How Are Temporary Tattoos Done?

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The fun ink transfers that kids get in goodie bags at parties aren't the only type of temporary tattoo available. Henna and airbrushing are other forms that are decidedly more adult. Temporary tattoos last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the type applied. The method of application also varies, according to your choice of product.

Transfer Tattoos

Transfer tattoos are usually made from a combination of glue and ink. The image adheres to a sheet of paper treated with a special coating. When you apply moisture to the back of the paper with the image on it, the tattoo is released. The image has a layer of glue on top that makes it stick to your skin. Depending on the quality of the ink and glue compounds, transfer tattoos last anywhere from one to five days. Baby oil or alcohol, not plain water, breaks down the glue for easy removal.

Henna Tattoos

Traditional tattoos use a needle to inject ink deep into the layers of the skin. Henna tattoos use a dye made from a flowering plant to create tattoo-like images on the skin. An artist paints or stencils the design on your body, and the dye stains your skin. Henna is only available in shades of red, brown and black. Your tattoo fades over the course of a few days or weeks as your skin sloughs off and the dye wears away. Certain types of henna, listed as black henna, contain coal-tar hair dye which can cause allergic reactions in some people, sometimes severe. The addition of this dye can make the tattoo last longer and appear darker, but it isn't an approved skin cosmetic in the United States. Other types can also cause allergic reactions. Test any henna tattoo ink on a small area of skin before getting one of these tattoos.

Airbrushed Tattoos

First developed for movies in which actors wanted longer-lasting but realistic looking temporary tattoos, airbrushed tattoos are sprayed onto the skin. The tattoo is made up of a specialized paint, rather than a dye such as henna, that lasts between two and seven days. A stencil is used to apply the design, and the artist can customize it during the application process, unlike with temporary tattoos. How long the design lasts depends on your skin type, the tattoo's placement -- some parts of the body experience more wear and tear -- and how you care for it.

Which to Choose

The type of temporary tattoo you choose really depends on why you're getting it. For kids or a Halloween costume, a transfer tattoo works just fine. Henna tattoos are decorative and make a fashion statement. For the most realistic replicas of real tattoos, airbrushing is the way to go. As long as you go to a reputable artist for henna or airbrushing, the tattoo should be safe.