Eyeball tattoo warning

Catt Gallinger posted images on social media to raise awareness of the dangers of scleral tattooing. Photo: Supplied / Catt Gallinger

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Specialists are warning people who get eyeball tattoos they risk losing their sight.

Auckland ophthalmologist Zak Prime earlier this year treated the first patients in this country to have complications from the procedure.

"It definitely was a bit of a shock. It’s definitely not something I’ve ever seen before or anyone of the other doctors at the eye clinic had seen before.

"When somebody comes in with almost bright pink eyes, it’s definitely different."

The procedure involves injecting diluted tattoo ink under the layers of skin on the white of the eye.

Last week, Canadian model Catt Gallinger caused a media storm when she went public about the dangers of scleral tattooing after temporarily losing the sight in one eye.

She posted images on social media of the swollen, painful eye and posted updates about the leakage of ink in an attempt to "raise awareness and to educate".

The first of the Auckland patients Dr Prime treated was a 22-year-old woman whose eyes had begun to swell to the point where she couldn’t close them after being injected with a shocking-pink tattoo ink.

In the same week, he saw a 27-year-old man with ink leakage and subconjunctival bleeding - when blood vessels haemorrhage under the clear surface of the eye.

Both patients were successfully treated.

Zak says he’s not about to tell people what to do or not do with their bodies, but that they needed to be aware of the risks.

"At least do some research about it and some of the complications.

"This procedure is more common in America and Australia and there have been a number of cases where needles have gone into the eye inadvertently ... and people have lost their eyes as a result of it."

Disturbingly, Zak says, one of the patients was told not to go to hospital if they experienced any problems.

American body modification artist Luna Cobra invented scleral tattooing about 10 years ago.

His name was linked to the Auckland cases, but he says he has not been in New Zealand for years and it was probably someone leveraging off his reputation.

Catt Gallinger said her eye had been painful and her vision blurred Photo: Supplied / Catt Gallinger

He now wanted scleral tattooing banned and had contacted health authorities in Australia and New Zealand to tell them so.

"I explained everything about this. I sent them documents, I sent them photos - and they all tell me the same thing.

"That they really need someone to be very damaged or die before anything can happen with legislation."

Australian artist Brendan Russell, or Bslice, is active in New Zealand but says the Aucklanders were not his clients.

Brendan says he did not favour banning scleral tattooing outright, but agreed it needed more rigorous regulation.

Luna Cobra says cowboy practitioners were the biggest risk, rather than the cleanliness of the tattooing premises or the tools being used.

"I’ve been doing eyeballs for just over 10 years but I’ve been practising all these other various surgical body arts for over 20 years. That’s the difference.

"Most of the people operating now ... never attended a human anatomy course at a university or read a medical book or worked on a cadaver."

New Zealand Association of Optometrists spokesperson Andrew Sangster says the practice had a long list of potential side effects.

"There’s cases where people have had prolonged headaches afterwards, that they have significant light sensitivity, that they’re tears are discoloured because of the dye and there was one case I read about where they had to remove an eye because of intractable pain.

"I would probably caution people if they are thinking about getting it done to think again because you only get one set of eyes."

Auckland City Council says its current bylaw covering tattooing was not intended to include scleral tattooing, because it was unknown here in 2013.

Auckland District Health Board was unable to say whether an approach had been made to it about the practice, but said the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmology had issued a warning about scleral tattooing.

The college unsuccessfully lobbied for tighter regulation in New South Wales last year which would have only allowed registered medical practitioners to carry out the procedure.

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I dont understand...

Posted on 09-10-2017 17:53 | By GreertonBoy

why people cant get fake tattoos and those colored contact lenses rather than destroy ones own skin and eyes... permanently.... dont young people realise fashion changes? I wonder if there is any update on the success of her eye repairs?


Posted on 06-10-2017 08:39 | By Papamoaner

Good points. But what will she look like when she reaches her 50’s and onwards?

All for the sake

Posted on 05-10-2017 14:57 | By kinakat

Of looking good. I think I saw a person shopping at Gatepa that had weird eyes you know not just yah run of the mill coloured lens.Wow the person looked really cool,unusual,freaky kind ofStood out in the crowd mmmKind of understand now why the silly bugger’s want to get it done!The things some people will do to get attention.Each to their own I suppose but I like having my beautiful brown eyes they are special and precious to me.


