Ev­ery­one frowns on eye­ball tat­toos

Ink in­jec­tions risky to colour whites: MDs, body artists

Waterloo Region Record - - LOCAL - Michelle Mc­Quigge

TORONTO — Med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als and body artists say the prac­tice of tat­too­ing the eye­ball, which re­cently left an Ot­tawa woman fac­ing the prospect of vi­sion loss, is on the rise de­spite its many risks.

Oph­thal­mol­o­gists and tat­too stu­dios de­cry the prac­tice, say­ing it’s very dif­fi­cult to do it safely.

Nonethe­less, they say they hear of in­creas­ing de­mand for the ex­treme form of body mod­i­fi­ca­tion, which in­volves in­ject­ing ink into the whites of the eyes.

A 24-year-old says she has learned the hard way about the risks of the pro­ce­dure. Catt Gallinger says she re­cently al­lowed some­one to dye the white of her right eye pur­ple, but has since de­vel­oped ma­jor com­pli­ca­tions.

Gallinger has lost part of the vi­sion in the swollen, mis­shapen eye and is fac­ing the prospect of liv­ing with ir­re­versible dam­age.

“This is a very big toll on the men­tal health,” she said.

Gallinger said she has long had an in­ter­est in body mod­i­fi­ca­tion, and es­pe­cially in tat­too­ing the white of her eye, tech­ni­cally known as the sclera. But she said she took the plunge with­out do­ing ad­e­quate re­search.

Had she done so, med­i­cal and tat­too pro­fes­sion­als say, she could have found a plethora of ev­i­dence dis­cour­ag­ing the prac­tice, which has gained trac­tion among body mod­i­fi­ca­tion en­thu­si­asts in re­cent years.

Ot­tawa-based oph­thal­mol­o­gist Dr. Setareh Ziai said she first heard of sclera tat­toos as a rare phe­nom­e­non about a decade ago, but said she now learns of cases across Canada monthly.

Although oph­thal­mol­o­gists do oc­ca­sion­ally use tat­too ink for med­i­cal pur­poses, such as to re­duce glare or corneal scar­ring, she said the process Gallinger un­der­went bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to those ap­proved by the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion.

Oph­thal­mol­o­gists in­ject ink into the cornea in op­er­at­ing rooms us­ing ster­ile equip­ment, Ziai said, adding most scleral tat­toos are ad­min­is­tered us­ing an ev­ery­day sy­ringe in­ject­ing the ink un­der the con­junc­tiva.

Most alarm­ing of all, Ziai said, is the fact that re­searchers do not yet have a han­dle on the longterm im­pact of such a pro­ce­dure.

David Glantz, of Ar­chive Tat­too Stu­dio, knows very few tat­too artists that of­fer it. He said in­sur­ance com­pa­nies won’t cover those stu­dios, and that no li­censed train­ing is cur­rently of­fered for the pro­ce­dure.

“No tat­tooer I know would of­fer it. Most of us have a con­science, would like to keep our jobs, and keep mak­ing cool tat­toos in what­ever style we choose to work in,” Glantz said in an email. “There’d be no point to any of us jeop­ar­diz­ing our ca­reers for a ‘wow, one or both of you are re­ally dar­ing or stupid,’ kind of story. It’s not the kind of brag­ging most of us are in this trade for.”

Gallinger said she hopes to see the prac­tice be­come reg­u­lated and per­formed only by highly qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als.


Catt Gallinger, who had a botched ink in­jec­tion in her eye­ball, shows the amount of swelling in her eye at her home in Ot­tawa on Fri­day.

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