SEP 17, 2022 10:00 AM PDT

Painless, Self-Administered Tattoos

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

If you have any experience getting a tattoo, you know the process can be painful and, sometimes, take a long time. In medical settings, in particular, tattoos can be painful: whether it’s a tattoo to help mark a specific spot on the body for radiation treatment or surgery, or it’s a tattoo to help someone who just had breast surgery appear to have a nipple again, tattoos can be a cumbersome, uncomfortable thing to get for most people.

But what if you could get a tattoo from a simple skin patch? A team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a way to administer tattoos painlessly with a simple patch. The patch is described in a recent issue of iScience

Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those peel-and-stick kind of tattoos that will fade after a few hours. We’re talking real tattoos that use needles to embed ink in the skin. Here’s how it works. 

The patch uses tiny, microscopic needles to get the ink embedded in the skin, and that’s what makes this approach so unique. The needles are far smaller than even a grain of sand. The needles actually include the tattoo ink, so when the microscopic needles break skin, they dissolve and embed the ink in the skin. There’s no repeated breaking of the skin with needles to get enough ink in the skin to produce an image.

The microscopic needles can also be arranged to create just about any design, overcoming limitations of existing microneedle tattoo techniques. Each microscopic needle actually works like a sort of pixel, so the needles can be arranged in any way needed to create a clear image once embedded into the skin.

To create the patch, researchers create a mold of the tattoo design and then fill each needle with ink. A patch is then added to allow the tattoo mold to be easily handled and administered to the skin. After a few minutes on the skin, the ink is able to dissolve into the skin, leaving a clear image with no pain and no blood. Various color inks can be used, including inks that can only be seen under UV light. 

Overall, researchers have found the tattoos can last at least a year, perhaps longer. This offers viable options for people looking for cosmetic tattoo options.

Sources: Eurekalert!; iScience

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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