Ink utility: Tattoos are more than an artform

by Jessie O’Brien

While tattoos are certainly an artform, the ink beneath the skin is not always about self-expression. There are ways the centuries-old needle-driven art is being used in practical, or even scientific, ways, often to help make our lives easier. From aesthetics to ancient medicine, here’s how tattoos are used for function.

Chameleon colors Art, science, and health crash together with color-changing tattoo inks by Dermal Abyss. Still in the research phase, a collaboration of researchers developed three different inks with biosensors that alter colors with the body’s fluids. One of the most exciting is an ink that changes from blue to brown as glucose levels rise. This can be helpful for diabetics who need to monitor their blood sugar. Diabetics getting tattooed isn’t new, though. Many people get tattoos with traditional ink as a way to alert others in case of an emergency – type 1 diabetes can render a person incapacitated if their sugar drops too low or skyrockets too high, so it’s important to communicate the medical issue to the general public – but this new technology takes this concept to the next level.

Hello, hairlineMany women have used tattoos as a way to have un-smudgeable, lifelong makeup with services like permanent eyeliner and eyebrow microblading. Now men are hopping on board, too, as alternatives like hair plugs still have a long way to go. There are 150,000 hairs on the average human head, and transplants usually only add 2,000 to 3,000 hairs. Micropigmentation offers a disguise for men with receding hairlines. Professionals use a needle smaller than a standard tattoo needle to mimic hair follicles, and the end result looks like a full head of hair that was buzzed short. Unlike microblading, micropigmentation can last up to 10 years.

Immune boostA 2016 study published in “American Journal of Human Biology” revealed that getting tattooed often can actually improve internal health. The idea is that because tattooing causes damages to the soft tissue, the experience heightens cortisol (the hormone that can kill you) levels. But the theory is that the more you get tattooed, the more the body becomes tolerant to higher cortisol levels, which builds the immune system.

Ancient inkupuncture Ötzi (the man found preserved in the ice in the Ötztal Alps) is the most famous mummy in the world. But did you know he was tatted up like a Hells Angels? That’s right; Ötzi’s skin had 61 tattoos on his back and joint areas. Researchers found that the majority of these marks were in places that match the classical Chinese acupuncture points utilized to treat rheumatism, according to a Smithsonian article.

Jessie O’Brien


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