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Please Do Not Tattoo Your Eyeballs

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

What are sclera eyeball tattoos, & why are they such a bad idea?

By now, you have probably seen photos of Catt Gallinger making the rounds — the Canadian model who had a bad reaction after getting her eyeballs tattooed. This probably raises a lot of questions for you, namely, is eyeball tattooing really a thing? What would make someone want to get it? Is the finished look really worth literally sticking a needle in your eye?

Let's back up for a second and look at what, exactly, is going on here. The procedure Gallinger had is called a scleral tattoo and involves having a mixture of colored ink and saline injected into the whites of your eye. The goal: Having different-colored eyes.

More: 35 Celeb Tattoos & the Stories Behind Them

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, eyeball tattoos are "even worse than they sound," which I didn't think was possible. Basically, scleral tattoos haven't yet been properly medically researched, but what we do know about them is that they come with some serious risks, which the AAO says includes:

  • Decreased vision or complete blindness
  • Infection from the injection or ink
  • Potential loss of the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Feeling like something is in your eye

The AAO also provides footage of a surgery done to help treat complications with a scleral tattoo. (Warning: This video is graphic. And spoiler: The person ultimately had to have their eye removed).

This trend started in Canada about 10 years ago, and a body-modification artist named Luna Cobra claims to be the one who pioneered the procedure. Cobra spoke to Newsweek following Gallinger's botched surgery, saying that he is now trying to make scleral tattoos illegal.

“I’ve been trying to ban this. I think it’s super important that this becomes illegal,” Cobra told Newsweek. “To be clear, this is happening all the time, all over the world.”

More: Should My 16-Year-Old Get a (Tiny) Tattoo?

Cobra explains that when he first started doing the eyeball tattoos, he would film his work, which resulted in others attempting the procedure, but without his training, leading to major problems.

“I didn’t think people would think so lightly of this [tattooing the eye]," Cobra tells Newsweek. “I thought they would take it more serious. It looks like people are not taking it so serious.”

So what made Gallinger want to dye the whites of her eyes purple? The model tells Time that she did it so the violet hue would stand in contrast to her green eyes and because it's part of expressing who she is. Also, her boyfriend — a body-modification artist who is responsible for the botched procedure — pressured her into it. She also says that she didn't do her research before the tattooing took place.

Turns out, her coercive boyfriend didn't know what he was doing. Gallinger tells Time that he didn't mix the ink with saline and rather than several smaller injections, gave her one large dose over a 10-minute period. Her eye swelled shut that night and didn't heal after three weeks (much longer than most of her friends' one-week recovery period) and she had purple ink streaming out of her eye.

Once she sought medical attention, she received antibiotics and steroid eye drops. Next, she says that she plans to go to the police to report her now-ex-boyfriend, who also botched the informed consent process and didn't explain the risks of the procedure or have her sign any waivers.

In a Facebook post containing a message and photos, Gallinger urges others not to make the same mistakes she did.

"Just please be cautious who you get your mods from and do your research. I don't want this to happen to anyone else," she says.

And remember: If your partner pressures you to dye your eyeballs purple, it probably wasn't meant to be.

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