Tattooing could be pain-free thanks to new needle tech

Depending on your tolerance for pain, getting a tattoo can be an uncomfortable experience, but new technology developed by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology could change that.

A team led by chemical engineer Mark Prausnitz has created an inexpensive skin patch using microscopic needles smaller than a grain of sand. Each of the so-called “microneedles” acts like a pixel and can be arranged in different patterns. Each is then filled with ink before being pressed to the skin a single time to transfer the design, without pain or bleeding. The process can even be run in-house.

While the patch could clearly be a welcome breakthrough for people who would like to get a cosmetic tattoo but are currently put off by the pain, the team actually started their research with a different group in mind: medical patients.

“We’ve miniaturized the needle so that it’s painless, yet effectively delivers tattoo ink into the skin,” Prausnitz said in an article about the new patch, adding that because of its ease of administration, it could also make medical tattoos more accessible.

Medical tattoos can be used to cover up scars, accompany repeated cancer radiation treatments, and repair nipples after breast surgery. They can also take the place of bracelets to function as health monitors and alert doctors to serious conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy or allergies.

Prausnitz’s team has long been researching microneedles for vaccine delivery and has also begun using the tattoos to help animal organizations identify spayed and neutered pets. But it is the suitability of the patches for cosmetic tattoos that has received the most attention.

“We saw this as an opportunity to leverage our work on microneedling technology to make tattooing more accessible,” Prausnitz said. “While some people are willing to accept the pain and time it takes to get a tattoo, we thought others would prefer a tattoo that is simply pressed onto the skin and doesn’t hurt.”

Tattoo artists don’t have to worry about the patches taking up their work as they focus more on small, simple designs than on intricate designs that require a lot of skill and time.

Prausnitz makes a similar point: “The goal is not to replace all tattoos, which are often works of beauty created by tattoo artists,” he said. “Our goal is to create new opportunities for patients, pets and people who want a painless tattoo that is easy to administer.”

Leave a Comment