(Catt Gallinger/Facebook)

(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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pipestone Flyer file photo
Nominations now open for 2021 general municipal election

Nominations for Wetaskiwin’s general municipal election are now open until Sept. 20, 2021.

Facebook/ Jocelyne Pepin Young
 Facebook/ Jocelyne Pepin Young
 Facebook/ Jocelyne Pepin Young
 Facebook/ Jocelyne Pepin Young
Millet Couple share their COVID project, Little Free Library, with the community

They took inspiration from others doing similar book shares around Millet and Wetaskiwin.

Black Press file photo
Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate fatal pedestrian collision

A 37-year-old man from Maskwacis has died in hospital as a result of his injuries.

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Red Fraggle, one of Jim Henson Company’s Fraggle Rock characers, is shown at Time To Play Holiday Show, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, in New York. The Jim Henson Company says production has officially started in Calgary on a reboot of the original 1980s children’s puppet series, which was filmed in Toronto.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Lennihan
‘Fraggle Rock’ children’s puppet series reboot starts production in Calgary

A spokesperson says the new series will stream on Apple TV plus

A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Yukon’s Minister of Community Services, John Streiker, says he’s outraged that a couple from outside the territory travelled to a remote community this week and received doses of COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-POOL
Couple charged after travelling to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine

The maximum fine under the emergency measures act is $500, and up to six months in jail

Metis Nation of B.C. President Clara Morin Dal Col poses in this undated handout photo. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Metis Nation of B.C. *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Metis Nation of B.C. suspends president, citing ‘breach’ of policies, procedures

Vice-president Lissa Smith is stepping in to fill the position on an acting basis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Payette shouldn’t get same benefits as other ex-governors general: O’Toole

Former governors general are entitled to a pension and also get a regular income paid to them for the rest of their lives

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Blackfalds RCMP investigate fatal collision

Preliminary investigation revealed a south bound pickup truck collided with an eastbound car

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Most Read