Washington state lawmakers looking to ban eyeball tattoos

Lawmakers in Washington state are looking to ban the rare practice of eyeball tattoos because of potential damage inflicted on one's eyesight.

The tattoos are known as scleral tattoos because they scratch or dye the white outer layer of the eyeball, but not the cornea. Problems in a few instances have been significant, including a Canadian model who lost her sight during a botched session.

"There’s a real high risk of damaging your eyesight and your eye,” said Democratic Rep. Steve Tharinge, the bill’s sponsor. “The optometrists and ophthalmologists are very concerned about this going on and people taking risks they shouldn’t with their eyesight."

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The bill would outright ban the practice and provide penalties of up to $10,000 for those who are caught giving a scleral tattoo, MyNorthwest.com reported.

“The strict definition of tattooing is the introduction of pigment to the surface of the skin,” said James Hillary, a Seattle-based tattoo artist. “But (scleral tattooing), from what I understand, is an injection of pigment using a hypodermic syringe. So it’s actually using medical devices to inject pigment into the white of the eyeball.”

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Optometrists first reached out to state lawmakers about proposing the legislation, Tharinge said, according to the Spokesman-Review in Spokane.

Two states – Oklahoma and Indiana – already ban the tattoos, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The state House committee in Olympia is scheduled to vote on the bill Friday.