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Sharpie is a brand we artists know and love for its provision of potentially the best ink markers and pens for their price point. Sharpies see extensive use in both art and in utility, often finding their way into the stationery bags of school kids who tend to be particularly fond of using these markers to draw temporary tattoos on their skin. Even actual tattoo artists use sharpies to transpose an image onto their clients’ skin before applying the needle. With all this contact to skin, you might ask yourself “are sharpies toxic?” Well, here you will find your answer. If you would like to learn more about Sharpies, their ingredients, and the health risks associated with them, stick around because we are going to cover this topic in much more detail below. Continue reading to find out more about the specific parameters that may lead to toxic exposure to Sharpie markers and similar products.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Are Sharpies?
- 2 Are Sharpies Toxic?
- 3 Is It Bad to Draw on Yourself With Sharpie?
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Sharpies?
First introduced all the way back in 1964, Sharpies are a brand of permanent markers and other writing instruments that have been taking the world by storm for the last 58 years. For nearly six decades now, Newell Brands, the company responsible for the production of Sharpies, has steadily released top-quality permanent markers fit for all sorts of artistic, writing, and household activities.
Today, Sharpie is a trusted household name in the international stationery industry and its products are used by people of all ages. But, as a product often used on skin, it may be worth knowing where it stands in terms of toxicity and potential exposure to harmful chemicals through its use.
The inspiration for this article’s topic stems from one of the many popular uses for sharpies, in particular, this being the fact that these permanent markers are commonly used to create temporary tattoo art on the surface of skin. While this is mostly done for fun, tattoo artists use sharpies and other similar markers to apply stencils to the skin of their clients.
There is a good chance that, at some point in your life, either your parents or teachers have attempted to inform you about the potential health risks associated with drawing ink onto your skin. The argument typically comprises the simple explanation that ink can be absorbed into your bloodstream through your skin, thus leading to illnesses and diseases.
And, if you are here reading this now, you are probably interested in discovering whether or not such statements have any merit. If such is the case, then you have found yourself in the right place. Allow us to break down the legitimacy of the toxicity dangers presented by sharpies as proven by empirical evidence. So, are Sharpies toxic? Is it bad to draw on yourself with Sharpie? Can you get ink poisoning from a Sharpie? Let us find out.
Are Sharpies Toxic?
The short answer is yes, but this would be reductive. Exposure to the chemicals present in Sharpies can cause ink poisoning, among other health issues. Some Sharpie products also contain xylene, a solvent chemical that is known to affect several bodily systems, including respiratory and cardiovascular.
However, the overall risk of harmful exposure is considerably low. So low, in fact, that there are too few recorded cases of harmful exposure to Sharpie chemicals to determine a scientifically legitimate correlation with critical hazards or significant effects.
Although you are advised by Newell Brands to not use their Sharpie markers on human skin, the risk of causing a serious epidermal reaction through topical exposure is low. That being said, some people may develop a rash in response to Sharpie ink being applied directly to their skin. Although, this sort of reaction is typically nucleated to the point of contact and disappears without treatment. Sharpies can also cause ink poisoning if ingested and can cause uncomfortable irritation in the eyes if contact is made. However, the low quantities of harmful chemicals in Sharpies make ink poisoning highly unlikely.
What Are Sharpies Made Of?
Sharpie markers, pens, and fine liners may contain a varying list of ingredients depending on the product. Most, however, should contain diacetone alcohol, n-butanol, cresol, and n-propanol. The lattermost of these chemicals, n-propanol, is the only ingredient present that has been determined to be safe for use in cosmetic products. The rest, however, present exposure risks associated with a number of allergic responses and other adverse health effects. Let us discuss the remaining three ingredients, then:
The solvent, n-butanol, is a primary alcohol understood by otolaryngologists to cause irritation and inflammation of the ears, nose, and throat. These adverse effects of exposure to the solvent have been documented to occur with an n-butanol air level of only 50 parts per million (ppm). For comparison, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists indicates that the threshold for dangerous exposure to carbon dioxide lies at 5,000 ppm.
