"In the morning, I think, 'Should I put on the red or the green?' It's become an accessory for me," said Tattly founder Tina Roth Eisenberg, 38, a New York Web designer and blogger. She created Tattly a year ago after noticing the poor designs of cheap temporary tattoos that her young daughter asked her to affix to her skin. But since selling more than 250,000 tattoos in her first year of business and marketing them to retailers - including Urban Outfitters, which will soon carry them in all its U.S. stores - Eisenberg started wearing them herself.
"Who doesn't want to reconnect with their inner child?" she said.
Kate Gabrielle, a designer in Princeton who makes her living selling hand-drawn creations on Etsy, created a batch of about 30 temporary tattoos last year. They sold out, so this summer, she introduced another set in her flapperdoodle shop. Despite making them on her home ink-jet printer, using special paper by craft company Silhouette, they are hardly Cracker Jack quality.
"One of the tattoos is an inch big, and the lines are so clear when you put it on your arm," she said.
Depending on the style, placement, and how the light hits it, a temporary tattoo is easy to mistake for real - at least before it starts wearing off.
As Gabrielle's new tattoos sell well, she too credited the popularity of designer temporary tattoos to adults' nostalgia. "My generation, we used to go to the vending machines and get the little temporary tattoos," said Gabrielle, 25. "It's the novelty of something you liked when you were little, but you don't have to have a rainbow-striped zebra."
Of course, part of the appeal might be the ability to show some style without being stuck with it forever.
"I'm a total commitment-phobe. The idea of putting something permanent on my skin! I would never do it," Eisenberg said.
Jackie Fan, a makeup artist at Temptu, agreed.
"People love it. It's a way to get tattoos without having to commit to a permanent pattern."
Eisenberg noted that some less needle-shy customers might see the temporary stickers as a stepping-stone to more lasting body art. Some clients have used her products to see what they think of wearing tattoos before heading to the tattoo parlor. Plus, there's the price difference: At Philadelphia Eddie's Chinatown Tattoo, for example, a tattoo might cost $50 for a simple one-color design and about $5,000 for a full arm. At Tattly, the temporary ones run $1.35 to $8 each.
At Eddie's Chinatown, tattoo artist David Steele - who prefers the job title "gun runner" - said he could imagine working adults who choose temporary tattoos on the weekends because they don't want to mar their professional images with permanent ink.
"Dumb and dumber who don't know any better think that if a doctor has a tattoo, he's some kind of ex-con or biker," Steele said, though he added that he sees plenty of "cool doctors and lawyers" in his parlor despite the stigma.
Temporary tattoos might offer an ideal solution for the more anxious doctors, said Janice Lewis, chair of the fashion design department at Moore College of Art and Design. "I could see that, if you were an adult and you were going to go on vacation or something . . . and you wanted to look cool," she said. "I think that's definitely something that there's probably a market for."
The sight of many Olympic athletes with tattoos on their bodies in recent weeks might even drive up demand for similar body art, Lewis said, especially because the temporaries are hard to distinguish from the real deal - at least from a couple of feet away.
"If I saw somebody with a tattoo, I would probably assume that it was real. That's the fun thing about it - it will look real," she said.
Eisenberg pointed out another possible source of fun: "You can shock your parents."
But despite the boosters' enthusiasm, Steele isn't concerned that their products might detract from his business. Only one out of a thousand customers in his parlor would take a washable tattoo over a real one, he said.
"It's just another way for people to make money and another way for people to be fake," he said. "A wimp's gonna be a wimp. You want to get a tattoo? Get a real one."