Someday, your tattoo may do more than adorn your skin. It could save your life—or at least alert you to a medical threat.
That’s the proposition behind research by Carson Bruns, assistant professor of materials, biomedical, micro/nanoscale at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“Imagine a tattoo that alerts you to a health problem signaled by a change in your biochemistry, or to radiation exposure that could be dangerous to your health,” Bruns wrote in an article on the Conversation website.
In recent years, tattoo researchers have used microsensors or engineered skin cells to measure levels of sodium, electrolytes, glucose, proteins and calcium within a person to detect possible changes in health.
But Bruns’ Laboratory for Emergent Nanomaterials “is looking at tech tattoos from a different angle. We are interested in sensing external harms, such as ultraviolet radiation. UV exposure in sunlight and tanning beds is the main risk factor for all types of skin cancer,” he said.
“I created ‘solar freckles’ on my forearm—invisible spots that turned blue under UV exposure and reminded me when to wear sunscreen,” he wrote. The tattoo ink uses a UV light-activated dye inside a nanocapsule measuring just a thousandth of a millimeter.
High-tech temporary tattoos are also being developed that could “can sense electrophysiological signals like heart rate and brain activity or monitor hydration and glucose levels from sweat,” he said.