This is an organically produced alcoholic compound commonly used as the intermediate between two other materials. In the case of Sharpie markers, diacetone alcohol is often used as the solvent. Exposure to this chemical can cause a number of acute health issues that include eye damage, ENT irritation, chest pain, and even narcosis.
The most likely way to experience dangerous exposure to diacetone alcohol is through inhalation or eye contact as the chemical evaporates into the surrounding atmosphere. The chances of experiencing any of this chemical’s adverse effects increase exponentially after 15 or more minutes of exposure to a diacetone alcohol air level of 100 ppm or higher.
Aromatic and organic, cresol compounds are used commonly as disinfectants and as preservatives. For individuals who suffer from rosacea, skin contact with cresol can lead to the development of contact dermatitis. Cresol can also cause irritation in the ENT system and lungs if inhaled. Additionally, cresol will cause irritation in the eyes if contact is made.
Cresol chemicals have corrosive attributes that, in high quantities, can cause dermal burns and eye damage. If you have sensitive skin, you should avoid using sharpies that contain cresol as this could cause severe irritation. This all being said; however, cresol is found in many more things than just Sharpies. You will even find these chemicals in many food products as well. While cresol has the potential to harm you, it is very unlikely to do so in the quantities found inside Sharpies.
While the aforementioned chemicals present in Sharpies may have the potential to cause you harm, the likelihood of them doing so in such small quantities is incredibly slim unless you have pre-existing skin sensitivity conditions. Xylene, on the other hand, is a chemical found in three types of Sharpie products that medical professionals actually suggest the use of chemical protective gear when working with it.
In the case of three Sharpie products, xylene is used as the solvent. It is an organically produced chemical mixture typically used in paints, petrol, and glues. Xylene can only be found in the following Sharpie products:
- Touch-up Sharpies
- Magnum Sharpies
- King-size Sharpies
The reason for xylene’s presence in these markers has to do with the fact that it is a colorless liquid whose chemical composition makes it effective at work as a solvent for chemicals and materials that struggle to properly dissolve and mix in water.
What Makes Xylene Dangerous?
This chemical is an aromatic hydrocarbon that poses several neurotoxic threats to the physiological well-being of several bodily systems, including renal, central nervous, respiratory, and cardiovascular.
Inside the three aforementioned Sharpie products, xylene is used as the solvent. And, it is the vapor of this solvent you need to worry about the most. As the xylene evaporates from the drawing surface, it can easily enter the lungs and make contact with the eyes.
While the pigments of these Sharpies pose no significant health risks, you are still strongly advised to avoid allowing the ink of any Sharpie product containing xylene to make contact with your skin. Xylene particles can very easily diffuse through and across your mucous and skin membranes. We recommend that you, if at all possible, should avoid using Sharpie products containing xylene.
Is It Bad to Draw on Yourself With Sharpie?
Is Sharpie bad for your skin? If like millions of others, you enjoy drawing temporary tattoos on your skin using Sharpies and similar tools then you might appreciate a conclusive answer to this question. Given the popularity of this activity among children especially, understanding whether or not concerns regarding the health risks bear any fruit is worthy of our consideration.
The first important thing to note is that not all Sharpie markers contain the same ingredients, which lends to the fact that some – like the aforementioned products containing xylene – pose more health risks than others. Some Sharpies do contain noxious chemicals as their solvents, which may increase your risk of organ damage through being inhaled, absorbed through the membrane of the skin, or ingested. However, many Sharpie products are non-toxic and pose very little risk when applied to skin.
That being said, Newell Brands states very clearly in its Sharpie blog posts that they wish to dissuade people from applying the ink in their products to skin. Sharpie products, for the most part, have received a non-toxic rating from the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI). However, the toxicological testing conducted by ACMI reviews the safety of art products based on the effects caused by ingestion or inhalation.
