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The History Of The Temporary Tattoo

By Christien Tinsley

For centuries the tattoo has been a practice that cultures all over the world have adopted in one form or another. They have served as rites of passage, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion, marks of status and rank, decorations of bravery, pledges of love, sexual lures and marks of fertility, punishments, protection, amulets and talismans (as well as the marks of slaves, outcasts and convicts). They have been used as a way to show feelings toward other persons, places and things. Tattoos can be beautiful and fun to show off but they are also permanent and cannot easily (or painlessly) be removed. This is why temporary tattoos are ideal for those who want to “get inked” but do not want to mark their bodies permanently.

In Africa, Asia and the Far East, some cultures have used henna and even types of paint for temporary adornment for thousands of years, but the history of the temporary tattoo has never been narrowed down to the actual year when one was first manufactured as a consumer item. Some of the very first ones seen in the Western world appeared in Cracker Jack boxes around the turn of the century (late 1890s and early 1900s). They were also found in packs of gum and baseball cards as prizes. Food coloring was used to create the color in the tattoos and people would moisten the transfer paper to adhere designs to their skin.

New tattoo for you

In the 1980s, the 3M Company developed a new temporary tattoo line that with styles and artwork a lot different from the food-coloring-based ones found in Cracker Jack boxes. These new styles were also scratch and sniff with a special microfragrance coating to them that had different scents. These tattoos were still made with food coloring, though, and so never really became a hit. However, the Dandy Novelty company teamed up with well-known tattoo artist Ole Hansen, from Copenhagen,Denmark, and together they developed a brand new line of temporary tattoos that was based on real body tattoo artwork.

This innovative new look of temporary tattoos created a stir in Hollywood and gained a lot of interest. Once again 3M became involved in the development of a new line of tattoos, ones that were placed on translucent film and could then be transferred to the body with just a little water. This opened up an entire new window for not only people that liked to wear them but also for the film industry. Actors could wear the temporary tattoos for roles in movies and television.

Body art is big business

These days tattoos have become widely marketed and can be found in stores of all types all across the nation. Temporary tattoos are not simply child’s play anymore, either, as many adults enjoy them today. Years ago manufacturers would make the temporary tattoos out of food coloring and the skin prints would not last long and were easily smeared by water. Today, the process in which they are made allows for them to last a lot longer. In fact, they are nearly waterproof and have to be removed with soap, water and some light scrubbing. Temporary tattoos are now considered to be a fashion accessory for many people and are chosen as easily as piercings, earrings and other body embellishments.

Temporary tattoos have been a hot commodity for children and adults alike. They are fun, creative and now so realistic looking that it is almost impossible to distinguish a real one from a temporary one. They are great to try out if you are interested in getting a real one but are not quite sure how it would look. Even more, for people that do not want to go under the needle for some body art they are ideal. They do not cost much and can be removed at your leisure. Temporary tattoos have multiple benefits, and that is what makes them unique and attractive. They are sure to be around for years to come and there will always be more new designs (and approaches) because it is an art form, after all. We may just be seeing the birth of an entirely new era for the temporary tattoo!

Christien Tinsley is a make-up artist. He won an Academy Award in 2008 “for the creation of the transfer techniques for creating and applying 2D and 3D makeup known as Tinsley Transfers.” At you can find everything from vintage sailor, pin-up girl, to Brad Pitts shark tattoo from Oceans Twelve and even tribal temporary tattoos. Enjoy the style of sporting a tattoo without all the pain!

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Tinsley, Christien "The History Of The Temporary Tattoo." The History Of The Temporary Tattoo. 26 Jun. 2010. 6 Oct 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Tinsley, C (2010, June 26). The History Of The Temporary Tattoo. Retrieved October 6, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Tinsley, Christien "The History Of The Temporary Tattoo"

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