Saline Clitoral Inflation

Over the ten years or so that I’ve known Jacco and her partner, she’s been slowly enlarging her clitoris using a wide variety of means, including local hormone treatment (testosterone cream), regular vacuum pumping, saline inflation, and play. She’s already very large from all of this, but in this photo set — the explicit shots continue after the break, and there are loads more in the next BME/extreme udpate — she’s just done a 20ml clitoral saline inflation with quite dramatic results.





Facial Saline Injection

You may remember the photos of Jerome‘s facial injections that have been featured on BME and on the cover of the ModCon book as well as on various television shows. Jerome generally does the forehead and sometimes cheek inflations, but my friend Fabien inflates his lips… On the clickthrough his face reminds me of the lips of the people in the Twightlight Zone episode “The Eye of the Beholder“…

Saline Breast Inflation

Pierre Black from Montreal sends in these shots of a temporary breast enlargement he did using a saline drip. These are pretty safe to do in sterile environments (as this was), but I just wanted to add (since there’s been lots of risks discussion lately) that with saline injections sterile technique is exceedingly important because if you make a mistake and drag the wrong microbes in, you bypass many of the body’s defense mechanisms and give them a very hospitable place to breed.

Anal Saline Inflation

I’ve gotten plenty of anal pumping and other extreme generally ass-oriented play photos, but this is not only the biggest saline inflation I’ve seen, but also one of only a very small handful. My friend ***** tried it to see what it would feel like. He writes, “It was a very crazy experience — it felt like a big hard ball in my ass! It was difficult to walk, and for six hours I couldn’t sit down.”

I’m not sure if that’s a convincing review that’s going to get people out trying this, but now you know! Click to uncensor (and here’s another picture)

A turn for the worse

Something that often surprises people is just how quickly a trapped infection can move from nonexistent to serious. These cheek piercings were about two months old and by all appearance doing just fine, when the wearer decided to switch the jewelry. In the process, they somehow managed to drag bacteria into the still-healing fistula, probably bacteria that was on their hands. Within the week the piercings were seriously swollen or infected, so they headed to their doctor, who insisted that the piercings be removed and put her on antibiotics. This photo was taken when she got home from the doctor.

cheek infection

Mistake number one: Changing the jewelry in a still healing piercing without proper attention to contamination control. Be aware that cheek piercings often take a long time to heal, and perhaps more importantly, piercings of all types will appear healed long before they actually are healed (and even young technically healed piercings may have very thin skin, making them highly susceptible to injury). Ideally a piercing that’s still healing shouldn’t have its jewelry changed, but if it must, the jewelry needs to be sterilized and gloves and other appropriate cross-contamination must be in place. Whenever possible this should be done at a piercing studio — most will autoclave and change jewelry for a small reasonable charge, or even do it for free when you buy the jewelry.

Mistake number two: When a piercing is infected with significant amounts of swelling and discharge, the presence of jewelry is both good and bad. It’s bad because a foreign substance in a wound can greatly increase the population of bacteria by giving them a “foothold”, but it’s good because it can keep the wound open and is often the only thing keeping the infection from becoming an abscess. The piercing allows the wound to drain, as the antibiotics (or alternative treatments) work to eliminate the infection — saline soaks and other treatments can also work to draw out the discharge, but can only do so if the wound is open. Even if antibiotics eliminate the infection, you can still have serious complications if a large pocket of pus is trapped under the skin. For this reason I feel it’s important to always have someone familiar with the treatment of troubled piercings involved in such complications — doctors are notorious for making problems with piercings worse due to their unfamiliarity with them, even today. Any reputable piercer is always happy to take the time to look at a piercing having difficulty (whether they did the piercing or not) and give you advice on how best to treat it (and that advice in this case likely would have been “go to the doctor, but don’t let them take out the piercing”). Better yet, piercers, unlike doctors, rarely charge for this service in my experience — although you should always tip them!!!

Elio: DIY Human Experimentation

I first met Tucson, Arizona-based Elio when he wrote me after I posted some pictures of saline inflation done using food color, and mused about the idea of using tattoo ink in order to dye large areas of tissue using a single injection and, done carefully, minimal pain. After he sent the fascinating results of his experiments with that technique, I started learning about his other modifications, all of them self-done and often bizarre and unique, a number of them things that no one else that I knew of had ever tried before. A number of these were made even more unique by the fact of Elio being born with female genitals which have been sculpted and enhanced not just with body modification but with hormones as part of a female-to-male gender transformation. It was a huge pleasure talking to Elio — it’s always liberating hearing the story of people who go their own way.

While the body modification community these days can be rather hostile to DIY modifications and explorations that are arguably better left to experienced professionals, because my body modification journey started in the 1980s when DIY was often the only option I have never been particularly bothered by people choosing that path up the mountain. It’s not the safest path for sure, and it’s not one that I’d recommend to most people — and for me to do so would be irresponsible given that there are safe and well marked trails up that mountain — but there are unique benefits (and dangers) to free climbing new routes or even those others have previously marked as dangerously impossible. I hope that those people who have difficulty appreciating the DIY journey, for whatever reason, will still read this interview with an open mind and accept that it is possible that there are many different valid ways to live, and that even if someone’s approach to life isn’t right for you, it may well be right for them and that by learning about journeys other than your own you can gain insights into the human experience that you wouldn’t have found otherwise. It was a great pleasure getting to know Elio, and I’m happy to share this interview, an excerpt from my upcoming book, here on BME.

I’m twenty-six and I grew up in a very liberal, very smart, and very dysfunctional family in the San Francisco Bay Area. We — me, Mom, Dad, a younger sister and a younger brother — identified as nudist, and it was always understood that if one of us kids turned out to be gay that would be just fine. It turned out that trans, kinky, and modified were all a different matter, as I was to find out. At the same time, screaming at each other over dinner was normal, and I was constantly stressed out.

Professionally, I did tutoring for about eight years, but education was never really where I wanted to be, so I tried going back to school to switch gears into a Masters in biomedical engineering. My undergrad degree was in linguistics. Since I was sixteen — also the age at which I started college, though I don’t think these two things are related — I’d been getting migraine headaches that had been getting steadily worse. By my first semester of graduate school when I was twenty-four, I was getting them every day, leading to a major breakdown I still haven’t recovered from entirely two years later.

Since then, I’ve been applying — unsuccessfully, so far — for disability and trying to work on my writing. I wrote professionally for those silly eHow articles before that dried up, participated in National Novel Writing Month, and now I’m — slowly — working on a novel I hope will actually be publishable.

Are you still practicing nudism?

Not actively, no. I am known for not noticing I’m still unclothed at my BDSM club, though. I recall taking a break from a scene for everyone to go eat, only to learn there was an unspoken rule not covered in my orientation: “Don’t go in the food room or lobby naked.” However, I was saved when someone pointed out that I wasn’t naked — I was wearing socks! A few months later the council ruled that genitals must be covered in the food room, I think entirely because of me.

How did you realize that you didn’t quite fit into the gender you started in?

I like to say there are trans people who are more trans — the types who fought to do it even in the fifties and sixties when it was extremely hard — and there are trans people who are less trans. I’m in the latter category. Yeah, I fought against wearing dresses growing up, but because my family was so open in talking to us about sexuality, I never went around under the delusion that I’d never menstruate and would instead turn into a boy when I hit puberty. My mom has always gone on and on about what a bum deal being a woman is, so I figured I was experiencing what everyone born female experiences. When, upon being introduced to Lois McMasters Bujold’s work, I strongly identified with the hermaphrodite character, I just thought it was me being strange.

It wasn’t until I started spending a lot of time in the queer community and met some transmen that I started seriously considering transitioning. I originally got involved with the queer community because, having identified as bisexual for years and still feeling that something was wrong, I thought I’d try identifying as lesbian. That lasted about two weeks before I fell in love with a gay man. I now think I had assimilated the stereotypes about lesbians, and assumed that the reason I felt abnormally masculine for a woman was because I was really a lesbian.

I started living as a man mid-2009, came out to my family that Christmas — “ruining the holidays for everyone,” they called it — and started taking testosterone on St. Patrick’s Day 2010.

Where do you draw the nature vs. nurture line personally?

I think — and a couple family friends agree — that my mother’s negativity about women stems from not being comfortable as a woman herself. So that would seem to imply that her negativity is really just a manifestation of a genetic tendency toward being slightly trans, so I guess nature is your answer.

Elio’s left ear, showing his lobe removal.

What first got you interested in body modification in general?

I was always fascinated by people I saw with piercings or tattoos. I was about eight when a character in a book I was reading had three piercings in each lobe, and I thought that was just the wildest thing I’d ever heard of and wanted that for myself some day. As a compromise, I asked my mom if I could get just one extra piercing in a lobe — I thought I was being smart, arguing that I could put to use the stray earrings that had lost their mate.

But she said no, and I managed to repress my interest until I was fourteen when I pierced my nipple with a safety pin. To keep this a secret in spite of the fact that we considered it normal to change clothes in the same room with each other, I had to pretend I was embarrassed about my adolescent body, wearing bras I never really needed so I could keep them hidden.

When you start taking T, how quickly do you experience changes like clitoral enlargement and general masculinization?

I still can’t grow a decent beard after three years, though I suppose being fair-haired doesn’t help. On the other hand, a couple weeks after my first shot, I looked down at my clit and said, “Holy ****!”, because it had at least tripled in size. No one prepared me for that happening so quickly. Body hair came in slowly over the first year and a half, same with the fat redistribution away from the hips and into the belly.

Did going on testosterone change any of your body modification interests?

It might have made me more likely to act on my interests; I don’t really know. Then again, after starting transition, being interested in body modification was my last bastion of closeted-ness, and I think of my transition more as clearing the way for my biggest and most important coming-out — that is, living openly as a heavily modified person.

The world seems pretty mod-friendly these days, so why were you uncomfortable coming out about that?

My parents are very against it. I think it’s harder for female-bodied people — there’s such an incentive to keep your body “pristine.” I even had that sense for a long time; the thing that made me lose my iron grip of control on my interests was when I was left with appendectomy scars at fourteen. I figured that my body was no longer “perfect,” so why hold back any longer?

For sure — even in today’s age where piercings and tattoos and so on are very popular and accepted, it is very true that women are still expected to meet a very specific profile with their mods. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same…

At least I’ve never had anyone use the expression “ruining yourself” to me.

