Scientists have come up with one of the most meaningful tattoo ideas of all time. Here’s all you need to know about DNA tattoos and how they work.

By Anna Davies
Updated January 25, 2018
Couple with matching sun and moon tattoos on arms
Credit: Elizabeth Tsung

Some people immortalize their loved ones by getting a symbolic tattoo. But inventor Patrick Duffy has taken the concept one step further. His company, Everence, synthesizes the DNA of a loved one, converting it to a powdery substance that can be added to tattoo ink and immortalized into any design. We have all you need to know about what DNA tattoos are, how they work, whether DNA tattoos are safe, and what the price range of DNA tattoos are.

What Is a DNA Tattoo?

The phrase may make you think of a complicated chain delicately inked on someone’s arm, but the concept is more granular than that. A DNA tattoo uses samples of DNA from a loved one (they can be living or dead) and uses a scientific process to transform the DNA into a powder that can then be mixed with tattoo ink. The concept was invented by Patrick Duffy, who formerly ran a scuba diving business for military veterans. During one dive, he met a woman who had a tattoo on her leg dedicated to her husband, a navy SEAL killed in combat. Duffy thought the tribute was lovely, and wondered how tribute tattoos could be imbued with even more meaning.

Working with scientists, Duffy founded his company, Everence, which synthesizes DNA for a more meaningful tattoo idea. The DNA is drawn from organic matter, such as ashes from cremation, a hair, or even dead skin cells swabbed from the inside cheek. The DNA is extracted and enclosed in microscopic capsules of medical-grade material, then mixed with tattoo ink. You can choose any tattoo design you like, and because the DNA is enclosed in microscopic capsules, the DNA will always stay put (it won’t disappear into your body). While a recent trend is for people to have a tattoo created with the ashes of a deceased loved one mixed in with tattoo ink, this may not necessarily be safe, and could cause medical problems. Because of the technology used in Everence’s synthesis of DNA, this may be a safer option—however, the FDA has not yet investigated the safety of DNA tattoos.

How Does A DNA Tattoo Work?

A DNA tattoo works by extracting the DNA of a loved one from their cells (found in hair or a cheek swab) or their cremated ashes. The DNA is synthesized and encapsulated in microscopic capsules of a substance known as PMMA (similar to Plexiglass), which is then mixed with traditional tattoo ink.

From there, a tribute tattoo, either to someone living or deceased, can take any form you wish. The DNA extracted by Everence is housed in a small vial, which means you can bring it to any reputable tattoo parlor.

Is a DNA tattoo safe? While Everence claims that their procedure, including the PMMA capsules injected under the skin, is safe, there have not been any studies to confirm that claim. Tattoo inks are categorized as cosmetics, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the FDA has no specific warnings against this procedure using what some call morbid ink. However, it does have general warnings against tattoos, including the risk of infection, scarring, or allergic reaction. As always, it’s important to research your tattoo artist, discuss your plans with your medical provider, and make sure that your tattoo artist practices standard hygiene habits, including using sterilized needles, gloves, and single-use ink.

How Much Does a DNA Tattoo Cost?

The cost of a DNA tattoo can be broken down into two categories: The cost of the DNA powder from Everence and the cost of the tattoo itself. The DNA powder from Everence costs $650 for the vial, (payment plans are available). A tattoo cost depends on the size and complexity of the tattoo and the experience of your tattoo artist. Calling around for quotes is important, as is mentioning the fact that you are incorporating Everence powder. More and more tattoo artists are becoming familiar with the procedure, and it may make sense to find one that is familiar with the concept.