Corneal tattooing is the process of tattooing the human eye’s cornea. It is done for cosmetic and medicinal purposes, such as to enhance a patient’s vision after iris damage or to decrease glare, halos, ghost images, or light sensitivity.
Galen, a Roman Empire physician from 2nd century Greece, was the first to discuss corneal tattooing. This was done to hide the glaucomatous opacities of the eye and give it a more natural appearance. Physicians at the time would cauterize the corneal surface with a hot stilet (a thin medical probe) before applying the powdered nutgalls and iron dye to the eye (so-called iron gall ink). In 450 AD, Aetius (a Byzantine physician and medical writer) mentions the same treatment. We didn’t hear of corneal tattooing again until the nineteenth century.
The new procedure was established in 1869 by oculoplastic surgeon Louis Von Wecker (also known as De Wecker). He used cocaine to anesthetize the eye and then coated it with a thick ink coating (he used e black ink, India ink, or China ink for this). He would then use a grooved needle to pierce the cornea and inject the ink into it. This had a big impact on corneal tattooing, but it was enhanced much more. Taylor sped up the procedure by using a bundle of needles rather than just one. In 1901, Nieden created a tattooing pen that also functioned as a fountain pen. Armagnac, who was also a doctor, utilized a funnel to make a perfectly round pupil.
Many various approaches and tools are used in today’s procedures. Some people still utilize a century-old method of applying ink on the cornea and then inserting a needle to bring the ink inside. Some people use a three-edged spatula needle coated with ink, while others use a needle to inject the eye first, then a Daviel curet to rub in ink. Indian ink, powdered metallic hues, organic dyes, and pigment from animal eyeballs are still inks.
Scleral tattooing, or tattooing on the white of the eye, is another option. It is done by injecting ink under the surface of the white of the eye using needles or a syringe loaded with ink solution, like in traditional tattooing.
Corneal tattooing, like everything else, has benefits and drawbacks. Advantages are returning the near-natural look of the eyes in case of corneal opacities and short recovery time.
The downsides are that the process is difficult to conduct and that there are hazards involved. Because the operation is difficult to do exactly, people can go blind if they see before the ink fills the entire eye. If the outcome isn’t ideal, the tattooing will have to be redone.
The tattoo might make it seem like something is in your eye and cause redness. The tattoo may fade over time. Keratoplasty procedures and colored contact lenses can be used instead of tattooing corneal grafts.