OCT 04, 2017 5:41 AM PDT

Botched Sclera Tattoo Nearly Blinds Model

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Scleral tattooing | Image credit: Wikipedia.org

PSA: Having colored eyeballs is never worth losing your eyesight. A Canadian model recently learned this lesson the hard way after a botched “sclera tattoo” nearly blinded her right eye.

When 24-year-old model, Catt Gallinger, asked her then boyfriend to “tattoo” her eyes, she thought this would be yet another way she can express her identity. She already sports 25 skin tattoos, and has also undergone surgery to split her tongue.

“Body modification is something that is growing more popular every day. It’s a big part of my life,” she told TIME. “I have a lot of my friends who have had [sclera tattoos] done and have had it done well. It was something I was interested in.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), a sclera tattoo is done by injecting ink between the eyeball and the conjunctiva, a clear membrane that covers the whites of the eye. The intended result is the permanent coloring of the whites of the eye. Black is reportedly a popular ink choice, perhaps because it results in eyes that are completely opposite to what we would normally expect.

Gallinger’s then boyfriend is described as a body modification artist. And it seemed natural that he would be the one to permanently color her eyes purple, so as to make the greens in her eyes pop even more.

The AAO strongly advises against sclera tattoos, as the procedure is not regulated and the side effects are not well-studied. As such, artists who perform these procedures are not properly trained, which compounds the potential adverse effects.

Image: Catt CallingerAnd, unfortunately, Gallinger had a first-hand experience with all that could go wrong during her procedure. The artist injected the too big needled far too deep into her eye. The ink was too concentrated (undiluted with saline) and the volume of the injection of too high (instead of small incremental injections, her eye was hit with one huge injection).  It was a botched procedure marked by too much inexperience, and too little caution.

“That night my eye swelled shut,” Gallinger recalled. “It hurt. It burned. At its worst, it’s like having a migraine and then also being punched in the face at the same time.”

In addition to pain, she also had blurry vision, and her eye oozed excess purple ink. “Everyone I knew, they healed within a week maximum. I was going into week three. I was like, ‘This isn’t right,’” she said.

At the doctor’s office, she was put on antibiotics to prevent infection, and steroids to relieve eye pain. Doctors say her vision will likely not return to normal, even after having surgery to remove the ink.

"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 September 20.

The ordeal is much more than Gallinger bargained for. “It’s taken a big toll on my mental health,” she said.

As for the body modification artist who was her boyfriend, Gallinger wasn’t shy about putting some blame on him. She accused him of pressuring her to have the procedure before she had done thorough research. “I’m not forgiving him. I won’t be leaving it alone,” she said. “I want him off the streets before he does something worse to someone else.”

For anyone else contemplating sclera tattoos, know that damages can go beyond pain and blurry vision – you can actually lose the entire eyeball. In one case, a sclera tattoo left one 24-year-old man’s eye so infected and pained that the only recourse left was removal of his eyeball. They subsequently found the ink had traveled as far back as his retina.

"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.

Additional sources: TimeLive Science

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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