Sept. 23, 2022 – Children have long had fun with painless temporary tattoos that only last a few days: Press the image to the skin, add water, and voila! But what if it were that easy to tattoo an adult without ink that fades? That's exactly what scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology have done with a new microneedle patch made of ink needles.

The painless tattoo patch works like other microneedle patches that deliver vaccines, except the mold pattern can include letters, numbers, symbols, or an image. Each microneedle slot is like a pixel of an image.

After developing the mold, the researchers fill the microneedle slots with tattoo ink and attach a patch to the back to make it easier to hold and press against the skin. When applied to a body part for a few minutes, the microneedles dissolve and release the ink into the skin. The process is painless and doesn't cause any bleeding or carry a risk of infection. The resulting image lasts at least a year and may be permanent, the researchers report in the journal iScience.

Though the process can be used for cosmetic tattoos, senior author Mark Prausnitz, PhD, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Georgia Tech, said in a university statement that he recognizes the art and skill in traditional tattooing and that this new device can do more than beautify the skin. For example, medical tattoos can provide important information about a person's medical condition or drug allergies. The process can be used with special inks that only appear under ultraviolet light or under high temperatures, affording privacy to the person with the medical tattoo.

Tattoos are also used in other medical applications where this method would work, such as disguising scars, guiding repeated cancer radiation treatments, or painting on new nipples during breast reconstructive surgery.

“The goal isn’t to replace all tattoos, which are often works of beauty created by tattoo artists,” Prausnitz said. “Our goal is to create new opportunities for patients, pets, and people who want a painless tattoo that can be easily administered.”

Show Sources

IScience: “Microneedle patch tattoos.”

Georgia Institute of Technology: “Researchers Develop Painless Tattoos That Can Be Self-Administered.”

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