‘Don’t Risk It’: Viral Social Media Post Warns Against Eyeball Tattooing

Sclera staining involves injecting ink into the whites of the eye, which the American Academy of Ophthalmology says can cause injury and even blindness.

In a series of videos and images, Canadian Catt Gallinger has issued what amounts to a DIY, public service message on the danger of eyeball tattoos.

For anyone freaked out by those words separately, never mind together, the images that Gallinger has posted to her Facebook page could be rather traumatic.

But, hey, knock yourself out.

Gallinger said she agreed to an impromptu tattoo session that included sclera staining, a process in which a tattoo needle is used to inject ink into the white part of a person’s eye. Gallinger chose her favorite color — purple.

In one Facebook post, Gallinger described her experience and included images that show her left eye swollen shut. In one rather startling shot, a lavender tear is seen rolling down her cheek.

“I don't want this to happen to anyone else,” Gallinger wrote.

Gallinger said the tattoo artist that performed the sclera staining — her ex-boyfriend — bungled the procedure by using too large of a needle and injecting pure ink into the eye, rather than ink diluted with saline.

The artist, who Gallinger was dating at the time, defended his work, saying she didn't maintain proper aftercare.

"I wholeheartedly believe it wasn't my fault," Brown said last week in an email to CBC. "I told her she needed to get more eye drops that day… She was fine, but neglected to get eye drops."

After multiple trips to the hospital, Gallinger says she remains in severe pain, suffers from blurred vision, and may require surgery to prevent losing vision entirely in her eye. 

Sclera staining involves injecting ink just under the conjunctiva, the mucus membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids. Properly done, the ink solution will coat the outer, white part of the eye — the sclera — in the desired color and tint.

The dangers, and there are several, exist whether the inking is done properly or not, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The most common problem occurs when the ink penetrates through the conjunctiva and sclera and into the vitreous humor, the gelatinous tissue that fills the eyeball behind the lens.

The academy warns the procedure can cause decreased vision, infection, increased sensitivity to light, and possibly blindness.

Eyeball tattoos have been an increasing problem for doctors since the mid-2000s, according to AAO. Sclera staining has become popular among adherents of extreme body modification — think scaring, subdermal implants, and tongue splitting.

“Eyeball tattoos have serious risks and have not been medically or scientifically studied,” reads the AAO warning. “Because they are not a traditional part of tattooing, artists who are doing eyeball tattoos may not be properly trained.”

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The AAO cites the case of a 24-year-old man who contracted a severe bacterial infection after a sclera staining session. After several surgeries and multiple antibiotic treatments, doctors were forced remove the patient's eye.

In an update video posted since undergoing the sclera staining, Gallinger expressed increasing regret and urged people to think twice before considering an eyeball tattoo.

“Don't risk it,” she says, in tears. “It's not worth it.”

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