Posted on 05-10-2017 12:31 | By Papamoaner

Unfortunately, tattoo removal seems to leave ugly blotchy skin surface from what I have seen. Let’s hope a clever opthalmologist can re-inject her eye with saline and wash all the dye out. Sadly, she appears to have positional difference between her eyes now. I wonder if that reflects nerve damage or some sort of permanent damage. What a tragedy that would be. And so young - it’s very sad.


Posted on 05-10-2017 03:22 | By GreertonBoy

I guess I really should think about cancelling my appointment to get my eyeballs tattoo’d tomorrow... Rats, I was looking forward to having some big bikie injecting die into my eyeballs (in between swigs of beer) with a mini nail gun.... NOT! This has to be a joke.... seriously... do people (even young people) have to be told not to stick anything in their eyes? Fascinating? I believe that soon, young people will instantly stop tattooing and those with tattoos will be dated... like the women with the ’rams horn’ tattoo for low cut jeans show their age, soon, people with tattoos all over their faces and bodies and huge ear rings you could put a padlock (full size) through, will be laughed at as ’uncool’ because they are marked for life. Tattoo removal will be the next big money spinner in my opinion. Best not!


Posted on 04-10-2017 18:14 | By Papamoaner

Correct! I wouldn’t have. But I feel terribly sorry for this young woman and hope she can be helped.


Posted on 04-10-2017 16:47 | By Corwen

Not much else worth saying really!


Posted on 04-10-2017 16:31 | By overit

Just have to reply-riding a motorbike at a young age is a wee bit different from paying someone to stick needles in your eye and inject ink. I am sure even you would not have done this??


Posted on 04-10-2017 13:09 | By Papamoaner

I can remember as a young kid in the late 1950’s there were some men with arm tattoos and it was very unusual. They had returned from the war and had got the tattoos in Cairo. Some of them were already saying they wish they hadn’t done it. About 40 years ago I met an American scientist who had tattoos visible around his neck and he was very embarrassed about it, having got it done at a much younger age. There is one justifiable use for tattooing in oncology where patients have permanent dots tattooed onto their torsos for the accurate positioning of oncology radiation machines. I don’t understand why there are still "cultural" tattoos these days. There were once ancient cultures that ate people and bound babies feet to deformation, but we don’t do that now, so why tattoo?

@Overit - I disagree.

Posted on 04-10-2017 11:19 | By Papamoaner

She’s not stupid in a general sense. Just young. I was"stupid" when young too, and how I managed to avoid killing myself on my motorbike was more by good luck than good judgement. Judgement is something most of us lack at that age. Those few who have it, often end up being wealthy to their detriment in later life, so in some ways being stupid when young is part of the natural learning process. Sadly, this lovely young woman has been desperately unlucky by making a wrong choice, probably as a result of peer pressure. I am surprised there is no criminal offence on the part of these tattooist parasites who prey on young people’s gullibility. Perhaps something along the lines of "practicing as a medical surgeon without a licence" Her father should talk to a lawyer or police.


Posted on 04-10-2017 11:15 | By Border Patrol

I agree Papamoaner and Overit. Along with the recent news that doctors are now seeing tattoo ink appearing in lymph nodes, and that the ink can potentially cause cancer due to the ingredients why would you do it? Once upon a time getting a tattoo was seen as a rebellion to society, but unfortunately now with the advent of the narcissistic celebrity society we now live in which is enhanced by social media, they are seen as "cool".


Posted on 04-10-2017 10:36 | By overit

What fool would do this-its obvious. Unreal how stupid people are today.

Tragic hideous disfigurement

Posted on 04-10-2017 08:27 | By Papamoaner

A weakness we humans have is the psychological drive to stand out and be noticed by whatever means. Not everyone can make it to rugby hero status, so a tattoo is an alternative "look at me" level we go to. Add to that, the inability of younger people to visualise the future and its ramifications. It’s becoming a social tragedy as peer pressure drives more and more young people to do it, much to their regret in later life upon reaching maturity. A friend of mine recently told me her daughter wouldn’t go out with a young guy she liked because he "didn’t have tatts" Sadly, Tattooing is now a social illness with many hideously ugly examples loaded with future regret. We oldies despair at yet another element of social breakdown, but little we can do about it.