Eyeball tattooing is the permanent colouring of the white of the eye. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists advise against eyeball tattooing as they view it as an extremely dangerous and unnecessary procedure.

Last updated: 14 September 2017

What is eyeball tattooing?

Eyeball tattooing is a term describing the permanent colouring of the white of the eye (called the sclera). It is performed by injecting ink with a needle underneath the top layer of the eye onto the sclera, in several locations, from where the ink then slowly spreads to cover all of the sclera. This procedure is undertaken by only a few tattoo artists around the world. It is permanent and non-reversible.

What are the health risks from eyeball tattooing?

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO - doctors that specialise in diseases of the eye) consider eyeball tattooing a high risk procedure and recommend that it only be performed by a doctor when medically indicated, such as for specific eye abnormalities. RANZCO advises against eyeball tattooing, for cosmetic purposes, as they view it as an extremely dangerous and unnecessary procedure.

There are many potential health risks from undergoing eyeball tattooing. They range from mild risks such as a mild irritation of the eye to severe risks such as blindness.

The known risks include, but are not limited to:

  • perforation of the eye which can lead to blindness (the sclera is less than one millimetre thick)
  • retinal detachment (urgent medical condition that may leave the patient blind)
  • endophthalmitis (infection inside the eye, that can lead to blindness)
  • sympathetic ophthalmia (an autoimmune inflammatory response that affects both eyes and can result in blindness)
  • transmission of blood borne viruses (for example Hepatitis B and C, and HIV) from equipment that is not cleaned properly
  • bleeding and infection at the injection sites
  • delayed diagnosis of medical conditions as the true colour of the sclera is now hidden (for example jaundice is often a first symptom for many diseases)
  • adverse reactions to the ink
  • sensitivity to light
  • staining of the surrounding tissue due to ink migration.

The long term risks are not yet known. It is important to note that it is unlikely that the techniques that can be used to remove skin tattoos could be used on the eyeball. Removal of the tattoo is therefore likely impossible.

What are the laws relating to eyeball tattooing in NSW?

On 13 September 2017 the Public Health Act was amended to restrict eyeball tattooing to be carried out only by medical practitioners or other qualified persons.

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Page Updated: Thursday 14 September 2017
Contact page owner: Environmental Health