Is There a Safe Way to Tattoo an Eyeball?

Experts say almost never.

A 24-year-old model from Canada is at risk of permanently losing her eyesight as a result of an eyeball tattoo procedure gone terribly wrong.

Catt Gallinger announced on her public Facebook page that she elected to have a sclera tattoo (meaning the white part of the eye is colored) on her right eye about four weeks ago. After the procedure, purple liquid immediately began oozing from her eye.

Even though she received medical attention (doctors prescribed her antibiotic drops), her right eye became swollen shut. A physician then gave her steroid drops, but the ink eventually settled around the cornea of the eye. And now, after three hospital visits, she is faced with the possibility of going blind in that eye. Gallinger claims in her post that these complications are due to the artist using undiluted ink and over-injecting the area.

“I am NOT sharing this with you to cause trouble,” she wrote. “I am sharing this to warn you to research who you get your procedures by as well as how the procedure should be properly done."

This devastating story begs the question: Are sclera tattoos ever safe?

“I have never done it, I will never do it, and I would never consider it,” Mario Barth, licensed tattoo artist and owner of the international tattoo enterprise Starlight Tattoo, tells SELF. “If I ever see a tattoo artist who is doing it, I will ask them if he or she is crazy.”

He explains that this particular story would be considered an extreme case of body modification.

“It does not—in any form or way—represent what is happening in the tattoo industry,” continues Barth, who boasts clients including Usher, Sylvester Stallone, Lenny Kravitz, and Tommy Lee. “[Of] the other people I know in this industry—and I know 10,000 of them—I’d say 99.9 percent of them would disagree with any form of tattoo like this.… I think this is going to be a case where tattoo people and non-tattoo people are going to agree!”

In fact, Barth doesn’t believe anyone in the tattoo industry has the qualifications to perform this service. “I don’t think there is any training for this anywhere in the world for a tattoo artist,” he says. “Maybe an eye doctor could do it, but only because they know how to perform surgery.”

In rare circumstances, eye doctors may need to whiten the sclera.

Barth is correct, but it's not something doctors encounter very often. Brian Boxer Wachler, M.D., a Beverly Hills–based ophthalmologist, tells SELF he has performed this procedure a single time in a patient who had an extenuating circumstance.

In this case, Dr. Boxer Wachler used white ink to correct a surgical eye coloring procedure that had gone wrong. Unlike getting tattooed by an artist, patients getting tattooed by their eye surgeon are usually prescribed steroid anti-inflammatory eye drops to reduce the serious initial swelling and pain, he says.

But the biggest concern with a tattoo artist inking someone’s eye—aside from the fact that your artist is probably not moonlighting as an eye surgeon—is that they can accidentally puncture the sclera and inject ink inside the eye. For the procedure to be safe, Dr. Boxer Wachler explains that the ink needs to be injected into the conjunctiva (the outer membrane of the sclera) rather than inside the eyeball itself.

“There are reports of severe vision loss from this,” adds Dr. Boxer Wachler.

So, just in case you were considering getting inked in your eye, know that tattoo artists and eye doctors alike would strongly suggest against it.

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Health Magazine: Is There a Safe Way to Tattoo an Eyeball?
Is There a Safe Way to Tattoo an Eyeball?
Experts say almost never.
Health Magazine
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