Updated on  February 20, 2024
4 min read

What are Eyeball Tattoos?

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What is an Eyeball Tattoo?

An eyeball tattoo, or sclera tattoo, is a permanent type of cosmetic body modification. It’s an emerging trend of injecting ink into the sclera (the white of the eye). 

A tattoo artist injects ink between two layers of the eye under the surface of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane lining the inside of your eyelids. The ink then spreads out over a larger area. 

Some people get this tattoo to color the whites of their eyes black or red. But like all body inks, eyeball tattoos have risks and can be extremely dangerous.

close up shot of a Young woman with eyeball tattoo and makeup

Dangers and Legal Bans of Eyeball Tattooing

Scleral tattooing is legally banned in Oklahoma, Indiana, and Washington due to numerous complications. Notable incidents include Catt Gallinger, who experienced leaking purple liquid, pain, and vision issues in 2017.1 

That same year, a University of Alberta report detailed a man’s severe vision loss days after an eye tattoo.2 Studies in 2017 and 2018 documented severe reactions following eye tattoo procedures, such as:3,4

  • Orbital cellulitis
  • Posterior scleritis
  • Two sub-episcleral nodules
  • Severe ocular inflammation
  • Secondary glaucoma
  • Cataract 

What Experts Say on Eyeball Tattoos

We sought the expertise and advice of Yuna Raporport, MD MPH. Dr. Raporport is a board-certified ophthalmologist at Manhattan Eye in New York.

She said scleral tattoos are purely cosmetic and can have significant side effects, including glaucoma, uveitis, and keratitis. For scleral tattoo complications, Dr. Raporport has seen scleral infections, abscesses, infections, and melts.

Sometimes, these are treated with just antibiotics and steroid drops. However, she’s had cases needing emergent surgery to patch up an eye area that was almost a hole due to the tattoo’s complications.

Corneal tattoos use the same ink as scleral tattoos for functional (medical) purposes, such as aniridia. This is a genetic condition in which a person doesn’t have the entire iris trauma that causes part of the iris to disappear.

What are the Risks of Eyeball Tattoos?

Eyeball tattoos haven’t undergone medical review or scientific study and pose significant hazards. Here are the risks of sclera tattoos, especially for those contemplating this procedure:

1. Vision Loss

Tattooing the sclera can result in decreased vision or even total vision loss. The lack of precision during the procedure can lead to ink injection into the eye, affecting the retina or eye tissue.

Another concern is the lack of formal training of tattoo artists to perform eyeball tattoos. This increases the likelihood of complications, such as corneal abrasions and ulcers. 

Having a tattooed sclera can also complicate routine eye examinations. It may hinder optometrists from identifying early signs of problems that could lead to vision loss over time.

2. Eye Infections

Like other tattoos, there’s a risk of bloodborne diseases, infections like keratitis, or allergic reactions. Contaminated equipment can transmit infections such as MRSA, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

Unsterile needles and contaminated tattoo ink can cause infections. This can lead to inflammation, irritation, and potentially vision loss.

3. Eye Loss

Severe cases of unsuccessful eyeball tattoos may result in the necessity to remove the eye. You might need a prosthetic eye made of medical-grade plastic acrylic to replace it.

Safer Alternative Options

If you’re a fan of body art but don’t want the risks, there are safer alternatives to eyeball or scleral tattoos. Here are some options to consider:

  • Contact lenses. Colored contact lenses can temporarily change the color of your eyes 
  • Eyelid tattoos. An upper or lower eyelid tattoo has considerably fewer risks than a sclera tattoo
  • Face or body tattoos. These are safer and don’t pose a risk to your vision

Always consult your doctor to obtain a prescription for colored contacts. Follow their advice on how to best care for your eyes.

Common Questions on Eyeball Tattoos

How long does an eyeball tattoo last?

The ink in an eyeball tattoo may fade, but it will remain in your eyes permanently. 

Are eyeball tattoos painful?

Yes, eyeball tattoos can be very painful. The pain is comparable to getting a traditional tattoo on your skin but may be more intense due to the eye’s sensitivity.

Can I remove an eyeball tattoo?

No, it’s not possible to remove tattoo ink from your eyeball. Attempting to remove the ink could cause further damage to your eyes and vision.

How much does an eyeball tattoo cost?

The cost of an eyeball tattoo can vary, but it typically starts from $1,000. However, the risks and potential complications are not worth the price.

Summary

Despite their increasing popularity, eyeball tattoos aren’t a safe or advisable form of body art. They come with many risks and dangers that can lead to severe vision loss, eye infections, and even the removal of the eye in some cases.

Consider safer alternatives like contact lenses or eyelid tattoos if you want to change your eye color or express yourself through body art. Always prioritize your eye health and consult with a professional before undergoing any body modification procedure.

Updated on  February 20, 2024
8 sources cited
Updated on  February 20, 2024
  1. Gudgel, D. “Eyeball Tattoos Are Even Worse than They Sound.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2019.
  2. Duarte et al. “Case Series: Two Cases of Eyeball Tattoos with Short-Term Complications.” American Journal of Ophthalmology Case Reports, 2017.
  3. Gudgel, D. “Danger: Colored Contacts Can Harm Your Eyes” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
  4. Cope et al. “Risk Behaviors for Contact Lens-Related Eye Infections among Adults and Adolescents – United States, 2016.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2017.
  5. Freund et al. “Scleral Tattoo Gone Wrong.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2017.
  6. Tubel et al. “The girl with the eyeball tattoo—what the ophthalmologist may expect? Case report and a review of literature.” Sage Journals, 2018.
  7. Gudgel, D. “Laura’s Story: Costume Contacts Scarred My Eye.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022.
  8. You can’t reverse the procedure.” Mayo Clinic, 2022.
The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.