Press your spaceface close to mine

Freedom-2™, Electric Tattoogaloo

Posted by Sunday on Mar 5, 2008 at 7:27 pm in Gross Morphology

Being modest is a hobby of mine, the kind I’m reasonably good at but infrequently interested in – other similar hobbies include learning Klingon, sewing, and quoting from Aliens as my only source of verbal communication.

That being said, I hope that I don’t sound immodest when I say that I know pretty much all there is to know about tattoos. For years I apprenticed as a tattoo artist before I realized that I hated people nearly as much as I hated drawing on command. However, I really liked the people I worked for and the industry was such second nature to me that I remained on staff doing anything but actual tattooing.

The tattoo and body modification industry is a very strange one, far beyond the aspect of the “alternative” culture still erroneously associated with it. Rather, the strangness is borne largely from it’s fractured competitiveness. Standardization is rare, in everything from ink to needles to aftercare (especially aftercare). There are die-hard users of tried-and-tested products never meant for use with tattoos (such as A+D diaper rash ointment), as are there devotees of the entirely questionable industry specific products (such as Tattoo Goo). There are as many “right” ways of doing things as there are things to do – and somehow twice as many “wrong” ways. One aspect has remained the same for many years, however, and that is that tattoos are forever.

Sort of.

Some years ago the technology emerged for laser tattoo removal. It’s not a particularly interesting story, but the evolution of the tattoo had suddenly changed; if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone semi-jokingly claim they could just “get it lasered off” if they didn’t like it, well, I’d be able to buy myself a filling for one of my cavities. The fact of the matter is, you can’t “just” get it lasered off any more than you can “just” grow your leg back together after it’s broken. It is prohibitively expensive, painful, and in most cases, not thorough. A stain or shadow of the tattoo left behind is a good removal. A bad removal is a merely blurred and faded one.

For many years at the tattoo shop it was common to be asked, “Do you guys have that disappearing ink?” We had a lot of mean answers, of course, because being mean is how we dealt with having deep charred pits of hopelessness in our hearts. The professional answer was “There is no such thing,” an answer that was often met with a disbelieving stare and a customer who left to consult another shop. There were products that claimed to fade or disappear, but without any wide-spread testing or long-term aging, no respectable shop would use it. (There is also a sort of urban legend about “glow-in-the-dark” ink, though no such product safely exists on the market – there is however a UV reactive ink that as near as I can tell is safe, though still visible by normal light spectrums.)

And then came the terrorist-fighting Freedom-2™.

The short version of the story is that a team of medical researchers wanted to make a tattoo ink that broke down easily in the body. Makes sense, considering that radiation treatment and some mastectomies require positioning tattoos, which results in a different kind of regretful reminder than that drunken Jagermeister tattoo does. The technology is not altogether complicated: a ink that is more easily absorbed by the body is suspended inside microscopic capsules, which in turn are easily broken apart by a tattoo-removing laser. The company claims that a tattoo with their inks will fully reabsorb after just one pass with a laser, but I can’t find any information on how long that takes, nor can I find any independent testing to confirm it.

Additionally, because the technology is new, there is no information on how long the capsules would last if not exposed to a laser. As you may know, the sun’s UV rays work almost exactly like a laser, but in smaller doses. Exposure to sunlight is literally just like having your tattoo removed, but on a fractional scale. I have a vague memory of reading about this ink last year and there being a 10 year limit on the capsules, but I might be making that up.

Whatever the case, there are some major issues. The first is that inevitably, people will want to be charged less for non-permanent ink. No tattoo artist will do this, and if anything I can guarantee you that they will charge more. I know I would.

The second major issue is that of the natural breakdown of the ink. What will it look like? Will it happen suddenly, over the course of a few weeks, or over months? Will it fade evenly, or in patches? Will a person really be comfortable this mangled half-tattoo? What if, after 10 years, they want to keep the tattoo? Will going over the same area with permanent ink, or even more Freedom-2™ (or whatever version upgrade they’ve progressed to) have a negative effect on the absorbtion process of the degrading ink?

Lastly, what will it psychologically mean to people if they believe their tattoo is impermanent? I am not sure how I feel about this last part. I must admit that I am deeply intrigued at the idea that a body modification as powerful as a tattoo can be erased at will. Tattoo purists and those determined to hold onto their “alternative” identities by tooth and by nail are undoubtedly threatened by this – how hardcore is a facial tattoo if every bimbo can get one without consequence? On the other hand, I can’t deny the futuristic appeal of altering one’s self drastically at a whim – indeed, if there were ink that disappeared in a year, I’d get myself straight in line for a portrait of Patrick Stewart on my ass. Halcyon would break up with me, but we could get back together after the tattoo was reabsorbed into my body.

None of this explains why Freedom-2™ couldn’t get some models with real tattoos for their website. Also, I’m not real pleased with a bevy of outright lies on their website, for example, the following:

“Today’s inks have known toxic and carcinogenic properties (…)”

Uh, no. Or possibly on a technicality; Splenda has known toxic and carcinogenic properties, too. So does hair dye. Last time I checked there weren’t any tattoo cancer victims. Horror stories abound of allergic reactions to tattoo ink, and inevitably these are either due to incompetence or acts of a vengeful and bacteria-loving god. Neither of these problems will be solved with a new brand of ink.

Freedom-2™ also throws out this little bon mot:

“People with professional tattoos are 9 times more likely to contract Hepatitis C.”

Oh-ho-ho, really? Really? How about we explain the rationale behind this dinner party factoid: people with tattoos are, yes, more likely to participate in risky behaviors, including sexual and drug behaviors. In other words: people with professional tattoos get Hepatitis C more often, but not because of their tattoos. And that, folks, is science.

So, what about you? What tattoo would you get if it’d disappear with the single pass of a laser?

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March 5th, 2008 | Gross Morphology

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