I also think the unfortunate fact that body modification is associated with criminality and drug life played into it. My family is a little subtly classist, even though we were only ever upper-middle class ourselves. I felt a lot of trepidation that people would assume I was a “lowlife” or “scum” if I talked openly about my interests. Sure enough, nowadays I do get people assuming I’m on heavy street drugs or have been to prison, but I just don’t care that much anymore.

Elio’s right ear, showing tissue removal (both lobe and cartilage — conch and helix rim), piercings, and experimental tattooing.

I remember ages ago going to the premiere of the wonderful F2M documentary “You Don’t Know Dick” and it having a funny scene of people talking about how their sex drive kicked into high gear and became more “vulgar” to shorten what they said… I was curious if you’d experienced anything like that?

I feel like I keep accidentally failing to answer what you’re getting at about the T. Hopefully this time I’ll be more on the mark.

I’d always had a high sex drive, and that really didn’t change. The only thing that changed was that the swings were more drastic — rather than an almost constant low level of arousal, I went through a time where disinterest would suddenly spike to urgency in a way I hadn’t experienced before.

That’s funny given that there’s the stereotype of mood swings being more closely linked to female hormones than male.

Yeah, well, some stereotypes are bullshit.

As far as being more “vulgar,” I do find that I “get” dirty jokes and innuendos all of a sudden. It’s weird that I spent so many years constantly thinking about sex yet having the jokes sail right over my head. It’s like I’ve suddenly learned another language. Puns, too, are something I used to never get and accepted that was just the way I was. With T, suddenly I was not only getting them, I was finding them funny and making my own puns. I never expected this weird shift in my perception of language, because I’ve never heard anyone else talk about anything like it.

What modifications do you have now?

I’m sure to forget something, but I have many tattoos, mostly DIY hand-poked with various sizes of tattoo machine needles — face, eyes, neck, ear, forearms mostly sleeved, upper arms some coverage, hands, various front of torso pieces, nipples, clitoris — or “mini penis,” as I like to think of it — right leg significant coverage, and left leg some coverage. You’ll notice that one of the most-tattooed places on people — the back — is completely blank on me because (a) I can’t reach it, and (b) I can’t SEE it, so what would be the point? LOL.

Why do you mostly do your own tattoos?

It’s mostly a cost issue, but at the same time, most of my professionally done tattoos — there are only five — are based on designs I’d drawn. Once, I decided to get a piece of flash off the wall just to see what it felt like for contrast, and even though the work is stunning, I feel a certain detachment from it, a certain alien-ness. I have this bizarre sense that it’s a fake tattoo because it doesn’t feel connected to me the way the others do. So even if I were to get more money, I’d probably stick to coming up with my own designs.

Some of the DIY tattooing Elio has done on himself. The blurry cloud of ink on the right was done using an injection method.

I totally get what you’re saying about your back by the way — I never had particular interest in a tattoo or body modification that I can’t see or experience… I do these things first and foremost for myself, not because I want to impress others.

It’s weird how people don’t believe me when I say I do it for myself. I’ve decided to accept that most people must make decisions about their appearances based on getting reactions from the outside world, since people so consistently expect that to be the motive for my behavior.

Honestly, I think that a world where it’s assumed people get modified for other people rather than themselves is a sad reflection on the popularization and gentrification of body modification.

When I first got into it, everyone was doing it for themselves, because they enjoyed it or got off on it on some level. There are still people like that, it sounds like you’re one of them, but I think that because mods are so public and so mainstream these days, they have the same “peer pressure” style influences on people are fashion or music and so on. It’s hard for people to do it for themselves these days because it’s now a part of shared society, rather than a private or at least outsider activity… In some ways I really miss the days when it was still punk or fetish and so on.

Nah, if I’d have lived back in those days, I would have become convinced I was crazy for wanting these things. My dad still thinks I’m not admitting that I have bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and that if I’d continued to be on tons of psychiatric meds I’d never have modified myself to this extent. This completely ignores that I modified myself that whole entire three years, too, but he’s never been particularly open to reality when he’s made up his mind.

Anyway, as far as my piercings go, they’re all DIY, and I have a 23mm scalpeled labret, 8mm dermal punched philtrum, 9mm dermal punched nostrils, 6mm retired septum, three 14ga helix — through healed-over old 8mm dermal punches — 5mm scalpeled navel, 10mm stretched apadravya, and an 8mm retired scalpeled side of hood piercing.

I love that heavy clitoral apadravya piercing by the way.

Well, it may be “heavy” in the sense of “extreme,” but thanks to a Teflon barbell from Aesthetics, it’s actually very light! I wish I enjoyed weight there, as it’s a psychological turn-on, but my body doesn’t like it.

What do you mean your “body doesn’t like it”?

Weights are painful and cause sensitivity in a way that makes me slightly panicky rather than turned-on. It’s like sounding in that I’ve done it on myself for lack of anyone else to do it on, but eventually stopped that and made do with my imagination.

Are you trained as a piercer? What made you decide to go DIY?

I’ve never trained or worked as a piercer. I flub some things, but I’m happy with my success rate. Frankly, some of the most crooked, shallow piercings I’ve gotten are the professionally done ones. Added to the difficulty of finding someone qualified and willing to attempt some of these things and it’s just easier to do it myself.

I also think I have an advantage when working on myself in that I don’t have to use a clamp or receiving tube or cork — I can just put my finger on the other side and FEEL where the needle is going to come out. That, combined with the fact that I have no qualms about immediately redoing a piercing, means that I’m much more precise about placement. I also enjoy the ritualistic aspect of doing these things alone, in my own private space. Again, I just don’t get the same sense of ownership if I go out to a professional establishment and make a commercial exchange.

In addition to my piercings and tattooing, I have many surgical modifications, which are all DIY as well, other than my bilateral breast reduction which was done by a plastic surgeon. I have a split tongue, which I have redone at least six times to deal with regrowth. Also a right ear conch removal — that’s just partial until I go back and fix it. I had 1″ lobes in the past, both ears, which I attempted but failed to reverse. Eventually I intend to remove the leftover knobs of flesh and just be lobeless. I’ve done a quarter of this so far. My nipples were split both directions with a scalpel, cutting out from a pair from stretched horizontal and vertical piercings plus a central pocketing. I also have both labia removed, a hood split which I made by scalpeling out a 5mm piercing. Eventually I intend to remove the hood completely. Finally, I have a female subincision — I opened the split with a scalpel, starting with a female PA, a Princess Albertina, which I had stretched to ¾”.

Elio’s chest showing (among other things) round ink-rubbings done using a dermal punch and tattooed split nipples.

Now we’re getting into fascinating territory — heavy female genitals mods seem so rare to begin with.

Why is that, anyway? I await the day when someone comes up with a plausible theory.

I personally think there is a strong link between male sexuality, male “mating dance behavior”, and testosterone in general with body modification of this specific type.

With your ¾” PA — do you mean placement, or stretched size?

Yes, the jewelry size. I pierced it at 10ga, I think, and it healed and stretched so fast I was up to 00g within a month. At ¾”, wearing a tunnel, I actually had this strange problem that it directed the urine stream backward and irritated the area that rubs between my thighs. Plus, I wasn’t sure I liked the way it stuck out of my vagina; it looked kind of silly, like a tongue or something. I’d never heard of a female subincision, so I decided to go ahead. The whole thing was practically painless, from piercing to split. Since then, I’ve noticed I do get a few more UTIs than I used to, but since I can reliably cure them by drinking a glass of cranberry juice at the onset, it’s not a big deal.

What made you want the PA? Were you into urethral stimulation?

I knew it was very rare and as far as I could tell, no one had stretched it to a significant degree. I wanted to find out what would happen and what it would look like… I wanted to be into urethral stimulation. As time goes on, I keep giving up on the idea of being a fifty-fifty switch and realizing I’d just rather do most of these things than have them done to me. But it’s really hard to find someone even into sounding, let alone cutting or what I ultimately want to do, which is modify someone else permanently as part of a scene, repeatedly.

It’s weird because the PA piercing sounds so extreme, but it was so easy, fast, and painless. I think I got onto the idea because I’m mentally turned on by sounding, enough so that even though it’s more uncomfortable than pleasurable for me to receive, I’d been playing around with it on myself for a while.

Elio’s genital mods: On the left, his stretched clit piercing and hood tattooing, and on the right, his “female subincision” created by cutting out a stretched Princess Albertina piercing. Click to see uncensored.

How does your subincision run anatomically?

The distal end of my urethra is open to my vagina.

What procedure did you use to do it?

I just cut through the piercing. I’d just stretched up a couple days before., so the stretched parts hanging off the opening kind of tightened up afterwards, which was nice. I’ve had that happen before — after having my retired 00ga helix punches healed down to open 2ga and 4ga holes, I stretched back up to 0ga and retired them again — only this time the holes healed right over. I think that’s a good thing to try if you’re trying to shrink a stretched piercing — stretching up and then removing the jewelry after a couple days with the stretch not healed yet.

How about healing?

It barely bled at all, there was no pain beyond an extremely mild stinging when peeing for a day or two, and there were no complications. Easy-peasy.

Did it have a functional effect?

Whereas sounding is painful for me on removal, I like stimulation around the urethral opening. The subincision enhanced that sensation when receiving vaginal penetration, which I enjoyed a great deal back when I was doing a lot of that.

It’s hard for me to understand the length of the subincision exactly in terms of how far it runs. It just mostly just cutting out the big PA, or does it run up the shaft of the clitoris, thus exposing more nerves? I guess at that point the anatomical parallels start to diverge a bit.

Yes, they do, because the clitoris is a pretty separate entity from the urethra. Okay, so imagine you have a soup can and you glue a straw that’s the same height as the soup can to its inside, standing up vertically. That’s like the vagina and the urethra. If you cut a slit in the top end of the straw, that’s essentially what my subincision is like. And then if you really stretch the metaphor and get one of those little hot dogs people use for pigs-in-a-blanket and set it on the counter nearby, that’s my enlarged clit.

The subincision is just basically me cutting out the large piercing. Since the piercing protruded a bit, I’d guess the subincision goes in maybe 12mm. Considering the female urethra is only like 6 or 7cm long, though, that’s not an inconsiderable percentage.

Another interest of mine is scarification, some done with a dermal punch, and some of it with a punch and ink-rubbing. I’ve never seen anyone else do that yet, but it’s such an obvious idea.

