Model's Botched 'Eyeball Tattoo': The Dangers of Sclera Tattooing

A Canadian model partially lost her vision after she had an "eyeball tattoo," a procedure that experts say is unsafe and can result in people losing their entire eyeball.

The model, 24-year-old Catt Gallinger, underwent the tattoo procedure about four weeks ago, according to CBS News. The procedure involves injecting tattoo ink into the white part of the eye (called the sclera) to color the eyeball. But Gallinger experienced serious complications, including blurry vision, eye pain and swelling and the oozing of purple liquid (colored by the tattoo ink) from her eye.

"I will have to see a specialist and am at risk of being blind if it doesn't get corrected," Gallinger posted to Facebook on Sept. 20. [5 Weird Ways Tattoos Affect Your Health]

Eyeball tattooing is a fairly recent practice that has gained popularity over the last decade, according to Newsweek. During the procedure, a tattoo artist injects ink just under the surface of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

But there are a lot of things that can go wrong during the procedure. For instance, the tattoo artist may use too much pigment, inject the pigment too deep into the eye, use a needle that is too big or use the wrong ink, according to the BBC.

In Gallinger's case, the artist (who also happened to be her boyfriend) injected too much ink in one sitting, used a needle that was too big, made an injection that was too deep and did not dilute the ink with saline as is required, according to Time.

Gallinger was put on antibiotics, steroids and medications to help with her eye pain, and she plans to undergo surgery to remove the excess ink from her eye, according to her Facebook posts. Her doctors told her that her vision will not return to normal in the tattooed eye, she said.

A tattoo on the eyeball can pose serious risks, and the procedure hasn't been studied by eye doctors or scientists, according to the AAO. What's more, because the procedure is new and not a traditional practice, the people who perform these tattoo procedures may not be properly trained, the AAO said.

Some of the risks of eyeball tattoos include: vision loss or blindness, infection from the ink, sensitivity to light and a potential loss of the eyeball, the AAO said.

Indeed, earlier this year, doctors reported the case of a 24-year-old man who needed to have his eyeball surgically removed after a botched eyeball-tattoo procedure. In that case, the ink was injected too deep into his eye, and he also developed a bacterial infection from contaminated ink. Although doctors tried to save his eye with antibiotics and multiple surgeries, they ultimately had to remove the eye because the patient was in too much pain.

After they removed the eyeball, they found that the retina, the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye, were stained with tattoo ink

Gallinger said she shared her story to warn others about the risks of the procedure.

"Just please be cautious who you get your [body modifications] from and do your research. I don't want this to happen to anyone else," Gallinger posted to Facebook.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.