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Eyeball tattooing is the practice of injecting pigment directly into the eyeball to improve vision or as a form of cosmetic reconstruction for people with damage to the eye. The procedure is used sparingly by eye doctors because it can lead to infection, hemorrhages, or even blindness. There have been some reports of people using eyeball tattooing to achieve a desired cosmetic effect. After these reports, some states in the United States passed laws to make eyeball tattooing illegal unless performed by a doctor.
To complete an eyeball tattoo, a tattoo artist or doctor injects needles full of ink into the cornea. The cornea is the transparent lens that covers the eye. Puncturing the cornea can cause eye pain or blindness. It may also cause corneal erosion, a condition that leads to severe eye pain and light sensitivity. In people who have this condition, the outermost layer of the cornea loses its connection with the underlying membrane.
There are several conditions of the eye that can be treated using corneal tattooing. In some cases, adding more color to the eye can improve vision. Eyeball tattooing is sometimes performed on people with albinism, a disorder that causes lack of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes. Without color, the eye is overly sensitive to light, making vision difficult. Eyeball tattooing can lessen the light sensitivity and thus improve vision.
Eyeball tattooing is also used as a reconstructive cosmetic surgery for people who have an injury or condition that causes corneal scarring. The scar makes an area of the eye turn opaque. This milky coloration can be disconcerting to others. Eyeball tattooing can fill in the areas of lost color, returning eyes to their pre-damage appearance. Due to the dangers associated with corneal tattooing, it is generally only recommended for patients who have already lost their vision.
In 2008, several media outlets reported that a man from Toronto, Canada, was the first person to get an eyeball tattoo. Though this was a well-publicized case of eyeball tattooing purely for the cosmetic effect of body modification, the claim that he was the first is not accurate. Corneal tattooing as a medical treatment, cosmetic eyeball tattooing has actually been performed for thousands of years. The Roman philosopher and physician Galen of Pergamum is often credited with being the first man to describe the process of eyeball tattooing and medical uses for the procedure.