(Catt Gallinger/Facebook)

Doctors warn eyeball tattoos could lead to blindness, severe infections

Ophthalmologists warn ink can be carried throughout the eye and pose a greater risk to the organ

WARNING: This story contains graphic content. Discretion is advised.


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 engage in 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 alternative model 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 currently 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 in a telephone interview. “At this point, every day is different. Some days I feel a bit better, other days I kind of want to give up.”

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 on the procedure.

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 on a monthly basis.

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

Ophthalmologists using ink inject it 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.

The area under the conjunctiva contains blood vessels, she said, meaning the ink can be carried throughout the eye and pose a greater risk to the organ. Immediate consequences of the injection can include blindness, while longer-term effects may include cataracts and severe infection, she said.

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

“What’s going to happen when these dyes migrate to different parts of the eyeball or different parts of the body?” she asked. “Are there risks related to cancer? Persistent inflammation? We have no idea. So even if you really like what you look like and the procedure went perfectly well, we don’t know what’s going to happen three, five, 10 years down the road.”

Many tattoo artists are similarly leery of the practice, according to one Toronto studio owner.

David Glantz of Archive Tattoo Studio said he knows of very few that offer scleral tattoos despite the growing fascination with the procedure he’s observed online.

He said insurance companies will not cover studios that provide scleral tattoos, adding 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 by highly qualified professionals.

“I would never recommend anyone get it done until it becomes something that is a cosmetic procedure done by surgeons,” she said. “I’m hoping that that will happen, because people are going to do this either way.”

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Saskia and Darrel kick off spring tour with Chilliwack concert

Stories of the Great Plains delivered in Gaelic, French and more

RCMP officer reaching out to youth about intimate partner violence

Chilliwack officer and friends of Maple Batalia team up to encourage bystanders to speak up

Sarah Wark faces do-or-die match at Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Wark’s rink will face Manitoba Thursday morning with a championship pool berth on the line.

Chilliwack Chief Kevin Wall nominated for BCHL awards

Wall is in the running for MVP and top rookie, and will find out if he’s won before the playoffs.

Permaculture group planning a seed swap

The AGM is Feb. 23 for Valley Permaculture Guild members

VIDEO: North Delta elementary school closed following stabbing that left cop, woman in serious condition

An off-duty police officer and a woman were injured outside of the school Wednesday afternoon

70% of Canadians agree with mandatory vaccines for children: poll

The debate for pro and anti vaccinations has heated up after a measles outbreak in Vancouver

VIDEO: Woman, off-duty cop in serious condition after stabbing outside B.C. elementary school

The officer was interceding in an alleged assault when he and the woman were stabbed

5 to start your day

Two people are in critical condition after stabbing, searchers recover body of missing snowshoer and more

‘A little baloney’ in PM’s claim about solicitor-client privilege on SNC-Lavalin

The Conservatives and NDP want Trudeau to waive that privilege so Wilson-Raybould can offer her side of the story

Proposed edible pot rules are wasteful, would leave products tasteless: critics

When Canada legalized weed last fall, it only allowed fresh or dried bud, oil, plants and seeds

Most Read