Body Art: a Short History of Temporary Tattooing

by Alexander Baran
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Temporary tattoos are one of the most widely available and inexpensive body art options in the modern United States, but did you know that semi-permanent tattooing has been alive and well for centuries?

The history of the surface or "stain" tattoo begins with ancient Indian "mehndi", or henna body art. 

Henna leaves are ground into a paste with some type of natural acid (like citrus juices), applied to the skin in a certain design, and left to dry for several hours, absorbing into the skin and staining it for several weeks. This method is in fact still used in Northern India for Bridal adornment.

The temporary tattoo as we know it found its inception in the late 1800's. These original temporaries were made with transferable pigments, much like those we use now, but the colorings were sloppy and easy to remove with water.  The majority of these items were introduced as "prizes" in boxes of caramel corn and pieces of bubble gum and were used primarily as promotional media, which is still seen to some degree today in things like cereal packaging.

Our modern temporary tattoos are predominantly produced with longer lasting vegetable dyes and non-toxic glue, which allows them to last up to two weeks on average.  Some styles are applied more like a sticker and include rhinestones, glitter, or tiny colored beads. 

Whatever the material and history of the design, it's clear that temporary tattoos will continue to evolve and grow in popularity, having turned the pain, permanence, and extended healing time of tattoo art into little more than a slightly sticky situation.

 

by Alexander Baran

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