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Eye tattoos were developed by Luna Cobra and Shannon Larratt. They involve dying the whites of your eyes a different color, and admittedly, they can look quite striking. However, the risks of serious eye problems as a result of eye tattoos are significant. (Learn More)
The medical community almost universally rejects these tattoos as dangerous and lacking research supporting their use. Although there is not much hard data, this procedure is likely not performed often, yet there have been multiple high-profile cases of serious error and injury as a result of eye tattoos. Even Luna Cobra thinks only trained medical surgeons should be legally permitted to give eye tattoos. (Learn More)
Many regions are beginning to ban these tattoos. At the very least, the procedure needs to be properly regulated. As it stands, people are basically performing mostly unregulated and potentially dangerous surgeries for profit.
If you are considering getting an eye tattoo, don’t do it. Look into colored contacts, which are safer and can help you color your eyes. (Learn More)
Eye Tattoos & Their Risks
Eye tattoos are technically sclera tattoos since they involve coloring the white part (sclera) of the eye. These tattoos are striking in appearance, and many consider them an intriguing example of extreme body modification. Despite the impression they give, they aren’t worth the risk.
This type of tattooing is not all that similar to traditional tattooing techniques, despite its name. The nature of the eye and the risks involved make it very different than tattooing skin. Sclera tattoos are instead performed by injecting a tiny amount of ink under the conjunctiva and over the sclera (the whites of the eye). This essentially dyes the whites of the eye a different color.
While hard data is not really available, many people who have this procedure get the desired result without major incident. That being said, there have been several high-profile cases of serious or moderately serious issues due to the procedure.
This procedure was developed by artists, not doctors. Luna Cobra is one of the two artists who developed the procedure; the other, Shannon Larratt, is deceased. Cobra encourages people who want to have it done to proceed with caution. His concern seems to primarily be that it cannot be reversed and is a major change to one’s look.
There are many risks associated with this change. There is no medical reason to have it done, as it is a purely aesthetic procedure. Risks of eye tattoos include:
- Retinal detachment.
- Photophobia (sensitivity to light).
- Inflammation of the eye.
- Foreign body sensation (a feeling that something is in your eye).
- Vision loss or blindness.
- Total loss of the eye.
Some of the above may be temporary, such as infection or inflammation. But there are obviously very serious risks, such as the potential for blindness or even eye loss. There are sometimes problems even if the artist seems to have performed the procedure correctly.
The Medical Community’s Opinions of Eye Tattoos
Again, there have been multiple cases of serious problems due to the eye tattoo procedure. For example, in 2017, Catt Gallinger needed to have the ink in her eye removed after she started to experience blurred vision and eye pain. As a result, it is not surprising that the medical community more or less universally rejects eye tattoos.
There is basically no medical or scientific studies on the subject of eye tattoos. The procedure requires someone who isn’t a medical professional literally putting a needle into your eye, where even mild error can cause permanent issues. Inflammation is a big concern, as the procedure involves putting a foreign substance into the eye, which can have unpredictable results.
Another issue is that coloring your eye can make it difficult for an eye doctor to properly examine you. The dye might cover up other eye problems, even those unrelated to the procedure, which could cause any number of future eyesight issues.
If issues do arise, there isn’t always something doctors can do to completely resolve the issue. Gallinger still suffered from eye pain, had clumps of tattoo ink around her cornea, and experienced reduced vision two years after having ink removed. At least one other person had to have their eye totally removed after the procedure left them in unbearable pain.
Cobra has publicly said the procedure should be banned from being performed by anyone but a licensed eye surgeon. While no competent eye surgeon would perform such a procedure with so little evidence and so much risk, the point remains.
This procedure is essentially eye surgery being performed by untrained surgeons. The lack of oversight has led to incompetent artists seriously hurting people.
The Future of Eye Tattoos
Many regions are beginning to ban eye tattoos. The procedure is illegal in at least three states and some parts of Canada. The almost total lack of proper regulation in places that continue to allow it is considered medically and legally irresponsible.
While there is certainly an element of autonomy versus freedom regarding this issue, the procedure needs far more oversight than it presently has. Even if one agrees that a properly informed person should be permitted to have their sclera dyed if they so choose, at the very least, a trained medical professional should be the one performing the procedure.
If you are considering an eye tattoo, do not get one. Cobra even suggests that people considering the procedure should instead choose colored contacts. While these contacts need to be properly fitted to your eyes, they are a far safer choice than eye tattoos.
The Dangerous Risks of Eye Tattoos, According to Body Modification Artist Who Invented Them. (October 2017). Allure.
Eyeball Tattoos Are Even Worse Than They Sound. (May 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Don't Tattoo Your Eyeball. Just Don't Do It. (September 2017). USA Today.