These ‘Smart’ Tattoos Will Change Color If Your Health Condition Suddenly Changes

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Approximately 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo, and they’re gradually gaining acceptance even in the stodgiest of workplaces. But while tattoos are often seen as a way to express creativity, they may soon serve an important purpose for our health: scientists have developed a new kind of “smart” tattoo that will change color if it detects certain important changes to your health.

Developed by MIT and Harvard researchers, these tattoos use a special ink called Dermal Abyss to detect conditions like dehydration and changing blood sugar levels. The ink is enhanced with fluorescent and colorimetric biosensors that make the ink change its hue due to a chemical change in sodium, glucose, pH, and hydrogen ions in the individual’s interstitial fluid. The color shift depends on what measure is being tested; for example, pH sensing ink would change from purple to pink in an emergency, while glucose sensing ink would change from green to brown.

For adults with chronic health conditions, these tattoos could be a real game changer. Nearly one in three U.S. adults has pre-diabetes, but these tattoos could allow diabetics to assess their blood sugar levels without having to prick their finger every day. Those with kidney diseases could be tatted with sodium monitoring ink to assess their hydration levels. Best of all, the tattoos are weightless, don’t require electricity, and aren’t impacted by changes to the skin. Scientists are also working on making the tattoos removable, so if you overcome your health condition, you aren’t stuck with the reminder forever. And because these tattoos don’t have to be visible all the time if patients don’t wish them to be (they can be done with invisible ink that shows up only when hit with certain color lights that can even be produced by cell phones), no one has to literally wear their disease on their sleeve for all to see.

Admittedly, researchers still have some obstacles to overcome in their development. As Forbes points out, scientists will need to determine the factors that might impact the accuracy or readability of these readings, including color subtlety, sun exposure, alcohol consumption, personal hygiene, tattoo location, and more. However, researchers have already taken steps in this area, creating an app that analyzes the tattoo for the wearer to reduce false readings. Wearable devices such as FitBit or Apple Watches could also be used to monitor changes to the tattoo and gather valuable health information.

For now, it’s a concept that has been tested but not yet put into practice. It may be a little while before those with chronic health conditions will be seen with these types of tattoos. But for those who need extra help monitoring and managing their diseases, the possibility is nonetheless an exciting one — even for those who weren’t otherwise keen to head to their local tattoo shop.


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