Temporary vs. Permanent Tattoos – Which should you get?

If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo but you’re not sure if you’re ready for that kind of a commitment yet, you’ve come to the right place. Should you get a real tattoo? Or is a temporary tattoo a better option for you right now?

Below, we’ll discuss a few of the key differences between temporary and permanent tattoos, which should help make your decision easier.


There are essentially three types of temporary tattoos, and all of them are applied in different ways.

Press-on tattoos are screen printed onto paper, which is then transferred to the skin when moisture is applied to the paper. Press-on tattoos, also known as decal tattoos, are popular among children. However, teenagers and adults are starting to enjoy them more now, as higher-quality options have become available.

Airbrush tattoos are the most “high tech” of all the temporary tattoos and are applied with a spray ink. These tattoos are becoming increasingly popular across the U.S. and are usually applied by a professional.

Henna tattoos are transferred onto the skin by painting a plant-based paste onto the area. Fun fact: People have been using henna tattoo ink for around 5,000 years!

Permanent tattoos are applied using several needles, which go into the skin about 1.5 to 2 mm deep. Also, the tattoo machine moves very quickly: Your skin will be punctured about 100 times per second.


Temporary Tattoos are totally painless. Very rarely, people with sensitive skin may experience itching, redness, or skin irritation. This usually goes away on its own. If the irritation lingers for longer than a week, you should visit a medical professional.

Permanent Tattoos, on the other hand, can be quite painful. The level of pain can depend on the location of the tattoo, your pain tolerance, and your artist’s experience. Some places on the body are much more painful to have tattooed, and inexperienced tattoo artists sometimes go too deep into the skin (which causes additional pain).


The costs of temporary and permanent tattoos vary greatly depending on what region you live in, the tattoo’s size, and the experience of the artist. The following numbers are simply estimations of what you might pay.

Press-on tattoos can range from under a dollar up to $50. The cheaper ones usually don’t last as long, and they don’t look as “real.”

If you’re getting an airbrush tattoo, expect to pay around $20 to $30 for a small design. Many airbrush artists charge about $100 an hour, so it can get expensive quickly. Most people report that these tattoos look more like the real deal, so they are a good option if you haven’t made up your mind about a permanent tattoo yet.

You can apply a henna tattoo at home or visit a professional. At-home kits usually range from $10 to $35. However, for best results, you should visit a henna artist. You’ll probably pay anywhere from $10 to $200, depending on the size and location of the design.

Permanent tattoo costs also vary. Most artist charge a minimum of at least $50 for the smallest, most basic design. A medium-sized tattoo will cost you anywhere from $100 to $450, while a sleeve tattoo might set you back $1,500 or more. Be sure to ask about cost before your artist starts your piece, so you know exactly what you’ll be paying.


There is usually no recovery time after getting a temporary tattoo (unless you have a rare allergic reaction, as previously mentioned).

However, if you get a permanent tattoo, it will probably take at least 2 to 3 weeks to fully heal. During this recovery process, you shouldn’t swim, take baths, expose the skin to sunlight, scratch the area, or wear tight clothing over the tattoo.

How long do they last?

The three kinds of temporary tattoos last different amounts of time. Also, how the tattoo is cared for can impact its longevity. If it is located on smooth skin that is not often rubbed or washed (such as your hands), it will probably last longer.

When applying a cheap, press-on tattoo, it will probably stay on the skin for 1 to 2 days. However, higher quality press-on tattoos might last up to 3 weeks!

Airbrush tattoos usually last anywhere from 2 to 10 days, while henna tattoos stay on the skin for 2 to 3 weeks.

Permanent tattoos are, well, permanent. They will last your entire lifetime unless you choose to have them professionally removed.


Press-on tattoos can be removed with quite a few household substances. Alcohol based items such as isopropyl alcohol, fingernail polish remover, and even hand sanitizer will usually remove a decal tattoo. You can also use olive oil and baby oil to gently release the temporary ink from the skin.

Henna tattoos are generally removed by antibacterial soap, an exfoliating scrub, or by using a mixture of olive oil and salt. Airbrush tattoos are best removed by using 70% isopropyl alcohol.

Permanent tattoos must be removed using a laser light, which is done by a professional. When the laser is applied, pulses of light energy infiltrate the skin. When this happens, the tattoo ink particles absorb the energy, which causes the ink particles to crack into small fragments. Usually, several treatments are required to fully remove the tattoo. Unfortunately, the removal process can be almost as painful as getting a tattoo.


Overall, both temporary and permanent tattoos are safe for most people, but there’s always a chance of encountering a problem when applying ink to the skin.

Press-on tattoos rarely cause any skin problems. However, a handful of people may experience skin irritation.

The FDA has approved airbrush ink, so it is considered totally safe. Once again, there is a small chance you may be allergic to an ingredient in the ink, but this is rare.

Most henna inks are also considered safe, but the FDA says to avoid black henna because it contains an additive that can be very dangerous. While the black ink may look more like a real tattoo, you should never use it.

Permanent tattoos come with small risks, but most people have no problems at all. There is always a chance of infection if the artist uses contaminated ink or if the tattoo isn’t cared for properly during the healing process.

Also, even rarer, bloodborne diseases can be contracted if the tattoo artist uses contaminated instruments. It is super important to make sure your artist is reputable, uses clean instruments, and sanitizes his or her workstation regularly.

Lastly, there is a very small chance of a having long term problem with your tattoo. In very rare instances, microscopic ink particles can escape the skin and travel to other places in your body. In one individual, this mimicked breast cancer symptoms. This has only happened to a handful of people, but still, it is a possibility.

There’s no doubt about it: Tattoos are fun and trendy. But, if you’re not ready to get the real thing yet, maybe a temporary tattoo is right for you. Press-on, airbrush, and henna tattoos are great options if you want to get an idea of what a real tattoo might look like on your body. Whether you go with a temporary or permanent tattoo, hopefully this post has helped clear up a few questions for you!