Innovation: OLED Tattoos That Glow

OLED technology has brought an illuminating innovation to the world of body art. We now have smart tattoos that can glow under certain conditions. Developed by researchers from Europe, these smart tattoos have broad applications. They can be used to signal when your body needs water and for monitoring other bodily functions, for example.

A group of scientists from the University College London (UCL) and the Italian Institute of Technology are taking tattoo technology to futuristic heights by using OLEDs for something other than smartphones and TVs. Sure, the science of using light-emitting diodes is nothing new, but integrating it with human skin is a huge breakthrough.

What Are OLED Tattoos?

The OLD tattoos are made using a super-thin, 76-nanometer (nm) electroluminescent polymer. This polymer is designed to emit light when it is paired with an electric field. The insulated electrodes are then applied to a tattoo paper.

An OLED tattoo is about 2.3 mm, so it may look like a microchip embedded in the skin, but it’s only surface-deep and temporary. Like any other temporary tattoo, the 2.3 micrometer-thick OLED tattoo transfers a revolutionary glowing light source to the skin with water and direct pressure.

Like other temporary tattoos that you can remove through washing, you can easily remove this light-emitting tattoo. All you need to do is rub it with water and soap, and you’re back to tattoo-free life.

Applications Of OLED Tattoos

OLED tattoos have broad applications and a multitude of purposes. From body art to medical science, they can (or could) do it all.

For example, for the fashion industry, OLED tattoos could mean having led-powered fingernails or accent lines across the body. These tattoos also find wide sports applications wherein athletes can use them to analyze sweating patterns and monitor dehydration. They might also be used for cancer treatment and can play a crucial role in photosensitive therapies.

OLED tattoos could also find applications in food preservation. Experts conducted a test wherein they applied the tattoo to fruits, and it was able to indicate when the food expired.

However, the idea is still in its infancy and needs to go through a lot to be ready for the public. This is just the first step. The next challenges will include incorporating the OLED with a supercapacitor or battery and ensuring that they do not get damaged quickly after coming in contact with air.

A Closer Look

“The tattooable OLEDs that we have demonstrated for the first time can be made at scale and very cheaply,” said Professor Franco Cacialli of UCL, senior author. “They can be combined with other forms of tattoo electronics for a very wide range of possible uses. These could be for fashion – for instance, providing glowing tattoos and light-emitting fingernails. In sports, they could be combined with a sweat sensor to signal dehydration. In healthcare, they could emit light when there is a change in a patient’s condition – or, if the tattoo was turned the other way into the skin, they could potentially be combined with light-sensitive therapies to target cancer cells, for instance.”

The light-emitting polymer used in the tattoos is about 76 nm thick and is formulated using a special technique called spin coating. But what makes OLED tattoos an exciting development is that the technology is low-cost, easy to use, and washes off easily.

Are you as excited as we are about this innovation?

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