People Are Paying Thousands To Tattoo Their Eyes

Permanently Changing Your Eye Colour Is Taking Over TikTok

by Verity Clark |
Updated on

Would you tattoo your eyes? It sounds like a question for closing time at the pub, a casual game of ‘would you rather’. Love or hate body art, injecting ink into our eyes is a whole different (eye) ball game, sorry. And - I’m hazarding a guess here -   few of us have considered, let alone committed to, tattooing our eyes. Except, they have. Eye tattooing, or keratopigmentation, has seen an uptick in popularity.  The surgical procedure that permanently alters the colour of eyes is the latest in a seemingly ever evolving list of ways to engage in body metamorphosis that has caught the attention of social media. Videos of the eye colouring technique are doing the rounds on TikTok - quelle surprise - and frankly, the only thing I’m doing with my eyes is rolling them.

If you thought non-medical weight loss drugs and over zealous lip filler were the tip of the body manipulation iceberg, think again. ‘Keratopigmentation involves using a needle - or a laser - to create space in the cornea itself. A pigment is then injected which permanently changes the cornea,’ explains Dr Elizabeth Hawkes, an oculoplastic and ophthalmic surgeon (an eye wizard to you and me). Yikes.

As with most cosmetic procedures keratopigmentation started life as a medical miracle. ‘It is a unique cosmetic solution for corneal leucomas (white eyes often seen in blind eyes) and also for other pathological changes affecting cornea or iris with the goal to improve the appearance of the affected eye,’ explains Dr Maryam Zamani. The oculoplastic surgeon is a fan of the procedure for patients with medical issues such as aniridia (the absences of an iris) and corneal leukoma. ‘Corneal tattooing is an easy, practical and repeatable method used for aesthetic purposes.’ However, she’s quick to point out that her use of the term ‘aesthetic purposes’ doesn’t imply vanity. Citing this type of surgery as a brilliant option for patients that are ‘unable to use prosthetic contact lenses, for whom evisceration surgery is complicated and is usually performed on a non-seeing eye.’

In a sad twist of irony, while used medically to aid those with impaired sight, blindness is one of the side effects of keratopigmentation as a cosmetic procedure. A tattoo model, who goes by the moniker Amber Luke, hit headlines when she experienced three weeks without vision after having blue ink injected into her eyes. She told Barcroft TV: I can’t even begin to describe to you what the feeling was like, the best thing I can give you is once the eyeball was penetrated with the ink, it felt like [the tattoo artist] grabbed 10 shards of glass and rubbed it in my eye.’

A warning for the ages, right? Apparently not. Four years after her botched surgery the Instagram star is attempting to change the colour of her eyes for a second time. ‘I’m adding two pin points of black ink to each eyeball. It will look kind of like a nebula galaxy effect.’ she told Triple M WA breakfast host Robbie Von.

Luke is not alone. At the Keratopigmentation clinic in Paris Dr Cyril Maillon has performed over 1000 procedures. Currently the procedure is not available in the UK for cosmetic reasons alone. ‘It has not undergone enough research on safety and long term outcomes,’ Dr Hawkes tells me. But in Europe keratopigmentation has been around for over a decade and in America it’s gaining memento. New York City is fast becoming the go-to place for a chameleon-esque corneal change. For the causal sum of $12,000 the Kerato clinic in midtown New York will transform your eye colour in just 20 minutes.

So, why the interest in a colour conversion from the eyes we were genetically blessed with? Dr Jorge Alió, a spanish surgeon who performs keratopigmentation, recently told Allure that patients come to him for cosmetic reasons but “they are cosmetic based on family issues, psychological problems, social problems.” He gave an example of brides whose husbands hadn’t seen their eyes without colour contacts and didn’t want to ruin the illusion come the wedding night.

Look, I’m all for individual expression but are eyes as bright as galaxies worth the potential risk of never being able to see the stars? ‘With purely cosmetic surgeries on the eye, it’s just not worth the risk when it comes to your vision,’ implores Dr Hawkes. ‘This procedure is intraocular (inside the eye) and therefore carries risks to eyesight causing blindness.’ That’s not the only thing you need to look out (of your perfectly acceptable blue / brown / green eyes) for. ‘Other risks include infection, inflammation, bleeding, cataract formation, raised pressure in the eye and swelling of the cornea.’

But it’s 2024 and even these very real dangers aren’t enough to put people off their pursuit of husky blue and mercury grey eyes - a quick Instagram search of keratopigmentation reveals these to be the hues du jour. Eye tattooing, and its increased visibility, signals that we still haven’t reached the limits of body modifications.

There is even a safe way to change the colour of your eyes. Coloured contact lenses. Although Hawkes warns that good contact hygiene is necessary to avoid infection. ‘Don’t sleep, shower, or swim in your lenses,’ she warns.

The permanent dyeing of your eyes is extreme and the stakes are high. When it comes to dye, the only thing I’ll be reaching for is the stuff that colours my hair.

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