Was your tongue split done over six sessions because you were just cutting slowly?

No, actually. The first time I got it pretty far back, but every time it healed, it returned to an unsatisfactorily short split. Realizing this was partially because I was having trouble getting the scalpel far enough back in my small mouth, the last time I used surgical scissors, and that seems to have worked a little bit better.

The first time I did it, I was actually just playing around with large-gauge temporary tongue piercings. I was nineteen and living with my mom, and I wasn’t allowed to have non-ear piercings at all, so I played with these things late at night and took them out right away. I’d been mostly piercing and stretching — that is, ripping — to larger sizes, but I knew scalpeling was supposed to be cleaner and result in easier healing. But once I’d pushed the scalpel — okay, actually it was an Xacto craft knife that time — through my tongue, the blade was facing forward as I had it, and I was on such a high from the sight of it that I kept cutting all the way. That still wasn’t enough to satisfy my need, though, so I risked pissing off my mom even further by also cutting my 00ga lobes to 5/8″. I thought I’d be able to hide these things — I had long hair — but I was wrong.

Elio’s tongue splitting — note scars from attempted “octopus tongue” as well as his injection tattooing of the lip and tongue.

Did cutting and re-cutting it like that affect the way it healed? More scar tissue or an unevenness or anything? I assume you weren’t suturing it.

Yeah, I wasn’t suturing it. I knew some professionals weren’t using sutures, either, so it didn’t seem worth the trouble to get the materials and learn how to do it. I don’t think it affected healing at all. Whereas it still could be deeper, I’m very pleased with it aesthetically.

Oh, that reminds me, I should have mentioned — somewhere in the tongue-splitting FAQ it warns that a three- or four-way split would “likely end in disaster.” Well, I tried going in about half an inch on one of the existing forks just to see what would happen — I didn’t think there would be a terribly great “disaster” just with that short split. You can see from the pics that you can’t even tell it’s there, really. I didn’t like it at all — unlike the original split, it didn’t feel natural, and it wasn’t the turn on I expected. The outside part of the split went kind of numb. For what it’s worth, I was able to pull it apart with my muscles; it wasn’t just a passive lump of flesh. But it healed back together quite quickly, and that was the end of that experiment.

It’s sounding like DIY is something that’s very important to you. Does that permeate other aspects of your life as well?

Haha, yes. I’m very bad about asking for help when I need it. That combination of stoicism, independence, and stubbornness ends up hurting me a lot, as you might imagine. If I hadn’t kept insisting I could do it just to prove it to myself, I would never have tried to work normally for as long as I did before finally admitting that my migraines are too big an obstacle.

You seem to really enjoy using yourself as an experiment.

It’s less enjoyable than compelling. It’s similar to all my creative ventures in that way — it’s not “fun” per se, but it’s something I find so interesting I can’t not do it.

Given the warning you’d read why did you do it?

I’m a little mulish when it comes to warnings. “Oh, you’re telling me not to do this? Well I don’t have to listen to that! Watch me do it anyway and turn out fine!” If I read a warning somewhere that it’s a really bad idea to impale your entire body on a 20cm wide spike, I’d probably have a great deal of trouble getting the idea out of my mind. I wouldn’t do it, but I’d keep returning to the thought.

When you did the “octopus tongue”, for lack of a better name, do you have an sense as to how that would have turned out if you’d forced it to heal, say by suturing it?

Haha, “octopus tongue” is a perfect name for it — even though octopuses probably don’t have tongues. I think it would have just have continued to be numb and awkward-feeling. It feels fine now that it’s healed back together. There’s a little strip of scar tissue I can feel if I try, but that’s it.

What made you decide to do the labial removal and hood removal? Was that related to trans interests, or mod interests?

Both. I can’t really separate it out. I always hated my labia; they didn’t enjoy being touched, and I found them ugly. I was always attracted to the idea of having the area clean of superfluous folds and having nothing but the clit there.

Do you mind me asking about you sex interests in general, or is that no-go territory? I’m also curious about whether testosterone has influenced them.

I’m pretty open about my sex interests. I think it’s important for kinky people who CAN be out to do so to increase visibility.

The first year on T, I had copious amounts of sex with a veritable plethora of partners — mostly gay, bearish men, but some straight men were still interested for a while, and if there was BDSM involved and there were no guys around, I could go for women, too. I’d been enjoying slutting around for a couple years before T, though, so I think it was only maybe a 50% increase in activity. I did, however, go from virtually never masturbating to doing so about twice a day — almost always with a vibrator for efficiency, even though it seems like a kind of womanly way to get off.

Then, when I had the aforementioned breakdown, my sex drive kind of shut down for a while, except for masturbation. That time period was when I finally committed to being irreversibly visibly modified. I realized that I’d always had a conflict between being a performer and being modified, and that every single stinking time, I’d chosen the former over the latter. It was time to make the other choice. Besides, I’d discovered improv comedy, where your looks are pretty irrelevant, and I’d turned into a gamer — where your looks are REALLY irrelevant — when my sister introduced me to Magic: The Gathering. Anyway, the weird thing is that now that I can look in the mirror without being startled by my lack of modifications, and I really don’t care to have sex with other people any more. Being able to just cater to my fetish made masturbation that much more satisfying. My modification motivations are 40% fetish, 35% a matter of be-who-you-are, 15% love of experimentation, and 10% spiritual.

Elio’s self-done facial tattooing (note lip tattoo).

What gave you the idea of doing tattoos by injecting the ink instead of just tattooing it?

The idea began because I was trying to accomplish something that would be more like an implant than anything. I wanted to have bumps filled with color on my leg, and, being a cheap bastard, I tried this with acrylic paint, figuring that at least it’s non-toxic.

I guess you discovered there’s a big difference between “non-toxic” and “bio-compatible”!

I knew there was; I just wanted to make sure I didn’t go crazy from lead poisoning while experimenting. I’ve also always been comfortable with mods “going wrong” — I enjoy the strange scars and configurations that result from accidents as much as the successful mods. I figured one of three things were likely to happen: it would work, it would push back out of the skin and scar, or it’d become infected and painful and I’d have to debride it myself. I was comfortable with any of those three options, and could at least tolerate the possibility of having to seek professional medical care. The green and yellow ink stayed, but the other four colors all pushed back out in a long, painful process.

Long painful process?

It took months with the paint weeping back out the injection site or forming new holes to the surface. I’m a picker — I can’t seem to help it — so eventually I hastened the process by picking away the skin that was on its way out anyway, leaving me with irregular craters in my skin there. I kind of like the result, as it’s hard to get a depressed scar like that except by sticking something non-bio-compatible in there. I did have a rash of mild food allergies for a couple years afterward, and someone I knew said that was linked to tattoos in general, so maybe the yellow and green weren’t completely inert. Anyway, now my body seems to have successfully encapsulated them, and they’ve given me no trouble. Some of the green did weep a bit, which is why there’s a white spot in the middle of those areas, like a collapsed caldera.

Later, I moved toward injected ink that I hoped would to spread out. When I did my eyes — yes, I saw the idea on the internet — I noticed how the fact that there isn’t really any tissue that bonds the conjunctiva to the sclera, or any tight fibers running vertically that would stop the ink from spreading. In addition to the eye, I’d seen a photograph on ModBlog awhile back where a guy injected his own blood under the skin of his penis and got a cool, color-changing temporary tattoo. The two ideas just sort of melded in my mind, and I injected black tattoo ink under the loose shaft skin of my tiny penis.

Just that spread out really well and covered everything but the underside, where the tissue is a lot tighter. It’s very similar to the inside of a subincision there, which makes anatomical sense. I was really impressed with this, so I tried putting some ink in the head as well, which just came out like random black blobs even after three or four attempts.

As I played with this more on different parts of the body, I realized the shallow injections just under the skin don’t work very well unless the skin is very loose. The process hurts like hell wherever you do it, and the ink just doesn’t spread out enough most places to justify using the technique over normal tattooing. However, the one time I managed to get the ink into the fat underneath and it spread — this only worked the first time, so far — I got an interesting, result kind of like a permanent bruise. I just wish I could get colors other than black to work that way, as I think it’d be neat to extend the idea into a rainbow thigh piece.

Healing isn’t too bad with this, though the swelling on top of the pressure created by the ink itself is more painful than you’d expect. Honestly, I’ve never gotten a serious infection with any mod I’ve done. I don’t even really bother with sterility unless I’m doing something extreme, as (a) I’m lazy about prep work, and (b) I look at all the indigenous cultures that do these things on the ground in the dirt with completely inappropriate materials — yet you never see them with ripped piercings or other failed mods. True, some of them probably die from infection, but if I ever got a serious infection, at least I have access to antibiotics.

I said something similar in one of my old FAQs — if the piercing can be done in a dirty environment using simple homemade tools, it’s probably relatively low risk. You do however occasionally see indigenous people with torn earlobes and such of course…

I’ve actually yet to run across an image of that, though I always figured it must happen. In general, I think our bodies are much more durable than we give them credit for. I’ve always figured that if I were a piercer, I’d be slowly driven nuts by people being overly anxious about mild mods.

By the way, I’m always impressed when people tattoo their own eyes, and I think there’s a kind of nihilism to it as well…

Nihilism? I don’t know about that… I think I’m too happy to be a nihilist.

I know, but I think with eye tattoos, other than people who are blissfully unaware of risks, you have to have a certain moment of “fuck it, if I go blind, I go blind”… It may have been a little different for me because I was the first to do it, so we were much more in the dark about what might occur.

It was more like, “I’ve yet to hear of anyone going blind; that may just be an overreaction of a warning. Plus, if I do go blind, it would be a whole new way of living life. Sure, it’d be frustrating and disheartening at first, but it would also be a challenge and an adventure.” Since then, I’ve learned that studies show people who lose a limb involuntarily are less happy than they were for about a year, but after that they go back to being just as happy — or unhappy — as they were before. That’s made me a lot less anxious about the potential of getting in a bad car wreck, which I worry about a lot more than I worry about any ill effects of my mods.

What was that experience like? Did you do full coverage or just a spot?

Full coverage. I did the right eye, two or three injections, and it was easy and looked gorgeous. Then I did the left eye… aieee! Why is one side always so much harder than the other in bilateral mods? I absolutely couldn’t get part of it to fill in — still haven’t, after multiple revisits — and healing on that side featured my sclera kind of detaching in a fluid-filled blister — which I popped with a sterile needle — blurred vision, a headache so bad I thought I was having an aneurysm and went to the ER, and black “floaters” in my vision for a year afterward.

