Depending on your pain tolerance, having a tattoo It can be an uncomfortable experience, but new technology developed by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology could be about to change that.
A team led by chemical engineer Mark Prausnitz has created an inexpensive skin patch containing microscopic needles smaller than a grain of sand. Each of the so-called “microneedles” acts like a pixel and can be arranged in different patterns. Each one is filled with ink before being pressed to the skin a single time to transfer the design, with no pain or bleeding involved. The process can even be self-managed.
While the patch could clearly present a welcome advance for people interested in getting a cosmetic tattoo but currently put off by the pain, the team actually started their research with another group in mind: medical patients.
“We have miniaturized the needle so that it is painless, but still effectively deposits the tattoo ink on the skin,” Prausnitz said in an article about the new patch, adding that because of the ease of administration, it can also make medical tattoos more accessible.
Medical tattoos can be used to cover scars, guide repeated cancer radiation treatments, and restore nipples after breast surgery. They can also take the place of bracelets to function as health monitors, alerting doctors to serious conditions like diabetes, epilepsy or allergies.
Prausnitz’s team has long been investigating microneedles for vaccine delivery and has also begun work on using the tattoos to help animal organizations identify spayed and neutered pets. But it is the suitability of patches for cosmetic tattoos that has been gaining the most attention.
“We saw this as an opportunity to build on our work in microneedling technology to make tattooing more accessible,” Prausnitz said. “While some people are willing to accept the pain and time required for a tattoo, we think others might prefer a tattoo that is simply pressed onto the skin and painless.”
Tattoo artists need not worry about the patches their jobs take as they seem to be more geared towards small and simple designs rather than elaborate ones that require a lot of skill and time.
Prausnitz makes a similar point: “The goal is not to replace all tattoos, which are often works of beauty created by tattoo artists,” he said. Our goal is to create new opportunities for patients, pets, and people who want a painless tattoo that can be easily administered.”