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PhD Student Develops Painless Tattoo Removal Cream

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You should probably still think twice before making any practically permanent alterations to your body. But in the event that you do end up with a regrettable tattoo, a researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax is making it easier to erase that mistake. Alec Falkenham, a 27-year-old PhD student in the university's pathology department, is working on a topical cream that could replace the painful laser removal when it comes to dealing with unwanted ink.

The tattooing process works by injecting ink into the skin, which stimulates an immune response in which cells called "macrophages" move into the area and "eat up" the ink. Although some of the macrophages carry ink away from the surface of the skin into the lymph nodes, others remain behind, darkened from "consuming" ink. These pigment-filled macrophages are what we see as a tattoo. Falkenham's cream works by inciting another round of macrophages to consume the colored ones and carry them, along with the ink, into the body's lymph nodes and away from the visible surface of the skin.

Falkenham isn't sure yet how many sessions a complete erasure will take, which in turn will determine the total price—a 10-by-10-centimeter area would cost approximately $4.50 per treatment. But still, it's unlikely to top the several thousand dollars laser removal can cost you. What's more, the topical cream will be safer than laser removal.

"When comparing it to laser-based tattoo removal, in which you see the burns, the scarring, the blisters, in this case, we've designed a drug that doesn't really have much off-target effect," Falkenham told CBC News.

"We're not targeting any of the normal skin cells, so you won't see a lot of inflammation. In fact, based on the process that we're actually using, we don't think there will be any inflammation at all and it would actually be anti-inflammatory."

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Health
'Smart' Tattoos Could Monitor Your Blood Sugar
Harvard University, YouTube
Harvard University, YouTube

Wearable health-monitoring devices are nothing new, but consumer-grade models are usually limited in function and have a cool factor usually associated with mall walkers.

Now, there's some new hope on the horizon: a tattoo ink that's able to provide its owner with real-time health assessments.

According to Nerdist and first reported by the Harvard Gazette, researchers at Harvard and MIT have broken ground—or technically, skin—on a procedure that uses a special kind of ink to evaluate certain health markers. This "smart" tattoo ink can assess an individual’s blood sugar level, a benefit to diabetics; another biosensor tattoo can measure dehydration levels. If the ink detects a shift, it changes colors. (Nerdist calls it a "mood ring" for your health.)

The project, dubbed "DermalAbyss," was mounted when postdoctoral fellows at both universities wanted to address drawbacks in current wearable health tech. Battery life is one factor; wireless connectivity is another. But "smart" ink doesn't need either. The ink responds to changes in the wearer's interstitial fluid, which can provide information on glucose levels and sodium concentration.

The researchers note that they'll need to continue to experiment with the ink (currently being tested on pig skin) to make sure it doesn't diffuse or fade. For people who might want the benefits of such monitoring without having a portrait on their arm, the team also suggests an "invisible" ink that can be seen only when observed under the light of a smartphone. 

[h/t Nerdist]

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Big Questions
How Does Tattoo Removal Work?
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You may have felt the regret that sometimes accompanies a mixture of alcohol, impulsive behavior, and a conveniently-located tattoo parlor. Or maybe your artist fudged one of 2015’s trendy watercolor tattoos. If the time has come to erase a dermatological mistake, laser tattoo removal is the answer. But how does it work?

It helps to understand how tattoos become permanent fixtures under your epidermis in the first place. As a stabbing tattoo needle plunges under the top layer of skin, it injects tiny ink particles; those particles are considered a foreign invader by your body, which attempts to marshal forces of white blood cells to address the perceived threat. But the ink particles are too big, and so they remain—mostly. Over time, the particles can break down, allowing the body to carry them off bit by bit. It’s why tattoos can begin to fade after a few years. Unfortunately, that's not fast enough for some poorly-rendered markings.

Lasers speed up this process. The light breaks up the pigment, allowing the body to do what it wanted to do in the first place, which was to get rid of your pocket watch tattoo as quickly as possible. Because the laser is adjusted for different color pigments, it won’t etch away your natural skin color.

Once the pigment particles have been carried off, your lymphatic system takes care of the rest. The remnants of your mistake are routed to the liver, where it can be processed as waste. Technically, that means your tattoo will eventually be pooped out and your questionable judgment flushed away.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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