My optometrist has since informed me that there’s ink on my left optic nerve, making me at risk for glaucoma because the ink molecules, like the melanin molecules in dark-skinned people, can block the flow of fluid out the fine mesh in the retina. Oh well.

Elio’s DIY eyeball tattoos, one eye with full coverage, while the other eye had trouble fully accepting the ink injections.

Can you tell me more about the problems you had?

I used an 18ga draw needle on a 3cc syringe to draw up about 1cc of black tattoo ink directly from the bottle — to avoid contaminants from involving extra containers — I switched to a 25ga needle to inject the ink. I put the needle in open side down. I wasn’t sure the needle was in far enough at first, but when I tried depressing the plunger, the ink went right in and spread out over about 40% of my right eye. I repeated this with similar results twice on the right eye and twice on the left eye.

The other twenty percent of the left eye refused to take ink. I tried injecting shallower, deeper, in different locations, but after about six times, I gave up. It had black spots where the needle had been, but the ink wouldn’t spread out. I later repeated the procedure on multiple occasions with similar lack of results.

My right eye produced no pain and healed fine except for minor leakage into the area around the eye, giving me the “black eye” effect over about a square centimeter. I was a little light-sensitive the first week of healing. Two days after the initial procedure, my left eye… how do I describe it? It’s like the whole sclera detached and was kind of floating free in the eye socket, though tied down to the cornea still. It was also swollen like a blister. Once I lanced the blister with a 25ga needle, clear fluid leaked out, and the sclera went back to normal, though still very loose and jelly-like. Over the next two or three days, that healed back to normal.

Meanwhile, day three I got that monster headache I mentioned. At the hospital, I was keeping my eyes shut or squinted because of the light sensitivity, so they never knew about the eyeball tattoos. They said it was just a particularly bad migraine, which is what I thought, too, for a long time until I kind of reassessed what had happened. The headache was tolerable with aspirin the next day. As far a the glaucoma risk, I don’t know much more about it than what I already told you. The “floaters” were teeny black specks that tumbled down through my vision for a year afterward, but since have disappeared — I assume they eventually collected back on the optic nerve as the eye filtered out that fluid.

Do you feel that there is a male bias in body modification in general? Or in heavy modification?

I’m not sure it’s a matter of “feel” on this one — someone must have studied this at least to the extent of counting up the number of men and women in body modification, and I’m sure it would come out biased toward men.

How do you think this could be addressed or corrected — or do you think it will always be that way because it’s reflective not just of societal pressure, but of legitimate differences in the way genders express themselves?

We haven’t exactly talked about it from a community angle yet. I don’t know if it’s something that needs to be “corrected”, or that we’d get a 48-52 split in the absence of societal pressures, but when an activity is this men-dominated — I’d guess 90-10 in heavy modification — I have to think it’s more about cultural norms than anything innate. Men and women just aren’t that different; we’re all people.

If the ratio does change, I think it will just take time. It’s popular to say that women stay away from men-dominated activities because men are jerks toward them when they try to get involved, but that’s always struck me as a rather pat explanation. Anyway, writing a finger-wagging “Men, you’re being bad!” isn’t really helpful, because any man who actually is a jerk isn’t going to think you’re talking about him.

For people who are ignorant to trans-culture, I think it might be worth explaining “what’s the point” of becoming a transman and having a relationship with a gay man… I mean, why not just be a straight woman with a straight man? What’s the difference?

If there’s anywhere you don’t want to pretend to be someone else, it’s in your intimate relationships. I was very uncomfortable with straight and even bi men needing to see me as a woman to be sexual with me, because I knew “woman” was the one thing I wasn’t. It’s really hard to have people perceive you as you are over a dinner conversation, but then to have that go out the window as soon as you’re naked.

Do you ever wonder if it would have just been easier to “pretend to be normal”? Be a housewife with a white picket fence and two and a half kids or something? As wonderful an adventure you’re on, it can’t be easy on many levels.

The trope of the mad housewife makes me want to laugh and cry simultaneously whenever I see it, because I think that would have been me in another time. I’ve been relatively spineless about standing up for who I am even now, so if I had been born in an era when it was harder, I probably would have lived a life of secrecy, shame, and deep malcontent with my “normal” life.

I know that at 26 you’re still coming to terms with your own life, but since there may be numerous people going through the same thing, but teenagers that may be ten years earlier in their personal journey, is there any advice you’d give to a younger version of yourself? Be it about the body modification journey or about the trans journey…

Don’t doubt yourself. When people say something’s “just a phase,” they’re often putting their wishful thinking onto you. Don’t listen to that nonsense if your gut says otherwise. Also, it does get better, but it takes longer than you’d think possible, and it gets better in unpredictable ways, along axes you weren’t even aware existed.

I wonder if anyone will ever start an “It Gets Better” project for modified youth the way there’s one for queer youth?

* * *

This interview easily ranks as one of the favorite interviews that I’ve done in my time covering the body modification subculture. If you would like to get in contact with Elio, you can do so by email at [email protected], and if you enjoyed this interview I highly recommend my earlier conversation about body modification and gender issues with Ashley Crawford. Finally, as I said in the introduction, I should mention that this interview is an excerpt from my upcoming book on private body modification practices, which will be available within the next couple weeks. Information on that will be posted when I have it but not before, so please don’t ask me in the forum on this interview.

A new method for large-scale tattooing?

As those of you who are BME members who’ve spent a lot of time exploring the saline injection galleries already know, one of the tricks that people figured out to make it more amusing is that you can add food colouring to the saline solution — and let me preemptively say that this is risky both because food colouring is not generally safe to inject, and because it compromises the sterile saline by adding a non-sterile component and thereby increases the risk of post-procedure infection. Anyway, when someone does this, it tints the inflated tissue quite evenly — the photo below shows it having been done in a penis. When the saline is absorbed by the body, is starts breaking down and removing the food colouring, and the tissue rapidly reverts to it’s normal tone.

Ever since seeing stained deep tissue from eyeball tattooing procedures (where the face becomes stained via ink leakage into subcutaneous tissue), I have been thinking that it’s likely that if instead of using food colouring one could use tattoo ink or India Ink — India Ink is generally more biocompatible and may be safer, but it’s a guess — to tint a large area all at once. Imagine being able for example to tattoo a penis solid black (or whatever) in a single relatively pain-free procedure. After all, we’re talking about a single pinprick rather than thousands. And of course saline isn’t just for wieners — we’ve all seen the so-called “bagelheads” where foreheads are inflated, but cheeks and lips and even the tongue can be done as well. Could one tint the face in a single pain-free procedure? What if different colors were added at different points? It’s quite likely that they would blend and combine in ways impossible to achieve with traditional tattooing. It’s also possible that because subcutaneous tissue is being tinted that appearance impossible to achieve with a tattoo machine could be done.

Of course it’s also possible that because of the way the ink is introduced, and the way the body needs to deal with it, that there are significant and perhaps even deadly side-effects. I do think this technique merits further exploration — and to the best of my knowledge this is the first serious proposal of this method — but I hope that if someone does go ahead with it, and not just research the risks, but they start on a very small scale to explore the results carefully. I have to admit I’m half tempted to try it myself. If I end up with a bright blue scrotum to match my eyes, I’ll be sure to let y’all know. Please let me know if you try it as well.

The Eyeball Tattoo FAQ

**Please note that as of 2020, there have been a few documented cases of both temporary and permanent blindness associated with this procedure. The risks are great and real and this procedure has been banned in several places because of the risks it poses. – BME**

Eyeball Tattooing FAQ
by Shannon Larratt


  • Unless otherwise indicated, this document refers to scleral tattooing (over the white of the eye) using the ink injection method, rather than to corneal tattooing (over the iris) using repetitive needle punctures.
  • This document is under constant revision and reflects the current amateur understanding of the art of eyeball tattooing. It should not be taken as definitive or absolute advice. This document is not medical advice. This document will be updated whenever relevant and possible, so please check back for updates.
  • Eyeball tattooing carries with it significant risks up to and including blindness and life-threatening complications. Nothing in this document should be taken as condoning or recommending or encouraging eyeball tattoos, or presenting it as safe. Proceed at your own risk.
  • Because this FAQ is constantly changing, please do not reprint it elsewhere. Instead, please link directly to where it is hosted:


Current Version: 1.1 / November 21, 2012

Updates since the previous version are highlighted in red (like this).

1.1 – Added additional risks information (glaucoma, ocular hypotension, etc.), multicolor inks, and various notes.
1.0 – FAQ updated after long talk with Howie/LunaCobra
0.9 – Original version written by Shannon Larratt

** What is eyeball tattooing?

Eyeball tattooing, in the context of this FAQ, is the process of permanently altering the color of the eye. Generally this refers to the injection of ink under the surface of the white of the eye, rather than changing the color of the iris, although this is theoretically possible.

** Why would someone want to tattoo their eye?

This is a rude question that no one should feel obligated to answer to anyone but themselves. But to generalize, people get eyeball tattoos for the same reasons people would get any tattoo or make any permanent change to themselves — because it makes them happy or feels right in some way. Because they like the way it looks. Because it suits them spiritually. Because they find it sexually appealing. Because they want to differentiate themselves from others. Because they feel tattooing has gotten to mainstream and want something more socially offensive. Because they saw it in a dream. Because it appeals to them as an artist. Because they want to make a political statement. Because they’re mad at their mommy for not hugging them enough. Because it’s none of your business.

** Wouldn’t it be better to just wear full-eye (scleral) contacts?

Full-eye or scleral contacts are typically extremely uncomfortable and hard on the eye. Special effects lenses of this type (versus specialty medical lenses) are not intended to be worn for more than a few hours at a time, no more than six hours at a time, and only occasionally. Wearing scleral contacts on a constant or even regular basis carries with it significant medical risks and is probably much more dangerous than eye tattoos. However, if you’re not sure this is something you want to commit your life to, this could be an excellent but temporary alternative.

