Human Interest

The pain you experience while getting tattooed is enough to discourage some people from getting inked. If you’ve gone under the needle, you know what we’re talking about. But now, new technology being developed by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology could change all that with microscopic needles.

A team led by chemical engineer Mark Prausnitz has created a low-cost skin patch that is painless and bloodless. Each of the so-called “microneedles” acts like a pixel and can be arranged in different patterns. Each one is then filled with ink before being pressed onto the skin to transfer the design. Apparently, this can be done with no pain or bleeding involved. The process can even be self-administered.

“We’ve miniaturized the needle so that it’s painless, but still effectively deposits tattoo ink in the skin,” Prausnitz told Georgia Tech. “This could be a way not only to make medical tattoos more accessible but also to create new opportunities for cosmetic tattoos because of the ease of administration.”

The patch could be used for those afraid of the pain of traditional tattoo needles. However, the team began its research with medical patients in mind. Medical tattoos can be used to cover up 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. They could alert doctors to serious conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy or allergies.

Prausnitz’s team has long been researching microneedles for vaccine delivery and has also started working on using the tattoos to help animal organizations identify spayed and neutered pets.

“We saw this as an opportunity to leverage our work on microneedle technology to make tattoos more accessible,” Prausnitz said. “While some people are willing to accept the pain and time required for a tattoo, we thought others might prefer a tattoo that is simply pressed onto the skin and does not hurt.”

Tattoo artists don’t need to fret about the patches affecting their industry, as the designs are small and simple in comparison to the skill and time taken in their craft. Prausnitz reiterates this, saying, “The goal isn’t to replace all tattoos, which are often works of beauty created by tattoo artists. Our goal is to create new opportunities for patients, pets, and people who want a painless tattoo that can be easily administered.”

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