This tattoo changes colors as your blood sugar levels change

Whether you’re a fan of tattoos or would never consider getting one, you’ll have to admit these are pretty cool. Scientists have developed something called a “biosensing” tattoo that could help change the lives of people living with types 1 or 2 diabetes.

How could a tattoo do this, you ask? Well, by changing color as the person’s blood sugar levels fluctuate.

This new tattoo is the hard work of a team of researchers from Harvard and MIT who call the project Dermal Abyss. The researchers replaced traditional tattoo ink with color-changing “biosensors” that react to variations in the interstitial fluid, which surrounds tissue cells in the human body.


“It blends advances in biotechnology with traditional methods in tattoo artistry,” the team writes on their website. “Currently … diabetics need to monitor their glucose levels by piercing the skin 3 to 10 times per day. With Dermal Abyss, we imagine the future where the painful procedure is replaced with a tattoo. Thus, the user could monitor the color changes and the need of insulin.”

insulin photo
Flickr | Sarah G...

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The research focuses on four different biosensors that react to three different pieces of biochemical information that are evident in that interstitial fluid. The pH (or acidity) of the fluid changes between purple and pink, the glucose (sugar) sensor changes between blue and brown and the sodium and another pH sensor “fluoresce at a higher intensity under UV light.”

Tattoos In Action

Curious to see how the biosensing tattoos work? This cool video helps explain the concept.

Currently For Research Only

If this sounds life-changing to you, don’t get your hopes up quite yet. Right now, DermalAbyss is just a research project.

“There are currently no plans to develop DermalAbyss as a product or to pursue clinical trials,” the website says.

But there is some hope—the tattoos have been tested on pig skin, which is extremely similar to the human dermis. During the test, the tattoo actually worked. For now, however, you’ll just have to stick with a regular tattoo for decoration and the traditional finger-prick method for checking blood sugar.

This isn’t the first time researchers have experimented with tattoos to monitor our health. One researcher created a thin electronic mesh that stretches with skin and can monitor things like temperature and hydration.

MIT’s Media Lab also created tattoos that can do a whole range of things—from turning up music on a remote device to displaying the emotion of the wearer.

There was more good news for people with diabetes this spring as researchers discovered that taking a hot bath can help regulate blood sugar and inflammation (this in addition to burning the same amount of calories as a half-hour of walking!).


“We also showed changes to the inflammatory response similar to that following exercise,” wrote Steve Faulkner, lead author of the study, in The Conversation. “The anti-inflammatory response to exercise is important as it helps to protect us against infection and illness, but chronic inflammation is associated with a reduced ability to fight off diseases. This suggests that repeated passive heating may contribute to reducing chronic inflammation, which is often present with long-term diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.”

Taking a hot bath, getting a tattoo—who knew these things would both become potentially helpful tools in the battle against diabetes?

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