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Smart Tattoos Could Change Color, Indicate Health Issues

By Kelly Werthmann

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4)- Imagine a tattoo that could alert you if you need to apply sunscreen or if your blood sugar is low. Sounds like joke, right? But it's not.

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"I often joke that tattoos can give you super powers," Carson Bruns, an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering with the ATLAS Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder campus, said.

Well, he's not kidding. Bruns has created a tattoo that could have the power to revolutionize medicine.

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"The one that's the furthest along right now is a UV sensitive tattoo," he told CBS4's Kelly Werthmann.

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Along with a team of researchers at CU, Bruns developed a sort of "smart ink." It contains a color-changing dye that can appear or disappear, depending on what it is exposed to – such as potentially harmful UV rays.

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"The tattoo ink acts like a real-time indicator of your skin's UV exposure," Bruns explained. "So, if you see your tattoo, it basically means that you're overexposed to sunlight and you need to wear sunscreen. If you put sunscreen on, it'll disappear and you'll know you're safe."

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Sun protection tattoos are just the beginning. Bruns and his team are also working on tattoos that could help doctors diagnose illnesses and alert people to changes in their blood chemistry.

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"We'd love to make a tattoo ink that can detect your blood sugar levels or your blood alcohol content," he said.

Researchers are currently testing the tech-filled ink by tattooing pieces of pig skin. Recently, Bruns opted to be the first person to get a "tech tattoo."

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Carson Bruns (credit: CBS)

"I call them solar freckles because they're like invisible freckles that are powered by sunshine," he said.

Bruns admitted it was risk to try the new ink on himself, as there are many safety tests left to do.

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"That's our biggest concern right now is making sure that we're not poisoning anybody with these tattoos," he said.

It will likely be years, Bruns said, before they can test the tech tattoos on people, so don't expect them to be available in your favorite tattoo shop anytime soon. That said, Bruns is confident people will one day be able to get a tattoo with important super powers.

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"They're going to enable people to be healthier and more self-expressive," he said.

LINK: Chameleon Tattoos May Diagnose Illness

Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.

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