Smart technology and wearable devices are on the rise and widely accepted as beneficial, but smart tattoo ink could be the next big thing, taking wearables to a whole new level. Smart tattoo ink can interact with your body’s chemistry and indicate certain things going on within your body, such as dehydration, the development of diabetes and if you’re at risk of sunburn. Currently, the smart ink is still being researched, but tests on pig skin have been successful in proving the concept and the inks aren’t far away from being fully functional, turning body art into decorative health markers.

Why you should get ink over a wearable

Over half of Americans wear fitness and health trackers on a daily basis and this number is set to rise as the trackers are designed with more features and functions, become more user-friendly and cheaper. As the technology advances, it left Harvard and MIT researchers wondering, “what comes next?”. A drawback of wearable devices is that they don’t seamlessly interact with the body, need charging and depend on wireless technology that is still being developed. Tattoo ink that reacts to the body’s chemistry overcomes all of these obstacles, making it a functional and decorative way to track your health.

Tattoos that could prevent sunburn

One of the more advanced inks, and therefore most likely to become available in the near future, is UV-sensitive tattoo ink. This comes from a team of researchers at the University of Colorado. They have put a dye in tattoo ink that reacts to UV rays, so it will either result in the ink appearing or disappearing, depending on if it can be seen initially. For anyone who has a tattoo, you become accustomed to them being there and it would be strange if they weren’t, but to begin with it will also catch your eye as it’s something you’re not used to seeing. The implications of UV-sensitive ink means that disappearing or appearing tattoos will be noticeable and alert the person that they need to apply sunscreen as their body becomes over-exposed to the sun’s rays. Of course, this can potentially prevent sunburn and the skin cancer that can be a long-term result.

Health tracking inks

Health tracking tattoo inks are part of the aim for Harvard and MIT research, known as The Dermal Abyss. The Dermal Abyss was put together to prove the concept, but the inks currently need refinements, such as stabilizers that ensure the tattoo won’t fade overtime or bleed into surrounding skin, distorting the design. The inks can change color according to the chemistry of the body’s interstitial fluid. One ink will be green and change to brown if glucose concentration increases, making it a marker for diabetes. Another ink that appears green and is viewable under blue light will become more intense when sodium levels rise, indicating dehydration, which would be valuable for athletes, but can help anyone who needs to drink more throughout the day.

What the future looks like for smart tattoo inks

Once the Dermal Abyss tattoo inks are streamlined to have the appearance and durability of modern inks, the applications could be life-saving. An obvious market is people who are already ill, offering monitoring without the constant watchful eye of a doctor or nurse. Patients with chronic illnesses can be offered permanent tattoo designs and those with acute illnesses can have temporary tattoos. People who may have a family history or a predisposition to certain conditions could also get a smart tattoo to indicate if their health has deteriorated, providing the opportunity to get treatment quicker than they would if they were unaware of the biological changes.

Researchers also believe the tattoo inks could be beneficial for astronauts who usually continuously monitor their health. With the success of the inks, it’s likely the research will continue and develop into different areas of health monitoring, such as a wider array of illnesses and different ways the ink responds.

Having a smart tattoo could indicate a health problem before symptoms appear, meaning you could get treatment early on for better results. The inks could be life-saving but can also help people monitor their health better and ensure they meet their needs, such as staying hydrated and applying sunscreen.