** How, anatomically, is an eyeball tattoo different from a normal tattoo in skin?

The structure of the dermis/skin is anatomically very different from the structure of the eye. A tattoo in the skin is below the constantly regenerating epidermis, with the ink being deposited inside the more stable dermis. The particles of pigment become trapped among the cells of the dermis. In an eyeball tattoo, the pigment is trapped between the conjunctiva and the sclera of the eye — squeezed between two flat layers, like jelly in a sandwhich. In the case of corneal tattooing, the ink is below the corneal epithelium, sitting significantly above the iris. It is not placed into the iris itself, which is much deeper. While ink in a standard tattoo is effectively locked in place, ink in an eyeball tattoo can remain mobile, and is able to shift or even migrate fully out of the eye years after the procedure is done.

** What are the different procedures used for eyeball tattooing?

The two main methods of applying the ink beneath the surface of the eye are using individual pokes of a needle or cluster of needles in a method similar to traditional tattooing, and by using a syringe filled with an ink solution to inject a “cloud” of ink under the conjunctiva which spreads over a significant area. With the traditional needle method, it is typically done by hand rather than with a tattoo machine, although tattoo machines are sometimes used.

** What are the pros and cons of the different methods?

Using a traditional tattoo method, where a needle dipped in ink is repeatedly poked into the eye, theoretically allows for complex designs to be performed. Because the ink only spreads minimally, tattooing over the iris/cornea is possible, in addition to tattooing over the white/sclera. However, because each hole applies only a small amount of ink, a great deal of damage must be done to the conjunctiva. This is especially true if an electric tattoo machine is used, which can quickly destroy the surface of the eye. In the short term, the multiple holes, whether created by hand or by machine, can cause some or even all of the ink to be rejected by the eye, and in the long term can result in complications such as recurrent erosions (where the layers of the eye do not properly reconnect), as well as persistent abrasion and ulceration of the eye. These can be extremely painful and risk the health of the eye and compromise vision. Doctors have found that loss of ink is minimized when the angle of the needle is as lateral (flat, rather than straight in) as possible.

Using the injection method of eyeball tattooing, where a larger area of ink is injected via a single hole, complex designs are not possible, and although fades from one color to another are possible to some extent, they can be difficult to control and master. The difficulty in controlling the spread of the ink makes this method inadvisable for the cornea (ie. over the iris and pupil) because of the danger of obscuring vision if the ink spreads over the pupil. Because only a few injections are required to completely cover the white of an eye with ink, many of the risks in the traditional method such as significant ink loss and ulceration are largely mitigated (although they are not eliminated). However, the injections can be difficult to control, and over-injection or injections that are too deep or too shallow carry significant risk — the appropriate zone is less than a millimetre thick, with serious consequences for missing it.

The medical community uses almost exclusively the traditional tattoo method — although even after 150 years they have not come up with an agreed upon technique, which is very telling — whereas the body modification community uses almost exclusively the injection method. To date, attempts to tattoo the white of the eye using traditional needle methods have been extremely unsatistfactory, almost completely falling out. The general consensus is that injection is the only acceptable method of scleral tattooing.

** What is the history of eyeball tattooing?

The earliest references to medical tattooing of the eye dates back almost two thousand years, with Roman doctors treating white patches over the iris by first branding them and then applying dye in an attempt to stain the cornea to match the iris. After the Roman era, doctors seem to have avoided it until the 19th century when doctors started using a needle and ink method to tattoo the cornea to repair deformities and opacities. A variety of different needle designs were tried — grooved needles, needle clusters, early tattoo machines and so on. Even now new techniques continue to be tried because of poor results. A few doctors tried (and continue to develop) more invasive methods of applying the ink. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that eyeball tattooing was first offered on an elective cosmetic basis, with a number of early tattoo artists running newspaper advertisements offering to change the color of clients irises. Whether anyone actually went through with this and what the results were is unknown, and no references to these services exist beyond about 1920.

The injection method of tattooing eyes was invented by Shannon Larratt and first performed July 1, 2007 by Howie (, who has continued to develop and refine the procedure since. Shannon’s ex-wife Rachel had gotten an eyeball implant by Dr. Gerrit R.J. Melles in The Netherlands, one of the developers of the LASIK procedure. He had developed a method for inserting thin platinum jewelry underneath the conjunctiva, rationalizing that it would be safe because the eye has evolved to tolerate calcium buildup in this layer as people age. The implant was inserted by injecting a small drop of saline in order to create a pocket for the implant. Shannon theorized that the saline could be replaced with ink in order to dye the white of the eye and approached Howie about doing the procedure. After performing this procedure on Josh Rahn and Shannon Larratt, as well as attempting a traditional method eyeball tattoo on Pauly Unstoppable, Howie went on to perform the procedure on many others, refining it with an eye to efficiency and safety.

The media immediately picked up on eyeball tattooing and photos were featured in international mainstream media including an episode of CSI which used the injection method as a central plot point. Not long afterwards two inmates on a reality TV show about life in prison tattooed their eyes after seeing photos of Howie’s work, and practitioners around the world began attempting it. It has gotten consistently more popular every day and as of this writing I would estimate there are several hundred people with tattooed eyes.

** Why do doctors tattoo eyes?

Opthalmic surgeons with specialized training sometimes tattoo the eye in order to correct defects such as a misshapen iris or opaque or discolored patches in the cornea. Tattooing is typically used to give the patient a more normal appearance, and more rarely can also be used to address vision problems usually resulting from holes or transparencies in the iris from disease, genetic conditions, or injury letting excess light into the eye and creating persistent glare. Due to the risks, these procedures are almost exclusively done on patients who are blind or who have seriously affected vision. Whenever possible doctors prefer to use contact lenses to deal with these types of problems. New procedures such as corneal grafting are also replacing tattooing.

** Is elective eyeball tattooing legal?

As of this writing only a very small number of jurisdictions have specifically outlawed eyeball tattooing or legally restricted it to trained medical practitioners — for example Oklahoma, which made it a misdemeanour in 2009. In general it is legal, or at least not criminal, pursuant to any local laws and regulations governing tattooing in general. However, in the event of any complications, the practitioner would face potential assault charges and perhaps other criminal charges (even without a complaint), as well as a potential civil suit. Artists are encouraged to consult with their lawyer and to obtain appropriate signed liability disclaimers.

** Can I go to a doctor to get my eyes tattooed?

Doctors are generally not willing to tattoo healthy eyes due to the perceived risk. Additionally, it is highly unlikely they would be willing to do anything beyond the normal correction of defects, both due to personal ethics and due to medical regulation frowning upon atypical procedures. Most Physicians Colleges would not tolerate a doctor willing to perform whole-eye tattooing of the type that is common in the body modification scene.

** Are there any medical conditions that preclude tattooing the eye?

It is strongly advised that anyone with any significant eye abnormalities avoid eyeball tattooing because this adds many unknown risks and could complicate existing conditions. This is especially true for scleral conditions but applies to other conditions as well. Wearing glasses is fine, but corrective contact lenses should not be worn with eyeball tattoos.

** How do eyeball tattoos affect potential future medical conditions or treatments?

It is possible that certain eye conditions, diseases, or disorders may be made more difficult to see by the addition of ink to the eye, especially those that first show via discoloration or abnormalities of the sclera. It is also possible that the tattoo could make treating the eye more difficult or complicate or exacerbate the condition. Even in the case of procedures such as LASIK eye surgery it is possible that doctors may refuse to do the procedure because of unknown and difficult-to-assess risks.

** How can I find and choose an artist/practitioner to tattoo my eyes?

Because eyeball tattooing carries significant risk and the procedure has a learning curve that often includes making mistakes, you should seek out the most experienced artist possible. Finding the artists that do this procedure can be done at places like’s photo galleries. In most cases the artists are piercers and body mod artists rather than tattooists. After finding a potential artist, you should visit Facebook and other social networks where you can find clients who have had work done by this artist. The more you talk to the better. Don’t go to someone who you can’t see significant previous work from and get multiple referrals for. Also, if the artist claims to have been trained by someone, it’s worth confirming that as it’s not unheard of for people to fabricate such things.

** Is there a list of recommended artists in this FAQ?

No, nor will there ever be, because the official recommendation is that YOU SHOULD NOT TATTOO YOUR EYEBALLS. But all other things being equal, you want someone with years of experience. The more the better. It’s a risky procedure with a high degree of variability between eyes. Careful selection of a top artist means you’re playing Russian Roulette with one bullet in the cylinder, but choosing someone less qualified can means that only one cylinder is empty. Which gun would you rather point at your eye?

** Can I tattoo my own eye?

A surprising amount of people, often with no experience of any kind performing body modification, have tattooed their own eyes. It’s not in any way recommended, but if you do insist on tattooing your own eyes for whatever reason, you need to adhere to all the same safety standards as would be expected of a practitioner. It’s not an easy procedure to do on someone else, let alone yourself, so if you insist on doing so, do a test run before actually doing it. Practice in a mirror and see if you can push a needle in your eye while keeping still. Consider trying the procedure first using a drop of sterile saline rather than ink to see how much pressure it takes to push in the plunger on the syringe, because if you can’t manage all of these factors, serious consequences will occur! Tattooing one’s eye is possible and has been successfully done, but it is a precarious and arguably foolhardy self-destructive act.

** What should I consider before an eyeball tattoo procedure?

In addition to ensuring that you have found a practitioner suitably skilled and experienced to protect you, you need to seriously contemplate all the risks. Not just an academic understanding of them, but you need to meditate on how your life would change if you went blind, or more likely had a headache that lasted for many years, or had permanent blurry vision or light sensitivity that could not be treated, in addition to debating whether you are willing to live a life as a social outcast where your odds of finding love are greatly reduced, and where your modification decision has the potential to decide whether you will spend your life in a good job making a good income, or if you’re going to spend your life homeless and just scraping by. Hopefully these things won’t happen to you, but they might, and before tackling an eye tattoo you need to accept the possibility that they could happen. If you don’t think you’d be able to live with the life that you may arrive at if things go badly, this is not the procedure for you.

** How much does an eye tattoo cost?

Some artists do the procedure for free on select clients because they enjoy the opportunity or do not feel it should be offered commercially. Others charge $1,000 or more. Within reason, this is not a modification where you should be making the decision based on price. It is not unreasonable to budget enough money to travel to see the best practitioner available for example, which could make the procedure easily cost a few thousand dollars. When considering the cost, do not forget to budget the negative effect an eye tattoo could have on your long-term income potential.

