Eyeball Tattoos: Everything You Need to Know

Tattoo clients want to get tattooed in all kinds of places from the tongue to the eyelids. An even more unique place to get tattooed is the eyeball itself. 

An eyeball tattoo is a rare piece of cosmetic body modification, and getting it can be extremely dangerous. While we do not recommend even considering doing an eyeball tattoo until you have years of experience tattooing, it is important to know the proper procedure and risks involved.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

  • How eye tattoos are done
  • What type of ink is used in an eyeball tattoo
  • Risks involved with eyeball tattoos

How Does An Eyeball Tattoo Work?  

Eyeball tattoos are tattoos done by injecting ink into the sclera, or the white of the eye. The sclera is a strong and very fibrous tissue that covers the cornea and provides protection for your eye. 

Unlike tattoos in the traditional sense, the goal of sclera tattoos is not to put a tattoo design in the eye, but to dye the white of the eye a different color. This is considered one of the most extreme forms of body modification.

Medical Scleral Tattoos

Ophthalmological surgeons sometimes do eye tattoos in order to correct parts of the patient’s eye where damage has turned the whites a different color, but this is not done very often, because it’s so easy to mess up. 

What is the Eyeball Tattoo Procedure?

person with both eyeballs tattooed

The goal with a scleral tattoo is to inject a water-based tattoo ink between two layers in the eye - the sclera and the conjunctiva, which is a thin protective membrane inside your eyelid and the white of your eye. The ink is injected in a couple of places around this part of the eyeball and allowed to spread. 

Unlike regular tattoos which require repeated needle pricks, these tattoos only require a couple of pokes to transfer the ink. For this tattoo procedure, the ink needs to be injected perfectly into the layers of the eye for it to work.

Are Scleral Tattoos Permanent?

Eyeball tattooing is permanent, and scleral tattoos will not fade like tattoos on the skin. Clients getting a sclera tattoo should expect them to last for their entire lifetime.

Can You Remove Eyeball Tattoos?

While tattoos on the skin can be removed to varying degrees with laser removal, there is no way to remove tattoo ink from the eyeballs. Some studies show that removal might be theoretically possible, but it would likely be extremely expensive, uncomfortable, and dangerous.

An eye tattoo designed to make the white of the eye look black

While scleral tattooing is possible to do safely, it’s so hard to do correctly that you shouldn’t try it without extensive formal training, and maybe not even then. Luna Cobra, the artist who first did eyeball tattoos, has said that he doesn’t think they are safe for anyone to be doing. 

An eye tattoo is best done by an ophthalmological surgeon, and tattoo artists shouldn’t perform the procedure without a lot of training and knowledge of eye anatomy.

A Famous Case of an Eye Tattoo Gone Wrong - Tattoo Ink Complications

In 2017, Canadian model Catt Gallinger was partially blinded when getting purple ink injected into her eye. Gallinger’s tattoo artist used ink that was too thick and did not create enough injection sites, causing the eye to swell and leak purple liquid.

Risks

Compared to skin tattoos, scleral tattoos have a much higher level of risk. The ink has to be administered with a surgical level of skill while avoiding layers of eye that can cause vision loss and other severe problems. If the artist injects the needle too deep, uses too much dye, or the dye is too thick, the eye can be badly damaged almost immediately. 

The risks of scleral tattooing have been studied by Dr. Paul Freund among others, and include:

  • Decreased vision or vision loss (complete blindness)
  • Detached retinas
  • Eye infections at the injection sites
  • Swelling that does not go away
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Constant feeling of something being in your eye
  • Complete eye loss (removal of the entire eye due to complications that are left untreated)
  • Bloodborne disease
  • Sympathetic ophthalmia (inflammation of the eye and formation of granulomas)
  • Delayed diagnosis of other eye-related problems due to lack of visibility

Because the risks are so great with eye tattoos, doctors suggest going with safer alternatives like colored contacts.

Case of Scleral Tattoo Leaving Permanent Damage

Not many eyeball tattoos have been scientifically studied. However, doctors Paul Freund and Mark Greve had to remove the eye of a person who had gotten an eyeball tattoo due to pain and infection.

Talking to Customers About Eyeball Tattoos 

Most clients who ask about eyeball tattoos are just curious about how they work. However, if you get a customer who wants to tattoo the white part of their eye, it’s best to let them know:

  1. 1
    The procedure can only be performed by a doctor at a medical vision center.
  2. 2
    Complications can lead to infection, vision problems, and more.
  3. 3
    The ink does not fade at all.

It can also help to talk about more temporary solutions to changing their look, like cosmetic contacts. Wearing costume contacts will allow them to change their eye color without the same risks, and the only costs involved will be the contacts themselves and contact solution.

Learn to Master Tattooing

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Getting the right information is only the first step on your journey to becoming a tattoo artist. Next, you need to learn how to tattoo clients safely.

There’s a ton of information out there that promises to teach you to tattoo, but a lot of it is outdated or incorrect. This is why most tattoo artists trying to learn online pick up bad habits that can take years to unlearn.

If you want to learn how to tattoo the right way, you can still do it online and at your own pace.

We created the Artist Accelerator Program to give aspiring artists all the lessons and techniques they need in an easy-to-follow, 9-step roadmap that can take anyone from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist in as little as 90 days.

Inside the program, you’ll learn the skills tattoo artists use every day, get personalized guidance from professionals, and put together a portfolio that gets you hired. 

Skip the years of trial and error and start building a career you love today.

Click here to check out the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

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AUTHOR
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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