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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Are Sharpie Tattoos Safe?

By January 10, 2013

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Have you ever wondered whether it's safe to write on yourself with a Sharpie marker or use a Sharpie to make fake tattoos? Would it surprise you to learn some tattoo artists work out a design using Sharpies before inking it?

Sharpie and Your Skin

According to Sharpie's blog, markers that bear the ACMI "non-toxic" seal have been tested and deemed safe for art, even by children, but this does not include body art, such as drawing eyeliner, filling in tattoos or making temporary tattoos. The company does not recommend using the markers on skin. In order to bear the ACMI seal a product must undergo toxicological testing for the Arts and Creative Materials Institute. The testing is concerned with inhalation and ingestion of the materials and not absorption into the bloodstream, which could occur if chemicals in the marker permeate the skin or enter the body through broken skin.

Sharpie Ingredients

Sharpie pens may contain n-propanol, n-butanol, diacetone alcohol and cresol. Although n-propanol is considered safe enough to be used in cosmetics, the other solvents may cause reactions or other health effects.

Three types of Sharpie markers contain xylene (see MSDS), a chemical capable of causing nervous system and organ damage. Only the King Size Sharpie, Magnum Sharpie and Touch-Up Sharpie contain this chemical.

Some tattooist use Sharpies to draw designs on the skin, but at least one professional warns against using the red markers because the ink sometimes causes problems with the healed tattoos, sometimes long after the tattoo has been inked.

Removing a Sharpie Tattoo

For the most part, it's the solvents in the ink of a Sharpie pen that present a health concern more than the pigments, so once you've drawn on yourself and the ink has dried, there is not a lot more risk from the product. It appears reactions to the pigments are uncommon. The pigment only penetrates the top layers of skin, so the ink will wear off within a few days. If you wish to remove the Sharpie ink rather than let it wear off, you can apply mineral oil (e.g., baby oil) to loosen the pigment molecules. Most of the color will wash away with soap and water once the oil has been applied.

Additional Resources

Tattoo Ink Chemistry
Tattoo Ink Carrier Chemistry
Tattoo Ink Safety Concerns
Red Ink and Tattoo Reactions
MRI Reaction with Tattoos
How Tattoo Removal Works

Comments

October 8, 2012 at 9:11 pm
(1) Hannah says:

I am a ridiculously forgetful person, and I write on the back of my hand in sharpie all the time. Pretty much any kind of lotion works for removal, or just scrubbing it for a while with soap and water.

April 23, 2013 at 9:35 pm
(2) Caitlin says:

Hand sanitizer, perfume, and rubbing alcohol also work really well to take it off, the first two especially if you wanna remove what you drew at school before you get home.

September 26, 2013 at 10:13 pm
(3) me says:

I’ve heard that sharpie also comes off with hairspray

November 20, 2013 at 11:39 pm
(4) Noah says:

Obviously if its safe enough to be digested (which means it can enter the bloodstream) then it will be OK through the skin. And unless its in large quantities it really isn’t a problem. Its all about quantity.

January 12, 2014 at 12:31 pm
(5) Jam says:

Hair spray doesn’t help take it off rather it makes it stay longer

February 21, 2014 at 10:28 am
(6) Sarah says:

The ACMI website is very informative on the matter. Art materials are not evaluated for cosmetic use. That is the FDA.

March 9, 2014 at 8:28 pm
(7) Kk says:

I once colored both my arms and face completely with all different sharpies and I was fine but if u rub it while trying to get it of now THAT bad cuz then it could go through a spore into the body

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