"We're helping to change and make safe once again the art form of tattooing," says Martin Schmieg, the company's chief executive.
Freedom-2 inks could hit the market as early as mid-2007, offering a hedge to the growing population of people with a tattoo. A study in the September 2006 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that about one quarter of adults age 18 to 50 in the United States currently have a tattoo. Of those, almost 30 percent had considered removing or covering the tattoo with a new one, or had already covered it.
The new ink will also entice anyone too apprehensive to get inked in the first place, Schmieg predicts.
"The number one reason people don't get a tattoo is permanence," he says. "When you remove that issue, we believe there will be a natural growth in the number of people getting tattoos."
The scientists are also designing polymer shells that biodegrade on their own, without a laser's nudge, over a matter of months, says Edith Mathiowitz of Brown University, who engineered Freedom-2's beads.
"This could be a new type of jewelry," Mathiowitz says.
If Freedom-2 succeeds, it will dispel yet another contradiction: the scientifically researched tattoo. The new ink has been tested on laboratory animals and will soon undergo human clinical trials—an unprecedented amount of rigor for the tattoo industry, says Anderson.
"This is about greatly reducing the risk of getting a tattoo," he says.