** How is injection-method eyeball tattooing performed, specifically?

The practitioner begins by gently cleaning the eye and performing a careful visual inspection for any abnormalities. Using a small syringe and a small gauge needle (27ga to 31ga generally), a tiny amount of pigment in a liquid solution is injected underneath the conjunctiva (the thin top layer) over the sclera (white) of the eye. A single small injection can spred to cover approximately a quarter of the front of the eye or more. Some artists feel that massaging the eye before and/or after the procedure can help the ink to spread evenly. Others disagree and also point out that this can cause ink to be pushed back out of the injection point, or more likely, irritate the eye and dramatically increase the chance of complications. After the injections are complete, some cleaning of the eye and surrounding area is done.

** Does anything need to be done before the procedure?

Before the procedure begins, the eye needs to be cleaned to avoid pulling surface contamination or bacteria underneath the conjunctiva. At a minimum this means flushing out the eye with sterile saline. However, care should be taken not to irritate the eye, which is extremely sensitive.

** How is this procedure different from how doctors tattoo eyes?

Most doctors use a traditional tattoo needle, or a small cluster of needles, or a specialized three-edged spatula needle to penetrate the eye. Sometimes the ink is applied directly to the eye and then pierced to draw it into the eye, and sometimes the ink is applied to the needle as it would be for normal tattooing. Many subtle variations have been attempted and there does not appear to be a consensus on the best method. Some doctors also use more surgical methods, for example removing the corneal epithelium before applying the ink. One of the earliest surgical methods involved creating a vertical bipedicle flap, placing ink under the flap, and then applying a compressive dressing. These procedures are still evolving as many doctors appear dissatisfied with the results and risks. Doctors do not use the injection method because the spread of ink is too difficult to control.

** Can designs be tattooed onto the eye?

It is possible that a technique may be developed in the future capable of achieving this, but to date no one has been able to tattoo a design onto the white of the eye. There are rumors of eyes being successfully tattooed with machines from “old timers” in the tattoo industry, but it is unclear whether a design would remain stable even if it could be successfully put it, or if it would blur over time. The only method currently capable of placing a detailed design on the sclera is Dr. Gerrit R.J. Melles’s “JewelEye” platinum implant procedure.

** How long does it take to do an eyeball tattoo?

An eyeball using the injection method is a relatively fast procedure. Only a handful of injections are required to fully tattoo the white of an eye. From the first injection to the end of the last injection often takes less than a minute. The entire procedure from set up to walking away generally takes between half an hour and an hour. Because the eye is so sensitive to irritation, it is important that the procedure be completed quickly. The more time that is taken, the higher the risk level. If a procedure is taking too long and the eye becomes irritated, it is better to abort the procedure and finish it at a later date.

** Do eye tattoos bleed?

Although normal tattoos will bleed to somet extent, eye tattoos are usually bloodless procedures. However, as anyone who has ever seen a bloodshot eye knows, the eye is criss-crossed with blood vessels. While the limited incisions in the eye created by the injection method minimizes the chance of these being damaged, it is possible for it to happen to even experienced practitioners as it is difficult to predict as the blood vessels are not always visible. If they are struck, the eyeball procedure can become quite bloody, with the sclera itself bleeding out. In rare cases the blood can spray out, but it is more common for the blood to pool under the surface and mix with the ink, potentially creating additional pressure and greater risk. In the case of bleeding, the procedure should be stopped and completed at a later date. Bleeding should be expected in at least 10%-20% of procedures even with the best of practitioners, and is largely a matter of luck.

** How long does an eye tattoo take to heal?

Initial healing takes a few days, and assuming there are no complications, primary healing takes two to three weeks, and it can be considered fully healed in two to three months. During the primary period there may be some swelling and redness, and the surface of the eye may look a little “raw”. Unlike a normal tattoo on skin there is no scabbing or peeling of skin — the body simply adapts to having the ink beneath the conjunctiva, seals the holes, and reattaches the tissue layers. However, during the initial healing when you wake up in the morning you may be able to perceive a slight “scratchy” feeling, which is a small amount of ink and fluid that has been pushed out during the night adhered to the surface of the eye scraping on the eyelid.

** What is the aftercare for an eyeball tattoo?

Some people use disinfectant, lubricating, and/or anti-biotic eye drops, and others use nothing at all. In the case of over-injection, steroidal eye drops which reduce intraocular pressure may also be prescribed. Other than that, the client needs to keep the eye clean and free of irritation. This includes abstaining from drugs such as marijuana which can cause dry eyes and irritation, or opiates which can cause itching and excessive rubbing of the eyes which can ulcerate or otherwise damage the healing tissue. The eye is extremely fragile during the initial healing and all contact should be minimized.

If you feel that something is going wrong with the healing it is important that you immediately contact the artist who did the procedure, or, failing that, visit your doctor or your local hospital ER. It is better to be embarassed at a bit of medical paranoia than to stay quiet and have something go wrong with your eyes!

** Will the appearance of an eye tattoo continue to change over time?

The ink in a scleral tattoo seems to have more mobility than in a normal tattoo in skin. It is possible for the tattoo to change slightly over time, perhaps because of the ink migrating or equalizing. This can for example cause a color tattoo to lighten or brighten slightly over several years as the ink spreads out and becomes slightly more transparent due to dispersal. In addition, as with all tattoos, the ink is translucent and will combine with the color of the tissue above and below it. For example, at the edges of the eye that are naturally slightly redder, this tone will combine with whatever ink is added. It is also possible that the ink will partially break down or fade or slightly change color due to exposure to sunlight in the longterm, as all tattoo inks do, but this is at present difficult to predict.

** Can one wear contact lenses with eyeball tattoos?

Once the tattoo is fully healed, assuming the healing goes perfectly and there is no swelling or bumpiness around the iris, it should be possible to wear contacts temporarily. Some people with fully black eyes occasionally wear black contact lenses to complete the look, but this should only be done for short periods of time. If there is any uneven texture around the iris, contacts should not be worn even temporarily. Regular contact wearing, be it corrective or cosmetic, is not recommended. If the person with the eyeball tattoo was previously a contact lense wearer they should switch to wearing glasses. Scleral contacts are strongly discouraged.

** Is eyeball tattooing safe?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: It comes with both known and unknown risks, some of them significant. An experienced practitioner can reduce the chances of these risks but can not eliminate them. Anyone considering an eyeball tattoo needs to seriously consider whether they would be willing to live a life where these risks come to fruition. Many things humans do are dangerous — smoking cigarettes, joining the military, driving cars, swimming, eating fugu, having sex lives, investing our money, and more. Several of these things, for example driving a car, are arguably more dangerous than eyeball tattoos. It is important to have a good understanding about the activities you enjoy or are considering enjoying so you can assess the risks versus benefits and decide if it’s right for you. This FAQ attempts to help with that.

** What are the risks in a procedure that goes well?

Even in a best-case-scenario there are risks to eyeball tattooing. Some people are extremely sensitive to the slight pressure that the ink applies, and this can express itself as pain similar to a throbbing headache that never goes away, which can last anywhere from a few days to a few years. In some people this can also make the person feel sensitive to light (although the cause of light sensitivity is not well understood) and want to wear sunglasses when they go into bright spaces. It is impossible to predict pre-procedure who will be affected by this pain.

It is also possible to have ulceration and irritation and erosion at the injection points. This can result in very slow healing and gradual loss of ink. A small percentage of people can feel the ink and/or the injection points, complaining of something being caught in their eye. Others have redness that extends beyond the initial healing period, either because of problems healing or reaction to the ink pigment or the liquid that carries it. Allergic or toxic response to the ink is possible. In addition, some individuals’ eyes have difficult reconnecting the lifted conjunctiva (recurrent scleral erosions), which can result in a disfigured uneven surface as well as a great deal of difficult to treat pain.

Bacterial infection of the eye can also occur during the initial healing.

It should be noted that the sclera is separated from the cornea by the corneal limbus, which stops ink from spreading over the iris and pupil, so while the injected ink does spread, it will not spread in a way that blocks vision.

** What are the risks in a procedure that goes badly?

Only a tiny amount of ink needs to be injected to dye the surface of the eye. Injecting too much ink greatly amplifies all of the risks of eye tattooing — especially that of long-lasting pain — as well as carrying new risks of its own. There is no simple way to drain or otherwise reduce the ink that has been over-injected. Most commonly, over-injection results in a lumpy and uneven surface of the eye that is generally undesirable aesthetically. Some artists have over-injected the eye to the extent where it is so swollen that the cornea and iris are actually inset. Some artists appear “heavy-handed” and make this mistake consistently, especially early in their career, whereas others rarely make the mistake. In addition, an over-injected eye may leak ink into surrounding tissue, causing the area around the eye to be permanently dyed as well — this is especially noticeable when black ink has been over-injected, as it leaves the person with a permanent black eye (the sort that looks like what is created by a fist). The tissue is stained much deeper than the dermis, so there is no easy way to remove this ink, and it either has to be tolerated or covered with makeup.

Most importantly, over-injection can damage the structure of the eye. Detailed medical imaging using an ocular ultrasound of an over-injected eye has shown the sclera breaking down internally and flaking off into the vitreous humour (ie. the inside of the eye). This could result in “floaters”, or could even cause the eye itself to be compromised. In a worst case scenario this could include the loss of the eye.

If ink is injected too shallow, the conjunctiva can be significantly compromised, greatly increasing the chances of both infection and ulceration. If the ink is injected too deep, the sclera itself can be compromised, penetrating or perforating the eye itself, or causing a cyst to form in the wall of the eye. Ink injected too deep or too heavily near the corneal limbus (ie. the border of the iris and the sclera) can also damage the iris sphincter muscles resulting in light sensitivity, or the ciliary muscles resulting in difficulty or inability of focusing. Permanent or semi-permanet blurry vision is possible and has happened.

** Have there been any serious complications so far?

There have been rumors of people who have compromised the structure of the eye and been blinded or fully lost the eye. As of this writing I have been unable to confirm any of these rumors and any that I’ve tracked down have turned out to be false. If someone has a serious complication I would strongly urge them to make it public, because as of this writing I can not confirm any reports of serious complications from an eyeball tattoo done via the injection method. Numerous doctors have gone on record stating the significant risk of blindness, but this is not supported by the medical literature even when involving corneal tattooing. To date no blindness or eye loss has been documented — I strongly urge those spreading such rumors to track them to their source and either confirm or deny them. There have however been cases where the complications from the tattoo may lead to blindness in the future due to damage to the tissues of the eye and/or optic nerve. Beyond acute injury leading to blindness, the most likely types of blindness related to eye tattooing are believed to develop slowly, perhaps over several decades. It is also likely that eye tattoos amplify preexisting conditions, for example a familial predisposition toward eye diseases such as glaucoma, and that it will be difficult to determine the degree to which the eye tattoo is responsible for the vision loss.

