Ink Poisoning: Possibilities, Symptoms & Treatment (2023)

When most people think of ink poisoning, they imagine someone swallowing ink from a pen. If you’ve consumed ink — for instance, by chewing on the end of a pen and getting ink in your mouth — you don’t need to be overly concerned.

According to a publication by the World Health Organization (WHO), “ball-point pens, felt-tip pens, and fountain pens contain so little ink that there is not enough to cause poisoning if it is sucked from a pen. Some inks may cause soreness in the mouth. Large amounts of ink swallowed from a bottle could be an irritant, but serious poisoning has not been reported.”

The WHO suggests drinking water if you’ve swallowed ink and indicates that there’s no need to do anything else.

Ink from pens, markers, highlighters, etc., is considered minimally toxic and in such a small quantity that it’s commonly not a poisoning concern.

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Symptoms are typically a stained skin or tongue and, although unlikely, mild stomach upset.

Because of the amount of ink in printer cartridges and stamp pads, seek medical attention if the ink from one of these sources has been consumed.

Ink poisoning doesn’t occur from drawing on your skin. Ink may temporarily stain your skin, but it will not poison you.

Unlike skin, eye irritation from ink is a common problem. If you believe you got ink in your eye, try rinsing the irritated eye with cool water until the discomfort is gone.

Although the white part of your eye may be stained temporarily, ink in your eye is unlikely to cause permanent or long-term complications. If the irritation continues or if you have blurred vision, see your doctor.

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Ink poisoning and tattoos

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According to a 2015 poll of 2,225 U.S. adults, 29 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo and of those people, 69 percent have 2 or more.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicates that when getting a tattoo, while you should be on the lookout for unhygienic practices and equipment that hasn’t been sterilized, ink should also be a concern.

Tattoo ink or dye that’s contaminated with mold or bacteria can result in infections.

Tattoo ink is considered to be a cosmetic product by the FDA. There are no pigments (ingredients that add color) for injection into the skin for cosmetic purposes that have FDA approval.

Tattoo allergic reaction and infection

After getting a tattoo you might notice a rash in the area. It could be an allergic reaction or an infection.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the pigments most likely to cause allergic skin reactions are:

  • red
  • yellow
  • green
  • blue

An aggressive infection could have symptoms, such as:

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Treating an infected tattoo typically includes antibiotics but could require hospitalization or surgery.

What should you do if you have a reaction to tattoo ink?

The first step is to contact your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. The diagnosis could determine if the reaction is to the ink or other conditions, such as unhygienic application.

Your next step is to talk to the tattoo artist for two reasons:

  1. Your doctor may need detail on the ink, such as color, brand, and batch number.
  2. Your tattoo artist will want to identify the ink so it’s not used again.

Talk to your doctor about reporting the incident to the FDA, so safety information can be updated and disseminated.


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The ink from pens and markers is considered minimally toxic and it’s difficult to be exposed to large quantities of it. Thus, the likelihood that you’ll get ink poisoning by ingesting ink from a pen or getting some on your skin or in your eye is slight.

The likelihood of getting poisoned by tattoo ink has more to do with the safety practices and cleanliness of the tattoo artist and shop than the ink itself.


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