fines. Consequently, calculus class with Mr. Irwin became the studio where some of the best art my friends and I produced in high school; drawing full sleeves on our arms with sharpies and pens. Used to having our graffiti taken down, we accepted the impermanence of our work and that in a few shower’s time every intricate design we drew on ourselves would be washed away. On the flipside, there was always a blank canvas to look forward to. Every three days or so we’d have new art on display covering our forearms keeping things fresh and current. Mr. Irwin always commented that we looked like “hoodlums” – I’m sure he never realized that we were writing out stylized interpretations of equations on our arms inspired by his…aridity. (That still remains a sort of bonus chuckle.)
No doubt this is where my fascination with body art developed, but I couldn’t imagine having a piece of my body permanently inked with one piece. My tastes change too often, and I grew fond of the idea that my arms were portable, personal, and most importantly renewable canvases.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I heard through a friend about this new ink that was supposedly removable with the single scan of a laser. My curiosity was piqued and I started researching, interviewed a few tattoo artists and discovered the following. Enjoy!
Impermanent tattoos: Here to stay?
Ever changed your mind? Ever thought of a better way to say something after you already said it? Or have you ever made a mistake that you just wanted to erase altogether?
Tattoos have been around for about 5,000 years, and perhaps even longer: changes of heart. The young company Freedom-2 has combined these two human traditions by creating a new type of tattoo ink that is designed specifically with future removal in mind – “Infinitink”.
The Back Story
The concept was originally developed at Duke University’s Kenan Plastic Surgery Research Center by Dr. Bruce Klitzman and surgical resident Kim Koger. The surgeons noted that mastectomy patients (patients experiencing partial or full surgical removal of the breasts) often got tattoos to simulate the areolar area around a nipple that was reconstructed from tissue. But as the breast heals, the nipple can shift position, and the patients often end up unhappy about the result. Klitzman realized that perhaps tattooing could be thought of as drawing with a “pencil instead of a pen”…
Meanwhile, another group headed by dermatologist R. Rox Anderson of Harvard Medical School had the same idea, having treated many patients who were dissatisfied with their tattoo removals.
The two groups ended up spending nearly a year in front of a judge disputing patenting rights over an embryotic idea for removable tattoos. Eventually, venture capitalist Craig Drill offered the funding for the two groups to consolidate their efforts, and the company
Freedom-2 was born.
How It Works
Freedom-2 went on to develop what is now called “P2E” technology (Particle Enhancement and Encapsulation). P2E Infinitink consists of tiny “microspheres” (roughly 1 micrometer in diameter) constructed from the same FDA approved polymers utilized in plastic surgery. They encapsulate colored dyes in place of traditional ink pigments. The microspheres also contain a dopant that absorbs a particular wavelength of light, and the right laser can synthesize enough energy to activate the dopant and burst the microsphere. Simply put, the site of the tattoo can be scanned over with a laser that will instantly disperse the microspheres, dyes, and ideally, the tattoo.
What people like about it:
Infinitink is ostensibly safer than many other tattoo inks on the market. The FDA website warns that though some tattoo inks are approved for cosmetic use, “none are approved for injection under the skin”. Because there have not been any widespread concerns about tattoo safety, the FDA has designated tattoo regulation a lower priority – tattooing, in fact, falls under state and local regulations. Treated like a secret recipe, most if not all ink distributors keep hush about the contents of their ink, free of pressure from health authorities. Some inks have been found to have heavy metals such as lead, iron, and even carcinogens in tattoo ink – ingredients more suitable for automobile paint.
The dye inside the Infinitink microspheres is about as harmful as water-based food coloring. Once shattered by the laser, the nano-sized microsphere fragments are small enough to be disposed of by the body like dead cells or bacteria. The removal process also causes considerably less damage to the skin than traditional tattoo removals.
Infinitink would require only one visit to a removal specialist. This saves lots of time and money, whereas traditional tattoo removals can take several visits and cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars – and a lot of pain.
*Good for Business
Martin Schmieg, CEO of Freedom-2 claims that roughly 25% of people over the age of 18 in the U.S. have tattoos, and another 25% over 18 are considered “fence sitters” – people who would like a tattoo but aren’t entirely confident about the commitment. Schmieg aspires to convert that other 25% to tattoo-getters, virtually doubling the number of tattoos in the U.S.
What people don’t like about it:
Though the removal process costs significantly less than traditional tattoo removal, the ink itself is much more expensive: a tattoo can cost up to five times more than traditional inks.
