Everyone frowns on eyeball tattoos
Ink injections risky to colour whites: MDs, body artists
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.