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What Are Temporary Tattoos?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Temporary tattoos are removable designs which are intended to be applied to the body. Unlike real tattoos, when someone gets tired of a temporary version, he or she can simply wash it off. A temporary tattoo will also naturally wear away with time. There are a number of different types and styles of temporary tattoos, just as is the case with real ones.

Many people are familiar with the type of temporary design which comes in the form of an ink transfer. To apply the tattoo, the ink transfer is held against the skin while a moistened sponge is applied to the back to loosen the ink and encourage it to adhere to the skin. Often, the ink is mixed with a glue solution to encourage it to stay on the skin for up to one month. Some companies also make temporary designs which are designed someone like stickers or decals, operating on a similar principle with glue to adhere to the skin.

There is also a long tradition of temporary tattoos in many cultures, especially in the Middle East and India, where many women receive henna tattoos on special occasions such as weddings. In other parts of the world, vegetable dyes have been used to temporarily color the skin or make tattoos. In Western culture, face and body painting are also familiar forms of a temporary tattoo, designed to adorn the body for a brief period of time.

Other temporary designs are made with a stencil and an airbrush or paintbrush with specially designed inks. These tattoos can often look extremely realistic, as long as the designs are simple and blocky. Depending on the type of dye used, the tattoo may have considerable staying power. This temporary art is often used in film making to create tattoos for one of the characters.

There are all sorts of reasons to wear temporary tattoos. Commonly, many people get them for fun or celebrations. People who are considering real tattoos may get a temporary version of the desired design while they think about it, since living with the temporary version allows them to think about placement and whether or not they truly love the design.

Booklets of temporary tattoos can be found in some stores. People can also design their own at home, using materials around the house such as markers or by using a make-your-own kit. Professional applications of henna and vegetable dye are available at some tattoo parlors and specialty shops, and airbrushing is available through these sources as well.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By kylee07drg — On Aug 18, 2012

My best friend was considering getting a butterfly tattoo across her back, but she wanted to be certain that she would love it first. She found a place that offered airbrush temporary tattoos, and she chose the butterfly design that she loved most.

They told her that if she decided to make it permanent, she could come back and get them to ink the exact same design into her skin. During her temporary tattoo days, she wore cropped shirts to show off her tattoo.

She said several people looked at her as though she were trashy. Her boyfriend also came for a surprise visit from out of state, and he hated the tattoo. So, she decided not to make it permanent.

By OeKc05 — On Aug 17, 2012

Children's temporary tattoos are my favorite kind. They are so easy to use that children can often apply them on their own, and they wash off with soap and water.

I remember giving myself a unicorn tattoo as a kid. It was purple, and I pressed it onto my forearm. For a couple of days, I washed around it but wouldn't let water touch it directly, because I loved it so much.

Three days after I had pressed it on, I spilled something on my arm and had to wash it. I was really sad to see it go, but it had already begun to fade a little, and it probably wouldn't have lasted much longer, anyway.

By Kristee — On Aug 16, 2012

@orangey03 – It's weird that locations near the beach even offer henna tattoos. Exposure to sunscreen, chlorine, and salt water will all work against the tattoo, and generally everyone who vacations at the beach will be exposed to these.

My friend got a temporary henna tribal tattoo when we were in Florida, and it lasted no time at all. She had washed her sunscreen off before she went to get the tattoo, but some of the residue remained, so the henna probably didn't adhere as much as it should have.

We went into the ocean a few hours later, and her tattoo started fading when it got wet with salt water. Regular shower water probably wouldn't have affected it as much, but salt water is pretty intense.

By orangey03 — On Aug 15, 2012

How long do henna temporary tattoos generally last? I remember seeing them promoted at a place where I vacationed last year, and I'm thinking about getting one during my beach vacation this year. I think it would be cool to walk around in a place where no one knows me with a big tattoo.

Do they wash off when you shower? If so, I'm out of luck. I will have to be showering every day, because I will be covered in sunscreen and salt water.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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