Temporary tattoos -- fad with short life For younger set, it's in thing to do

June 21, 1993|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,Staff Writer

The tattoo was a red heart emblazoned with a silver dagger wrapped in a grapevine. Sara Sklar thought it would look good on the back of her ankle.

"Putting it some place almost hidden is the fun of it," said the eighth-grader from Ridgely Middle School in Baltimore County.

Bikers, sailors and rock stars aren't the only ones wearing tattoos these days. Teen-agers and adults are decorating their bodies with skulls, hearts, flowers, peace signs, cartoon characters and Harley-Davidson logos.

But like the fads that come and go, these tattoos aren't permanent. They wear off in three to five days.

"Kids see that all of the stars have them, but know they can't get a real one, so they go for the temporary ones," said salesman Spencer Abams, 22, as he waited on a tattoo customer at the Sam Goody music outlet in Towson Town Center.

"Moms come in here all the time, buying the hearts with the dagger through it and flower tattoos for their kids -- they're becoming the in thing to do."

Today's temporary tattoos are a far cry from the blurry, red-and-blue ones that once came in Cracker Jack boxes. They're often multicolor works of art that look like the real thing, with sophisticated techniques such as stippling that increase the depth of the designs.

They're also more expensive than the Cracker Jack variety. Music stores, card shops, party supply stores and clothing stores sell temporary tattoos for $1.50 to $10 apiece.

Unlike real tattoos, temporary designs are painless to apply. The tattoo paper just needs to be wetted for 30 seconds for a polymer coating over the design to stick to the skin. The dye does not penetrate the skin, according to Leslie Thompson, a spokeswoman for Highgate Products of Dallas, Texas, which manufactures tattoos.

The less oil or hair on the skin, the longer the tattoo lasts, Mrs. Thompson said. Tattoos tested by The Sun lasted from three days to almost a week.

To give the tattoos a timeworn patina, manufacturers recommend rubbing them gently with soap and water. Alcohol or adhesive tape will remove a tattoo completely, although the latter involves some discomfort -- particularly on hairy skin.

Tattoo wearers see the temporary designs as art without commitment.

"Wearing a tattoo is a form of self-expression," said Chris Adams, 20, assistant manager of Royal Farm Stores in Timonium.

"This way I can allow it to wear off in about a week instead of getting a real tattoo and hating it for for the rest of my life," he said.

Girls frequently wear their tattoos in discreet places that are generally visible only when they wear low-cut blouses or high-cut shorts. For the men, it's show-off time: biceps, shoulders or backs.

And with more skin exposed in the summer, tattoo sellers agree, sales rise with the summer heat.

"I get more attention -- especially from girls -- if I have a knife or a skull tattooed on my arm," said Tony Giuliano, 14, of West Orange, N.J., who was visiting the Inner Harbor on a school trip and stopped by a tattoo display at Harbor Place.

"When one person sees it, sometimes four people come to me and ask to see it too," he said.

Temporary tattoos also serve as trial runs for the real thing.

"If I can ever get up enough nerve, I want to get a black leopard on my calf," said Ernie Rilex, 28, who sells porcelain knickknacks. "Meanwhile, the temporary ones look and feel real enough for me."

Although children love the tattoos, parents are less enthusiastic.

"I don't think they are safe at all and wouldn't want my child wearing one," said Gail Beliveau, 46, a teacher at a private school in Baltimore City.

Like other parents, she has heard rumors, never substantiated, of temporary tattoos being laced with drugs.

Ridgely eighth-grader Liz Bayliss, 14, once fooled her father with the 3-inch black panther tattoo.

"When my dad asked if it was real, I just played along saying yes," Liz giggled. "If people think your tattoo is real and freak out when they see it, it's fun to watch their reaction.

"I know my parents would probably kill me if I got a real tattoo while I lived with them," she said.

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