NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Tattoos that are good for your health?

That’s the goal of a research project in Colorado.

What they’re working on could become the body art of the future, CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Monday.

Tattoos have become incredibly popular. Forty percent of Americans under age 40 have at least one. That’s 45 million people. The $1.6 billion industry is mostly about artistic self-expression, but some researchers want to change tattoo ink into a health indicator.

Imagine having a tattoo that’s good for your body. That’s the goal of a research project in Colorado that could become the medical tattoos of the future. (Photo: CBS2)

It’s not what you expect in a tattoo parlor. Carson Bruns is working to move tattoos from body art to medical monitoring.

“The one that’s the furthest along right now is a UV-sensitive tattoo,” Bruns said.

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A team of researchers at University of Colorado is developing a kind of “smart ink.” It contains a color-changing dye that can appear or disappear depending on what it’s exposed to. For instance, potentially harmful UV rays.

“If you see your tattoo, it basically means that you’re overexposed to sunlight and you need to wear sunscreen,” Bruns said.

Sun-indicating tattoos are just the beginning. Bruns is also working on tats that could help doctors diagnose illnesses, such as alerting people to changes in their blood chemistry.

“We’d love to make a tattoo ink that can detect your blood-sugar levels, or your blood-alcohol content,” Bruns said.

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Researchers are testing the smart ink by tattooing pieces of pig skin. Bruns opted to be the first person to get a “tech tattoo.”

“I call them ‘solar freckles,’ because they’re like invisible freckles that are powered by sunshine,” Bruns said.

Bruns admitted it was a risk to try the new ink on himself, and there are many safety tests left to do.

“Our biggest concern right now is making sure that we’re not poisoning anybody with these tattoos,” he said.

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So don’t expect these tech tats to be available anytime soon, but Bruns is confident people will one day be able to get a tattoo with important medical powers.

“They’re going to enable people to be more healthy and more self expressive,” he said.

Most dermatologists would argue that you don’t need a tattoo to tell you to put on sunscreen. That’s something you should do well before a tattoo changes color. But if smart ink can do things like monitor blood sugar or other body chemistry, then tats could serve a dual purpose.


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