Some tattoo artists feel that Infinitink undermines the tradition of commitment behind getting a permanent tattoo. To many artists, the concept of their art being given the option of “disposable” is hardly enticing, even insulting. Check out this video below to see what artists are saying about Infinitink.
Because Infinitink is such a new product, the only hue that has been approved by the FDA for distribution is black, and very recently a shade of red. “It’s actually harder to use” Says tattoo artist Brenda Wynne, “You can’t use A&D ointment on it, which helps the needle glide through the skin”. According to an informational pamphlet given to Brenda and other tattoo artists by Freedom-2, the tattoo must be worn for a minimum of two years before getting removed. When asked why specifically the ointment can’t be used, or why the tattoo must be on for at least two years, she simply replied “They didn’t tell me”.
Though Infinitink is quite prospective, it still has some proving to do in the field. Wynne claims to have 2-3 clients per month who specifically request Infinitink. “Not many people know about it yet” says Wynne. Coupled with this lack of exposure, there are still many questions that even artists like Wynne aren’t sure about. If it is going to take two years before clients can start to remove their removable tattoos, it would be inaccurate to say Infinitink has proven itself.
Artist Todd “The Todd” Sorensen cautions: “When you’re getting a tattoo, removable or not, you should consider it a permanent decision.”
I interviewed the owner of Stingray Body Art in Allston, MA by the name of Brenda Wynne who was kind enough to share her thoughts on Infinitink amidst a busy schedule. Here is what she had to say:
MAE: When did you first start using Infinitink?
BW: Sometime last year, I don’t really recall the date but I’d say about a year.
MAE: And has it been popular?
BW: As soon as I put it in my bio (shrugs) yeah.
MAE: For the artist, is it any different to use Infinitink as opposed to traditional inks?
BW: It’s actually harder to use – you can’t use A&D ointment with it, an ointment that helps the needle glide through the skin. They told me not to but I don’t know why, it draws the ink out for some reason. It’s also a little watery, and once you open a container of it you have to use it all, so it would cost [the tattoo-getter] more money because I have to go through a whole bottle of it once it’s open.
MAE: Is this something you would recommend to people?
BW: Yeah I’m for it, but people need to realize it is a lot more expensive. A lot of people get it for their parents, so their parents don’t freak out. I had this one guy start out with Infinitink, getting a huge sleeve and the thing is, sometimes it doesn’t heal the best and you have to go over it again. So I said to him “Look, you’re obviously not going to get this removed, just tell your dad it’s Infinitink and we’ll use real ink or it’s gonna cost you a hell of a lot more and it’s not gonna look as sharp”.
MAE: Do you do removals here?
BW: No we’re working on that, it actually requires a medical device and you have to be a doctor.
MAE: Have you seen what these tattoos look like after they’ve been removed?
BW: No, because it hasn’t been out long enough; you have to wait two years.
MAE: Physiological reasons?
BW: I don’t know, it just said that on the pamphlet they gave me.
MAE: Is this something you would advertise as a way to draw in more clients?
BW: Well you know I use all different kinds of inks that people come here for, like Vegan Ink.
MAE: Vegan ink? What animal products are found in other tattoo inks?
BW: Glycerin, which has gelatin in it.
MAE: Do you think that this is something that is going to blow up and actually become a revolutionary installment to the tattoo industry or is this just a trend?
BW: Nah it’s not gonna blow up. I think it’s gonna be a nice thing to have and to offer people but I don’t think it is going to ‘blow up’. The UV ink is a lot more popular.
MAE: UV ink?
BW: Yeah it glows in the dark! So I could tattoo your whole face and (once it heals) you wouldn’t be able to see anything until you walk under a black light.
MAE: And that has been particularly popular?
BW: Yeah it has been pretty popular, and I just found this stuff [after Infinitink] when I ran out of white and was looking for my white and I found this and was like “Whoa people are gonna love this!” .
MAE: And I’ve heard that the only Infinitink ‘color’ they have available is black?
BW: They came out with a red too but I haven’t gotten it yet. And no matter what, you cannot remove white ink. It just turns black under a laser, and I’m not sure specifically why.
MAE: Sounds like there are still a lot of questions to answer and proving to be done before Infinitink makes any big strides. Thanks for your time!
BW: Thank you!
Here are a couple more related articles on Infinitink I found interesting:
Zack Trahan, April ’10