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For his eyes only: Delhi man with tattooed eyeballs on what makes him tick

‘Sclera staining’ is a procedure in which ink is permanently injected into the whites of the eyes.

india Updated: Oct 09, 2017 17:16 IST
Nisheeth Upadhyay
Karan, a Delhi-based professional tattoo artist, underwent a surgery called ‘sclera staining’ in which ink is permanently injected into the whites of the eyes.
Karan, a Delhi-based professional tattoo artist, underwent a surgery called ‘sclera staining’ in which ink is permanently injected into the whites of the eyes.(Special arrangement/Karan)

A Canadian woman was partially blinded recently when she tried to get her eyes tattooed. She called it a “massive mistake.” Delhi resident Karan has a different story to tell about eyeball tattoos.

Karan, a professional tattoo artist who goes by only one name, underwent a surgery called ‘sclera staining’ in which ink is permanently injected into the whites of the eyes. An eye specialist in New York told him the surgery was highly risky and would be painful, but he chose to get it done.

“If the needle is inside the eye and you move your eyeballs the sclera membrane will tear and the eye can be gone forever,” says Karan, 28.

“The ink is injected inside the sclera membrane, which is very thin and next to invisible to naked eye at certain spots in particular angles. The level of penetration (has to be) extremely precise because it’s dangerous if over- or underdone,” says Karan about the eyeball tattoo that cost him “lakhs of rupees”. He has multiple piercings, ear modifications and half his body tattooed.

“One can’t go in sunlight without sunglasses. The eyes remain watery (some burning sensation) and tear drops fall on their own for a week. Some serious dedication and commitment is required even during the healing process. It’s like multiple burning syringes being inserted in your eyes.”

An Australian expert worked on Karan’s eyeball tattoos in New York on September 18. “(It) took a few hours and multiple injections in both eyes. Then after giving rest for two days, we did another session.”

“I knew if performed perfectly, it will be successful,” said Karan, who uses only one name.

Karan got his first tattoo when he was 13 and began making tattoos for others three years later. “My full-body suit tattoo is in progress after which I will have only one tattoo head to finger and toe tips.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has detailed a case in which ink injected into the sclera reached the innermost layer of the cornea and the retina, causing painful damage to the eye.

Luna Cobra, who claims to be the inventor of the art, has a warning on his website: “I personally have not trained anyone else to do this procedure. I have appeared on various tv/news segments though, and have inspired many copycats worldwide. This is important to know because without the proper education, training, experience and guidance, these practitioners have caused vision impairments like blurred vision, spots or floaters, and even blindness. Yes, people are now blind from eyeball tattooing.”

Canadian Catt Gallinger attempted to get a “sclera tattoo” last month but has said it turned out to be a “massive mistake.” Gallinger said in a Facebook post that her eye was damaged because an “inexperienced tattoo artist” injected an oversized syringe too deep.

Karan calls Gallinger’s experience “horrible and very tragic” but believes that happened because “people who are trying to do everything but they know nothing”.

He planned the eye tattoo for a year and is happy with the attention he is getting. “I knew it was coming so I’m not surprised rather contented and confident...”

The tattoo artist has some word of advice for those interested in the getting their eyeballs inked: “One has to be 100% certain if he/she wants to go for this life-changing risky procedure on which there is not even any study. We have to sign a legal document which clearly says if there is any disaster -- the artist is not responsible, since it’s a hit and try.”

The American Optometric Association condemns the procedure, saying it puts people at risk of infection, inflammation and blindness, according to the BBC. Several US states have debated banning eyeball tattoos.