The Truth About Eyeball Tattoos

Sep 22, 2018


Eyeball tattoos were suddenly thrust into the spotlight earlier this year when model, Catt Gallinger, received a botched eye tattoo that may leave her partially blind. Horrifying images of the model soon surfaced and revealed her eye was swollen and dripping with purple ink. Gallinger claims that these complications are due to the artist using undiluted ink and over-injecting the area.

Controversy continues to follow this irreversible procedure and the long-term effects are currently unknown. As a result of this, the Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (EPSO) are petitioning the provincial government to make the procedure illegal. This, of course, raises the question of whether eyeball tattoos could ever be safely performed.

With any kind of body modification, there is a degree of risk. While Gallinger’s story shows the negative consequences of working with an inexperienced artist, there are still safe ways to have this procedure done.

Catt Gallinger’s botched eyeball tattoo via @catt.marley

While it may seem like a modern invention, eyeball tattoos date back over two thousand years, when Roman doctors attempted to stain the cornea in order to match the iris. This was done as an attempt to mask leukomatous opacities in the eye. However, the contemporary technique was invented in 2007 by Shannon Larratt and performed by Luna Cobra. Together, they have worked to continuously develop and refine the procedure.

An eyeball tattoo is actually a relatively quick procedure. Using a needle, ink is injected under the surface of the conjunctiva and above the sclera. The pigment is squeezed between these two flat layers, in a gap less than a millimeter wide, and fills the whites of the eyes. While ink in a standard tattoo is stable and remains in place, the ink in an eyeball tattoo tends to shift and can migrate from the eye over time.

One common problem with this procedure is over-injecting, which occurs when an artist injects too much ink into the eye and disrupts these delicate layers. This could result in prolonged headaches, sensitivity to light, staining of the surrounding tissue, swelling, infection, and a host of other issues. If you wear prescription contact lenses or have a preexisting eye condition, your risks increase dramatically. The type of ink that is used in this procedure is also critically important, as individuals may be sensitive or have allergies to materials that make up the pigment.

To minimize these risks, it’s important that you seek out an artist that has a wealth of experience in this field. It’s also recommended to speak with an ophthalmologist to verify that you don’t have any preexisting or hereditary conditions.

If you’re interested in receiving an eyeball tattoo, it’s important that you confirm your artist has experience with this body modification, view a portfolio of their similar work, and verify they have a thorough understanding of the procedure.