Scientists have developed a painless, non-bloody tattoo technique

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Tattoos are known for being extremely painful. Tattoos require large needles and blood. They can take up to hours to complete. It can take a while and be quite painful.

But tattoos aren’t just for decoration—they can also cover up scars, guide cancer radiation treatments, or restore nipples after breast surgery. Patients with serious allergies, diabetes, epilepsy or other severe conditions may find tattoos useful as medical alerts.

The Georgia Institute of Technology was tasked with finding a better way to administer the drugs.

How does a painless tattoo work?

Modern tattoo machines use electromagnetic force that moves needles at a high frequency—up to several thousand times per minute—in and out of the skin as they deposit liquid ink. The needles penetrate the skin in a range of a few hundred micrometers to two millimeters.

RELATED: Tattoo Ideas for Women: Your Ultimate Guide To Style and Placement

Tattooing can cause skin reactions and infection, in addition to pain.

Microneedle patches are already being used by doctors for minimally invasive drug delivery. They eliminate biohazardous sharps waste, cause little pain and bleeding, and do not require any surgery. The patches can be administered quickly and easily for a low cost.

Georgia Tech researchers created a microneedle tattoo machine from the microneedle patches. Each microneedle of the patch is a pixel or dot on an image. To create tattoo symbols, numbers and other decorative/medical images, they used single-color and multicolor tattoo inks.

After a brief application of the microneedles to the skin, they release their ink and then disintegrate.

“We’ve miniaturized the needle so that it’s painless, but still effectively deposits tattoo ink in the skin,”Mark Prausnitz (principal investigator for the paper), wrote Mark Prausnitz. Published in the open-source journal iScience. “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 tattoos were tested on rats, and they were then followed up one year later. The tattoos remained intact with minimal distortion—similar to the changes that happen with tattoos as humans age and bodies change.

What are the Potential Uses of Microneedle Ink?

Tattoos can be used in human medicine to display the year of an injection. The researchers tried the concept on a rat by tattooing 20 characters. They also created stars, hearts and QR codes.

The scientists also tested tattoos visible only when they were exposed to heat and light. They wrote that similar tattoos could be created that respond to glucose levels and other stimuli, which would make them useful for people with diabetes.

This technology could encode information in animals’ skins, replacing clipping their ears or applying an ear tag.

Although the art of microneedle tattoo may not be as good as it could be, scientists admit that they might never be able to replicate the skill of skilled tattooists.

“The goal isn’t to replace all tattoos, which are often works of beauty created by tattoo artists,” Prausnitz wrote. “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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