Could smart tattoos soon monitor your health?

Tattoo of Queen’s Tower

Tattoo of Queen’s Tower

What do you get when you cross an engineer, a tattooist, and a dash of creativity?

Smart tattoos, of course!

It was exciting to see the concept played out on real skin at the Imperial Late - and our guests thought so too. Rosalia Moreddu Department of Chemical Engineering


Artistic and scientific minds alike crowded to see tattooist Emma Wilkinson create an inky image of Imperial’s very own Queen’s Tower during February’s Imperial Late.

The ink, developed by Imperial academics , contains a pigment that changes colour depending on its wearer’s health status. The colour change can be detected using a smartphone app.

The demonstration was on animal skin, but the idea could eventually alert human wearers to health issues - by warning diabetic patients about fluctuating blood sugar levels, or helping to keep athletes’ hydration levels in check.

The idea is the brainchild of Dr Ali Yetisen and PhD student Rosalia Moreddu , both from Imperial’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Institute for Molecular Science and Engineering. Rosalia is testing the possibility of using tattoo sensors as part of her PhD.

Rosalia said: “It was exciting to see the concept played out on real skin at the Imperial Late - and our guests thought so too.”

The ink contains a pigment that can detect and measure molecules like glucose in the blood, through skin.

Inking straight

I enjoyed demonstrating what can happen when you think outside the box. Emma Wilkinson Tattoo artist


The Imperial Late event was one of the earliest demonstrations of a tattooist applying such an ink to real skin.

Tattooist Emma, who is based at London’s Rotary Heaven studio, said: “It was fascinating to see the worlds of science and art combine in this way. To many, the two are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

“I enjoyed demonstrating what can happen when you think outside the box.”

The researchers are currently developing their own app to detect the changes in colour and associate them to concentration values, but the research is still at an early stage and hasn’t yet been tested on humans.

Next, the researchers will focus on improving the properties of the inks for potential use in humans in the future.

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