freelance journalist, print journalist, online journalist, copywriter, content editor, freelance editor, health and lifestyle, blogger Skin tattoos: not just body art? | Christine Morgan - Journalist
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During summertime, when a great deal more flesh is on display than usual, you could be forgiven for thinking there are more people who don’t have tattoos than those who have. If you lived in Italy you’d almost be right – according to German outfit Dalia Research, 48 per cent of Italians have at least one tattoo, followed by 47 per cent of Swedes and 46 per cent of people from the USA.

Now, however, tattoos could have a new purpose beyond that of body art. Scientists from the Technical University of Munich have discovered how to use tattoos as a way of diagnosing certain health problems by using a colorimetric analytic formulation instead of conventional tattoo ink. Writing in the journal Angewandte Chemie the researchers describe how their diagnostic tattoos change colour in response to certain changes in the body.

First they used a chemical formulation that turns from yellow to blue when the acid-alkaline balance of the skin (pH) changes from five to nine (normal pH for human blood is between 7.35 and 7.45). Two other formulations were used to diagnose glucose and albumin levels in the skin – changing glucose levels may be a sign of diabetes, while a fall in albumin (a carrier and transport protein in the blood) could suggest liver or kidney failure. The glucose formulation changes from yellow to dark green, depending on the level of glucose in the skin, while the albumin formulation changes from yellow to green. Further sensor formulations could be developed to track other indicators, the scientists propose, such as electrolyte levels, pathogen concentrations and hydration levels.

The experts tested their formulations on pig skin – which was commonly used by trainee tattoo artists for practising their skills – so until they’ve trialled their invention on human skin the jury’s still out on exactly how effective their diagnostic tattoos may be. But if they do work in humans, diagnostic tattoos could be an effective, long-term and relatively inexpensive method of monitoring some aspects of our health. Imagine, for instance, checking the colour of your tattoo instead of doing daily pin prick tests for glucose if you’re living with diabetes. Now that’s what we call a great idea.

Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash