Tattoo ‘patch’ made from microneedles offers pain-free alternative to getting inked

ATLANTA — A new way of getting a permanent tattoo – without the pain of having to go under the needle – has been developed by scientists. Instead of sitting for hours enduring painful punctures, the new technology in the form of a skin patch could mean you can get a painless, bloodless and speedy tattoo.

The breakthrough process involves a skin patch that contains microscopic needles. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology say the microneedles are smaller than a grain of sand, making their impact on the skin painless. When the patch is pressed onto the body, the microneedles dissolve, and after a few minutes the ink sinks into the skin.

“We’ve miniaturised the needle so that it’s painless, but still effectively deposits tattoo ink in the skin,” says principal investigator Mark Prausnitz, a professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, in a statement.  Prausnitz co-founded the company Micron Biomedical behind the microneedle patch technology, bringing it further into clinical trials, commercializing it, and ultimately making it available to patients.

“Because the microneedles are made of tattoo ink, they deposit the ink in the skin very efficiently,” adds study co-author Dr .Song Li, a senior research scientist at Micron and former postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech.

How does the tattoo skin patch work?

Each microneedle can be arranged in different ways to create the perfect design. Whether you want words, symbols or exotic flowers, the patch has got you covered. The research, published in the journal iScience, shows that the tattoos are likely to be permanent. Since they are less intrusive than current tattoos, researchers say there is a lower risk of infection. And they can even be self-administered, making them cheap and time effective.

Medical microneedle for tattoos
A microneedle that is used for medical purposes and leaves a temporary tattoo is part of the research done by Mark Prausnitz at Georgia Tech.

“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,” says Prausnitz.

The microneedles could also be loaded with temporary tattoo ink for indecisive people who don’t want a tattoo forever. This finding will not just help us get cool, pain-free tattoos, it can help medically. Tattoos are used to cover up scars, guide repeated cancer radiation treatments and as a way to communicate if someone has a serious medical condition such as diabetes, epilepsy, or allergies.

The tattoos can even be made to react to environmental factors such as light or temperature changes. This means they can make tattoos that only appear with ultraviolet light or in higher temperatures, providing patients with privacy, as the tattoo can be hidden.

It is not just humans these tattoos can help. They can also be used to put information on animal’s skin to show if they have been spayed or neutered. Instead of clipping their ears or applying ear tags, vets can painlessly tattoo the animal.

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

Prausnitz and several other Georgia Tech researchers are inventors of the microneedle patch used in this study and have ownership interest in Micron Biomedical. They are entitled to royalties derived from Micron Biomedical’s future sales of products related to the research. These potential conflicts of interest have been disclosed and are overseen by Georgia Institute of Technology.

Report by South West News Service writer Alice Clifford.

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