Lowell Company Wants to “Disrupt” Tattoo Industry

Develops Quick Way to ‘Turn Off’ Ink

by | Sep 5, 2019 | News, Press Release

Anup Atre of Lowell, senior research associate, shows his tattoos done with Brilliant INQUE, including a design he picked himself, and a test pattern he may keep as well. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

LOWELL — A tattoo is forever, until it isn’t.

A Lowell-based company says it has created a painless, quick way to “turn-off” tattoos created using their inks. It’s a method they’re preparing to take nationwide by opening a chain of “skin wellness” stores, starting with a Boston-area location in late-spring of next year.

“We think it’s a spectacular disruptive idea that will be one of the neatest retail store concepts (and) should be easily accepted by the population,” said Robb Osinski. “And therefore we’re out with a plan to open 105 stores within the next three years.”

Osinski is the chairman and chief executive officer of Lowell-based Bambu Global, previously Performance Indicator, the parent company of INQUE. Bambu Vault, led by Chief Executive Officer Satish Agrawal. He has spent years developing the product.

Central to the concept is a new type of ink, which the company says builds on technologies first developed at Polaroid, the camera and film company where Agrawal worked for three decades, eventually serving as the chief technology officer.

Tattoos using the new ink, stylized INQUE by the company, are applied using the same tools as a traditional tattoo. However, the process for getting rid of the tattoo is different.

Traditional tattoo removal typically requires multiple visits over a period of months, which often results in scarring. Lasers breaks up the ink, allowing it to disperse.

Agrawal said during this process these inks, some which are known to be hazardous or carcinogenic, can get caught in the body’s lymph nodes.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers, tattoo artists and retailers about using certain tattoo inks contaminated with microorganisms. According to the agency, while removal may leave permanent scarring, “we don’t know the short- or long-term consequences of how pigments break down after laser treatment.”

The ink used by INQUE, contains dyes in small capsules, a technology Osinski said may have future uses in targeted medication delivery.

“We can change the payload of (the capsule) from an ink to a drug and now have very targeted. … treatment to the specific area to where the cancer resides as opposed to making someone completely sick by having chemotherapy flow through the entire body,” he said.

Social media intern Inbar Porat of Westborough shows a tattoo of a bird inspired by her favorite poem, done with Brilliant INQUE. At rear is Dr. Satish Agrawal, CEO of Bambu Vault and CTO of the Bambu companies. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

It can also be used in other tattooing procedures besides body art, like medical tattoos, cosmetic markings, breast reconstruction and permanent make up, according to Osinski.

The tattoos using INQUE are meant to be permanent. However, if someone wants to get rid of the tattoo, Agrawal said they have a process called “BLANQUEing,” which uses a laser to create a chemical reaction inside the capsules. This reaction changes the shape of the molecules responsible for the tattoo’s color.

“That laser stimulates the dye to go to this structure and in this structure there is no color,” Agrawal said.

Unlike the procedure for traditional tattoos, Agrawal and Osinski said the ink remains in place making it a safer, pain-free process that takes just moments.

It works best six or more months after tattooing to allow the skin to first heal from the tattooing process. The technique currently does not work to “turn on” tattoos that have already been “turned off.”

The company has tested the technique on over 200 people, with the oldest tattoo currently about three-years-old, Agrawal and Osinski said. Because the technique relies on Polaroid technology, Osiniski said they have examples of similar images remaining stable for decades.

Osinski said tattoo regulation in the United States is largely at the state-level and focused on certifying tattoo artists, as opposed to the product. However, European countries ban certain substances in tattoos, and INQUE does not contain any of these chemicals, according to Agrawal.

Osinski said by standardizing the tattoo process and aftercare at these INQUE stores, they hope to make the process safer while also prioritizing the needs of customers and tattoo artists. This includes exclusively using high quality needles, introducing a customer-focused consultation process and paying artists a salary instead of by piece.

“We want to turn this industry into a process driven industry that still recognizes art,” he said. “With our store concept we’re bringing more certainty to the customer and so that inherently translates to a safer, more enjoyable, more comfortable experience.”

Two of the early adopters of these tattoos are employees at Bambu Global. Anup Atre, a senior research associate who worked on the project, has a symbol from the anime and manga “Naruto” and a test patches of different colors tattooed on his forearm.

Inbar Porat, a social media intern, has a tattoo of a bluebird on her arm in honor of the Charles Bukowski poem “Bluebird.” She said the process for getting the bird tattoo was the same as her other, traditional tattoos.

Both say they plan to keep the tattoos.

“As of now I have no intention of removing it,” Atre said. “The test patterns, yeah, I might remove that, but to be fair I kind of like that as well.”

An earlier attempt to launch a similar product around the time of the stock market crash in 2008, didn’t take off, but company leaders hope different cultural demands and economic times will allow this technology to find a foothold in the market.

Though there are more tattoo parlors than McDonalds in the nation, Osinski said he believes the latent market for tattoos may be over double the current market. Many people who may want tattoos have not gotten them, because of they cannot be easily removed, he said.

The stores will also sell skin “wellness” products and open in areas without traditional tattoo parlors.

The average price of a tattoo at an INQUE store will be $565 with a voucher to “BLANQUE” the tattoo for free within the first year. The price of a traditional tattoo of similar size and complexity is typically about $240, though it depends on the artist, according to Osinski.

To “turn off” a tattoo past the one-year mark will cost $999. Osinski said the stores will also offer a discount bundle including a tattoo and “BLANQUEing” at any time for $1,400.

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