In a mad scientist's lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, nanoengineer Carson Bruns is creating a revolution in tattooing. His latest invention, Magic Ink, is set to transform the way we think about tattoos, introducing the concept of smart, interactive body art.
The Magic Ink Experience
Imagine a tattoo that's not just ink on your skin but a dynamic accessory. Bruns and his team have developed a tattoo that resembles a freckle, a tiny blue dot, but with a unique twist – it can be turned on and off. Similar to a mood ring changing color with temperature, this tattoo reacts to light. Ultraviolet light activates it, while daylight or a regular flashlight turns it off.
"It's like having a switch for your tattoo. You can turn it off in court, on at a party, and off again at grandma's house," says Bruns, affiliated with the university's innovative ATLAS Institute.
The Cosmetic Leap
Bruns, along with tattoo artist Keith "Bang Bang" McCurdy and a former doctoral student, plans to release Magic Ink to a select group of artists early next year. While their long-term vision includes smart tattoos with health applications, they're starting with cosmetics due to accessibility and simplicity.
However, the cosmetic tattoo market is experiencing regulatory changes. The FDA, empowered by the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022, is expanding its oversight of tattoo manufacturers. This move aims to ensure correct labeling and adherence to good manufacturing practices.
Inside the Magic: How It Works
Magic Ink comprises dye particles enclosed in plexiglass beads, similar to the material in dermal fillers. While dermal fillers are FDA-approved, tattoo ink contents remain somewhat mysterious. The introduction of new materials, like those in Magic Ink, brings uncertainties, emphasizing the need for cautious consumer acceptance.
Bruns, backed by funding from the National Science Foundation, aims to explore nanoparticle sizes that minimize immune system irritation and maximize ink stability. Traditional tattoos have seen ink particles migrate to lymph nodes, posing potential health concerns.
Beyond the Party Trick: Health-Focused Inks
While Magic Ink serves as an attention-grabbing party trick, Bruns envisions more meaningful applications. His team has developed inks sensitive to gamma radiation, intended as built-in exposure meters. Another ink signals when it's time to apply sunscreen, while a third aims to act as permanent sunscreen. Though not yet available to consumers, these creations align with Bruns' goal of making tattoos not just decorative but functional.
The Road Ahead
While tattooable health tech remains a distant dream, Magic Ink serves as the first step in bridging the gap between tattoo artistry and technology. Priced at $100 for a half-ounce bottle, it targets early adopters and enthusiasts. If successful, the University of Colorado-Boulder stands to benefit from the intellectual property.
In a market where celebrities and tattoo artists are already sporting Magic Ink, its journey from novelty to mainstream acceptance will be closely watched. As cosmetic tattoos evolve, the tantalizing prospect of health-focused smart tattoos beckons on the horizon, offering a glimpse into the future of body art.