Temporary tattoos have existed for decades, mostly as a way for children to showcase their love of superheroes, animals, and TV characters. But one mom’s new allergy tattoos put a practical slant on the accessory, providing a bold, contemporary alternative to MedicAlert bracelets commonly worn in the past.

It used to be the case that when a child had a food allergy — or another condition, such as diabetes or asthma — he or she would adorn a metal bracelet with the condition and personalized MedicAlert number on one side and the words “MedicAlert” and Staff of Asclepius, the universal symbol of the medical profession, on the other. Now, founder of SafetyTat, Michele Welsh, has a second option: a temporary allergy tattoo that lets parents list their child’s allergies above an emergency contact number.

Thinking Up The Tat

Welsh’s eureka moment came at an amusement park one day, after tirelessly rewriting her phone number on her kids’ arms. If they ever got lost, she thought, they’d have a way to get back to her. The problem was, the number kept smearing. Throughout the day, several parents asked Welsh about the idea, cementing a desire for a product that could both inform about a condition and stay on the body.

“Right now there's a huge awareness, whether because of going back to school or because of the recent incident in California,” Welsh told Yahoo! Shine, referring to the recent death of a 13-year-old girl who died of a peanut allergy at summer camp. “Unfortunately it sometimes takes something like that for people to say, 'Wow, it really can happen.'"

Reported food allergies have risen in recent years. From 1997 to 2007, the prevalence rose 18 percent among children under the age of 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 3.9 percent of all children under 18 reported a food allergy in the previous 12 months.

SafetyTats come in several varieties. In addition to building a customized tattoo, users can select from pre-fashioned templates, such as Emergency Alert, Medical Condition, and specific allergy tattoos. SafetyTat also sells waterproof, writable, and travel pack options along with tattoos for seniors who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and aphasia.

Along with the handful of testimonials on SafetyTat’s website, Welsh has seen success with her product inside her immediate family. One of her nephews has a severe peanut allergy, and on a field trip one day, the woman serving him food noticed his tattoo and realized the salad dressing contained peanut oil. It’s dangers like these, Welsh said, that remind her how important a physical reminder is, especially when a guardian can’t be present.

"He had spent so much time in the hospital as a toddler, that his mom had begun limiting his time outside the home because she was so fearful," she said. “His mom told me, 'It's almost like I'm there with him, reminding people.'"

Another company, called Peanut Free Zone, sells a product similar to SafetyTat specifically for peanut allergies. Peanut Free Zone also sells emergency alert stickers, lunch bags, and signs that all bear the words “Emergency Alert, Peanut Allergy” encircling a crossed-out peanut.

The Peanut Gallery

Not everyone supports the constant reminder of an allergy tattoo; critics argue they’ll increase a child’s chances of getting bullied, at least in their present state.

“On one hand, the idea of protective scarlet letters has a lot of potential,” wrote L.V. Anderson in a recent Slate article. “On the other hand, kids with allergies already face a lot of stigma, both from adults and from other kids. Won’t being physically branded make allergic kids more susceptible to bullying?”

Anderson pushes for a complete SafetyTat rebranding: replace the current image with edgier depictions, such as a “foot-wide chest tattoo, like Tupac’s ‘Thug Life,’ only reading ‘Soy Death’ instead,” or “a very arty strawberry dripping with blood for your neck.” Skeptics also see logistical challenges. Inconsistent placement on a child’s body can create extra work for a first responder, who has to search for the tattoo. More practically, when the weather turns cold, long sleeves could render the tattoo invisible if the child doesn’t acknowledge its presence.

Welsh handles such criticisms by saying SafetyTats are primarily for younger children who can’t communicate their allergy to an adult on their own. “But we do need to build some aesthetic back in there, and, for the older kids, something hipper would be great," she said.

As for the bullying concern, she noted, "If I had to choose fatal exposure over being harassed by kids, I would choose safety as my No. 1 concern."