** Does eyeball tattooing increase intraocular pressure?

Even very small amounts of ink (or calcium or extra pigmented tissue in the case of diseases conditions like the Nevus of Ota which have similar issues and from which parallels can be drawn) can increase intraocular pressure (IOP) to some extent, causing a condition known as ocular hypertension. This becomes more pronounced the more ink is injected, and is much more likely in the case of over-injection. It is typically worse during the day, and various lifestyle factors can affect it. For example, it can be reduced by exercise and medication, or made worse by caffeine. Intraocular pressure also increases with age, so it is possible that problems related to pressure won’t become apparent until decades later. A long period of increased intraocular pressure, even subtle, is seen as “the most important risk factor for glaucoma”, damage to the optic nerve that can lead to blindness. In addition to potentially leading to blindness it can also be painful, feeling like a terrible headache.

** Is it possible to damage the internals of the eye?

Yes. There has been at least one case where over-injected ink has migrated through the sclera and into the vitreous humor. In the case where this happened the eye didn’t seem to want to easily accept the ink, and what did go in seemed not to spread as normal. The other eye was tattooed in the same session without any complications, but three days after the procedure the person had what they described as the worst headache of their life including blurry vision and extreme light sensitivity. Intraocular pressure was increased, and for the next year the person saw black specks in their vision as these ink particle floaters tumbled through their vision. These particles appear to have now migrated to the optic nerve, which is their current location. The optometrist that examined the eye believes that glaucoma is likely and expects some degree of vision impairment or even blindness. It is also possible in this case for alternate complications to have arisen, and perhaps most importantly it is essential to understand that while experience and skill can mitigate this risk, it can not be eliminated and it can happen even to the most experienced artists (but is much, much more likely to happen to those who don’t have years of experience working on hundreds of eyes). Finally, I again want to emphasize that if anything abnormal is observed during the procedure it should be immediately aborted.

** Can eyeball tattooing be used to change the color of the iris?

Yes, it is technically possible to do this, but it is extremely dangerous and carries with it profound risks of blindness due to occluding the pupil with ink. This could happen either during the procedure or years later as the ink gradually shifts. Eyeball tattooing should be limited to the white of the eye.

** Does eyeball tattooing hurt?

The procedure is usually not significantly painful. Most people find it much less painful than a normal tattoo, although they do find it much more frightening and stressful. For most people there is very little pain perception in the eye itself, although the inside of the eyelid can be extremely sensitive. While the pain of the needle and injection may be insignificant, some people find that the ink solution stings a great deal. However, a small percentage of people find the procedure quite painful. There has been some suggestion of a casual link between pain and complications, and it has been suggested that pain should be treated as a signal to immediately abort the procedure. In fact, any atypical response, be it pain or be it the tissue feeling “strange” or be it difficulty in the ink going in should be treated as a strong warning to abort.

** What if the person getting tattooed is nervous and can’t hold their eye still while it’s being hit with a needle?

If the client is not able to control their stress and fear response, or jerks their eye away while the procedure is being done, it greatly increases the chance of injury to the eye, either creating the known risks above (remember that the “sweet spot” is less than a millimeter thick), or creating unwanted needle-sticks in the eye and surrounding tissue — worst case this could include accidental tattooing of the cornea. While a Valium might help, only clients who are experienced with body modification and able to handle the stress of the procedure should attempt this. If a person can not keep their eye still during the procedure, the procedure should be aborted.

** Can anesthetic be used for eyeball tattooing?

Yes. Historically the medical community has rubbed cocaine on the eye to numb it. Lidocaine can also be dropped into the eye, and special anesthetic eye drops are also available, both for eye surgery and for cosmetic tattooing. However, many anesthetics can inflame or even damage the eye, and should be treated with extreme care, and not overused.

** Should spot tests be done?

In an ideal world, spot tests should always be done whenever possible. However, spot tests, applying a tiny test tattoo several weeks before tattooing the whole eye, are rarely done. However, they are advisable if using an ink with known reactivity issues or a new ink. In addition, any artists learning this procedure should begin by tattooing small test patches rather than attempting an entire eye.

** If the procedure has to be aborted, when can it be redone?

If a procedure has to be stopped for any reason, it is not safe to tattoo that eye again until the tissue is fully healed. Tattooing while the tissue is still damaged and healing greatly increases the risks and chances of complications. At least three months should be allowed to pass between sessions.

** Why do some people get staining of the skin around or under the eye?

The exact mechanism for surrounding tissue staining is not known. It has been suggested excess ink trapped under the eyelids is being pulled into the normal cleaning mechanisms and/or the tear ducts and then traveling into the surrounding tissue and staining it, but this is unlikely as if this was the mechanism, it would also be seen in cosmetic tattooing when doing eyeliner, or when tattooing around the eyes in general. It is more likely that excess ink at the edges of the eye (but successfully under the conjunctiva) is traveling under the conjunctiva and out into the surrounding tissue. The conjunctiva does not wrap around the entire eye, but folds back into the eyelid, so it is possible for ink in the eye to migrate out into surrounding tissue. Because this staining appears to happen much more often with some practitioners than with others, it is almost certainly related to some aspect of the procedure, rather than being random or uncontrollable. Due to the mobility of the ink, staining of the skin can continue spreading for weeks or months after the procedure, and perhaps more. It is possible that a majority of eye tattoos will eventually leak out into the surrounding tissue. Usually staining is limited to the face and in the immediate vicinity of the eye, but there have been cases where ink has migrated from the eyeball as far as the torso!

** Why do some people spit out or have inky tears?

Some people will spit out ink, or wake up with tears of ink on their face for a year or more after the procedure. This appears to be ink migrating out from under the edges of the conjunctiva and entering the sinuses and/or the tear ducts and other body systems.

** Can anything be done about lumpy eyes? Does this go down in time?

Once they have been done, they have to be tolerated. There is no known way to alleviate the issue. Attempting to massage or compress them or otherwise disperse the ink risks damaging the structure of the eye. They may go down very slightly with time, but not much in most cases. Once the ink is in the eye, there is no way to get it out other than slow natural migration, which can not be controlled. Even if the practitioner over-injects and tries to withdraw the ink on that very insertion by reversing the plunger on the syringe, the ink will not come back out of the eye.

** Is it true that some people develop light sensitivity?

Yes, a number of people have expressed light sensitivity. There are two prevailing theories for what is causing this, the first being that it is a simple psychosomatic side-effect of pain. The other possibility is that the injured eye, perhaps due to the pressure of the ink interfering with the action of the iris sphincter muscles, is less able to constrict the pupil.

** Is it true that some people develop vision problems like blurriness?

There have been a small number of confirmed cases of long-term blurry vision after eyeball tattooing, but the mechanism is not well understood. It is possible that pressure or irritation from the ink could interfere with the ciliary muscles that control the shape of the lens, which would result in difficulty focusing the eye. Injecting too deep could damage these muscles more directly or severely.

** Can you see your own eye tattoo?

You can not see your own scleral eyeball tattoo (except in the mirror). The ink is not in the field of vision, nor should it penetrate the sclera and “tint” or otherwise obscure vision. Corneal tattoos might be visible in rare circumstances.

** What are the long term risks?

The long term risks are completely unknown. While the eye has evolved to handle some buildup of calcium underneath the conjunctiva with normal ageing, it has not evolved to handle significant contamination by a foreign substance — in fact, the conjunctiva exists to protect the eye from this happening, and the eye contains an efficient self-cleaning system to eliminate contaminants. By injecting ink under the conjunctiva we bypass these systems and make it impossible for the eye to remove the ink. There is no similar procedure in the historical record, and as of this writing the oldest eye tattoos are five years old, and some eye tattoos are in teenagers that will need to wear them for a lifetime. It is impossible to predict whether their eye will react after having the ink there for fifty or more years. Personally I don’t expect there to be complications in eyeball tattoos that are well-healed and stable in the short term, but I am simply making an educated guess. It is possible, for example, that the ink will very slowly wear away at the structure of the eye, compromising it in the future. It is also possible that in time the ink could shift to cover the pupil, partially blinding the wearer.

It is also possible that some forms of ink could break down chemically over time — everyone has seen how tattoos in the skin break down over time (changing color slightly, and so on). In normal skin, the body has mechanisms such as the lymphomatic system for carrying away these no longer compatible substances. However, in the eye there is no such system, so it is difficult to predict what complications, if any, could arise. It is important to understand that these are uncharted waters, and while I hope and believe everything will turn out fine, I could be very, very wrong. It is important to understand that it is possible that one will have problems up to and including blindness in the future. This is especially important to understand due to the irreversibly of the procedure. Normal aging of the eye also cause problems to appear decades after the procedure, both due to localized calcification and age-related structural changes and weakening, and because intraocular pressure increases with age.

** Are all of the risks known?

No. Eyeball tattooing is still a new and experimental procedure. Whereas humans have been tattooing normal skin for at least ten thousand years, eyeball tattoos of this type have only been done for five years as of this writing, and only a few hundred people have had it done, if that. That is not enough time or a large enough sample size to comprehensively understand the risks. There are many rarer risks that may exist that we simply have not seen yet for example. Anyone considering an eyeball tattoo is considering gambling with their health.

** How will eyeball tattoos affect my life?

They say the eyes are the window to the soul. This isn’t just a poetic amusement — the eyes are a significant part of how humans communicate. Having tattooed eyes potentially alters ones relationship with the world in ways that are difficult to predict or relate to until you have done it. Some people will like it, but the vast majority will not. Every interaction you have with other people — and perhaps even with animals — will be altered or thrown off balance.

Far more than any other modifications — including socially extreme mods like facial implants and tattoos — eyeball tattoos make one an outsider and mark one as “different”. While this might be desirable at some points of ones life, especially during a young rebellious “phase”, it is important to understand that this decision is permanent. A significant percentage of people with stretched ears are now having them reversed — all people who would once have sworn they were committed for life. But when they realized the impact that stretched ears had on their life, on their income potential, or even on their children’s lives (prejudice from teachers, other kid’s parents not inviting your child to birthday parties, and so on), they decide to become more “normal”. It is impossible to do this with eyeball tattoos because they are irreversible.

It is very important to understand that getting eyeball tattoos almost guarantees a much more difficult life, a life that is socially challenging and isolating, the possibility of greatly reduced salary and lifetime income (and the loss of all the opportunities that come with having money), and also that your children if you have them will have to also carry this burden to some extent. It is possible to live a wonderful life with eyeball tattoos. For some people the pros far outweigh the cons. Some people will revel in it, and some might have lives where they barely notice it. But it’s not easy, it’s a big lifelong commitment, and it should be taken very seriously.

In addition to the social consequences it is also important to understand that it is theoretically possible that one day something could go seriously wrong, resulting in the partial or complete loss of vision due to the eyeball tattoo and the damage it does to your anatomy.

** Can the eye be tattooed more than once?

Multiple sessions are possible, although the eye should be allowed to heal between them as tattooing an injured/healing eye increases the chances of complications and reduces the chance of success. Multiple sessions allow the tattoo to be slowly and carefully built up over time, which can be useful for complex multicolor designs, for slowly filling an eye section by section to keep the amount of ink used to a minimum, or even to cover-up or change the color of the tattoo, although this is advised against because the more ink that’s added the more complications are likely.

** How can eyeball tattoos be removed or covered up?

It is assumed that it is impossible for eyeball tattoos to be removed. Laser tattoo removal works by using a laser to damage the ink particles so that the body’s immune system can transport them away to be excreted. The mechanism for doing this in the eye is different than in the skin, so the broken down ink might be difficult for the body to remove, and the result would be very unattractive. However there are some diseases that cause scleral discoloration that can be treated in this way so it may actually be possible to some extent. You’ve probably heard it said that laser tattoo removal can be much more painful than the initial tattooing. That’s because it is an invasive and destructive process. Using this on an eye would be extremely risky and has the potential of injuring the structure of the eye (or worse). Similarly, surgical excision of the tattoo — where in a normal tattoo the skin would be peeled back and the tattoo essentially scraped off — is not a safe option on an eye. Any attempts to remove an eye tattoo are likely to have disastrous consequences to the person’s eye, to say nothing of being unlikely to have an aesthetically positive result.

As far as attempting to cover up and hide the tattoo with, for example, white ink to cover it, this will not work to the desired effect. It is unlikely that adding more ink will do anything but slightly lighten the current color. In addition, great care would have to be taken to inject a minimum amount of ink so as to avoid over-injection, which also reduces the chances of hiding the tattoo. However, it is to some extent possible to darken an existing tattoo or change its color to a darker or additive tone (for example, changing a yellow eye to green), as long as care is taken not to over-inject.

There is also no artificial method of covering an eyeball tattoo short of an eye patch or dark sunglasses. Scleral contact lenses — contacts that cover the entire eye — do exist, but they are uncomfortable and not safe to wear for more than a few hours at a time.

** Is the tattoo permanent or will it slowly fade over time?

While some loss of ink is possible during the healing period, assuming that the ink used is biologically stable (and virtually all tattoo inks these days are), it should look essentially the same for the rest of the wearer’s life. It is possible that eye disease or calcification could slightly alter the appearance of the sclera in old age, but it will not significantly obscure the tattoo. It is important to note however, that this answer, as with many of the answers in this FAQ, are simply “best guesses” extrapolated from the current limited understanding of this artform. It is possible, although unlikely, that eye tattoos could change significantly over time, or even migrate out almost completely. For example, it is possible that almost all eye tattoos will eventually leak out significantly from the conjunctiva, either losing their ink or staining the surrounding tissue.

** Is there any way to do a temporary eye tattoo that lasts only for a year or two?

No. This is not possible, and attempting to tattoo an eye with a biologically volatile ink that would break down over time would not be safe in an eye. Proposed short term inks and inks that break down more easily with laser treatment are not suitable or safe for use in an eyeball tattoo.

** How can I get training to learn how to do the procedure?

Contact the most experienced artists performing the procedure. Howie (, the developer of the procedure and the most experienced at it, has begun teaching and giving seminars on eyeball tattooing and as I write this is the onley person with the background to do so. If you try and teach yourself, you will almost certainly make mistakes as you repeat a development cycle that does not need to be repeated. I would strongly urge anyone considering performing this procedure to take all responsible steps required.

** Should artists practise on dead animal eyes?

Practising tattooing on a dead eye to learn how to tattoo a living eye is about as useful as tattooing a dead chicken to learn how to tattoo living people. It will give some small level of hands-on familiarity with the anatomy, and it will help give experience with the mechanics of the syringe, which is much more difficult than it may seem. Any training or practise is good of course, but it’s also important not to have a false sense of security. A dead eye is very different from a living twitching person, in part because the tissue changes after death, but also because a living eye becomes a moving target. It’s also important to understand that the mobility of the ink in a dead eye is generally quite different from a living eye.

** What kind of ink is used for eyeball tattooing?

In general tattoo ink, with some people expressing a preference for single-serving sterile tattoo ink. However, due to concerns about the safety of injecting glycerin and other chemicals in the liquid suspension, other formulae have been attempted, with the goal being to inject an appropriate amount of solid powdered inert pigment in a safe inert liquid that won’t have an adverse effect on the eye and can easily be flushed out. Some artists use propriety ink solutions of their own creation. Doctors traditionally have used India Ink with good results, and true black India Ink is the only type of ink that has enough medical testing behind it to call it appropriate for use in the eye. All other tattoo inks are specifically not for use in the eye. Practitioners should always check the full ingredient lists and relevant MSDS sheets and any other available information. A variety of inks have been tried, and determining the best option is still in development.

** Are there any kinds of ink that should not be used?

To date, increased rates of complications and allergic response have been observed with UV-glow and red ink. These inks may be safe for some people but not for others. For inks like this spot tests are highly advised. However, it’s important to understand that a spot test going well doesn’t mean that a full eye will be successful, both because the full eye may push the body past its thresholds of tolerance, and because there may be problems that do not show up immediately.

** Can the eye be tattooed with white ink?

Some people have asked whether it would be possible to create an “ultra-white” eye, without veins perhaps. This is not possible. White ink is unlikely to significantly change the color of the eye, and if anything is more likely to induce problems and make the eye look more unhealthy rather than more white. However, there may be some medical conditions involving discoloration of the sclera which could be covered up with white ink (but corrective medical procedures like this are illegal in ill-advised for untrained body artists to be doing). It should also be noted that many colors of tattoo ink include white to make them lighter. This is important when tattooing on skin, because skin is not white, even in light-skinned people. However, the eye is white, not some variation on pink-yellowish-olive-brown, so this white is seen by some artists as reduntant, and believe that by watering down the ink or using less of it rather than by tattooing with a mix of dark color and white, they reduce the risks involved by reducing the trauma on the eye.

** How does the ink move in the eye?

When thinking about the design of an eyeball tattoo, it is important to understand that the ink is extremely mobile under the surface and can remain mobile indefinitely, although the vast majority of the movement is in the first few days. This creates unique design limitations and options that are different from a normal tattoo — think of it like drawing on wet paper with a marker. A single spot of ink that is placed at the correct level, between the sclera and the conjunctiva, will be most saturated in the area immediately around the injection point, but will spread to some degree over the entire surface of the eye, usually just a small haze though rather than a small color. This motion is most obvious vertically, probably due to a combination of “massage” from the action of blinking and also gravity. If ink is placed above the eye it will pool and build up along the top of the iris as it hits the corneal limbus. With light applications this can result in a dark patch, and with heavy applications this can result in complications. Eye tattoos will continue to even out over many years, and depending on the ink and the person, may even fade as the ink slowly leaks out of the eye into surrounding tissue, which it may or may not stain in the process. Ink that doesn’t move, or stays tightly defined may be indicative of a problem (although it doesn’t have to be). The type of pigment and carrier will also affect the mobility of the ink.

** What is the smallest eye tattoo that can be done?

It is possible to tattoo a tiny dot about the size of the smallest dot one could easily draw with a normal ball-point pen. However, it is extremely difficult to regulate the size of the dot, and since the ink may migrate or spread, it is impossible to predict the outcome or size and shape exactly.

** What are the different color/design options?

There are four basic designs that people have done. First and most simply are small single spots. Next, tattoos done with the smallest amount of link with a preference for thinner inks can give one a hazy, marbled eye, almost as if the eye is glistening with a given color. Adding more ink gives one a solid eye with relatively uniform color across the eye. Finally, multicolor tattoos allow for simple designs or gradients. It is extremely important that any artist attempting multicolor work have a strong understanding of the way ink moves. Also, whenever possible each color should be done separately over as long a period of time as possible to give the most control over the design. Finally, it is important to understand that because of the long-term mobility of the ink, it is possible for the colors to blend and equalize over time, losing any design into an even blur. Because of this, it’s generally a good idea to use compatible colors that can be mixed — contrasting colors could have an unpleasant aesthetic effect. Finally, there are a small number of inks that are chemically incompatible and can have unexpected results when combined. It is doubly important that proper research is done into the chemistry of the inks being used.

** Are there any additional issues or risks in doing a multicolor eyeball tattoo?

Doing eye tattoos in multiple colors requires a more experienced understanding of the way ink moves under the surface of the eye. Only experienced practitioners should attempt procedures like this. Especially with difficult patterns such as radial gradients, much finer control of the ink is required. In addition, more injections will likely be required, which increases the standard risks and healing time. Multi-color eyeball tattoos exponentially increase all of the risks, and should only be attempted once the practioner has done a large number of standard eyeball tattoos. In addition, complex tattoos like this which require larger numbers of injections should be split into multiple procedures separated by at least several months to allow the eye to heal.

** Do different people’s eyes behave differently?

There is a great deal of variability from eye to eye. The rate at which ink is absorbed, the way in which the layers separate, the pain response, healing rate, response to complications, and so on, is very different from person to person. Even different areas of a person’s eye may respond very differently. Some of this can be seen with a careful visual inspection of the eye and may appea as slight discoloration or abnormal texture, which may turn out to be an area that is tightly adhered and unable to accept ink at all. It is also important to note that not all eyes can be safely tattooed, for example eyes where injury or genetics has caused the conjunctiva to be tightly attached to the sclera. Attempting to force ink into such eyes or regions is likely to cause complications, and unlikely to introduce ink. A great practitioner isn’t one that can tattoo anything — a great practitioner is often the one that knows who shouldn’t be tattooed.