In essence, Sharpies are certifiably safe for use, even among toddlers, for use in all sorts of art activities except those involving the body. This means that they have not been proven safe enough for body art, which includes things like drawing temporary tattoos on one’s skin or use as eyeliner. ACMI tests do not account for any potential health risks Sharpies may cause if their ink is absorbed into the bloodstream, which is something that very well might occur given that the skin has a permeable membrane that could allow the ink to pass through and into the body, especially if the skin is damaged or has a predisposed sensitivity.
So, is it bad to draw on yourself with Sharpie? Well, yes and no. Remember, as we discussed in the very beginning, there is very limited research to support the notion that drawing on oneself with Sharpies causes significant health risks. This is despite the fact that drawing temporary tattoos on skin is incredibly commonplace. However, Sharpie ink may trigger allergic reactions when applied to sensitive or damaged skin and may even permeate through the skin and cause ink poisoning.
The likelihood of physiological harm can, in many cases, be determined or predicted on an individual basis; if you have sensitive or damaged skin, it is more likely to react badly. And then there are the dangers beyond ink poisoning presented by the solvents in many Sharpies as well.
Everything in Moderation
If you really want to draw on yourself with Sharpies, there is not much anyone can do to stop you. We can only advise that you err on the side of caution and pay close attention to the ingredient lists of the markers you purchase. Be sure to avoid Sharpies containing any of the prior chemicals discussed and take into account the sensitivity of your skin. If you have a skin condition such as eczema or rosacea, you are better off avoiding applying ink to your skin altogether.
Can You Get Ink Poisoning From a Sharpie?
The ink found in Sharpies, and most kinds of markers and pens for that matter, carry minimal toxicity. The risk of ink poisoning from ingestion, skin application, or eye contact increases the more exposed you are to these inks. But, given the low quantities of these chemicals present in any given pen or marker makes it highly unlikely to cause notable or serious health issues. That being said, drawing Sharpie in on and around the mouth and eye areas is deemed unsafe in general, regardless of ink volume.
All things considered; the risk of ink poisoning is low to negligible. Once the ink has dried and set on the surface of your skin, the subsequent risk of physiological harm is insignificant. What you do need to worry about, however, are the solvents. These are what present the greatest and most immediate degree of danger to your physiological well-being.
Sharpies and Tattoos
Beyond recreational activities, drawing on skin with Sharpie ink is actually quite common among tattoo artists as a means to transpose designs to skin temporarily for use as a tracing guide for their needle guns. Given that they are considered the most skin-friendly ink pens, most tattoo artists who transpose designs before applying the needle use the classic Sharpie Fine Point Markers.
One thing to note, however, is that some Sharpie markers derive their pigment from azo dyes whose chemical composition is known to more commonly cause health complications. If used to design a tattoo on bare skin before applying the needle, these azo dyes can make their way below the first few layers of skin where they may ruin the quality of the final tattoo. There is even a wealth of evidence to prove that azo dyes can damage the quality of tattoos that have long since healed.
If you plan on getting a tattoo, it might be worthwhile confirming with your artist that they will not be using markers containing azo dyes to prepare the design on your skin before inking. Your best bet would be to use Sharpie Fine Point Markers, whose ink is AP certified and free of chemicals, acids, and toxins that would otherwise pose a potential risk to the longevity of your tattoo’s quality.
How to Remove Sharpie Ink From Skin
If applied to normal skin (i.e., skin without pre-existing dermatological issues), Sharpie ink will penetrate no further than the foremost exterior layers of skin, lending it little to no access to the bloodstream. This also means that the pigment has weak adhesive retention, which is why Sharpie ink will fade and detach from the surface of skin within a few days even without a wash. Bodily fluids such as oil and sweat will also work to break down the pigments and remove them faster.
If you want to remove Sharpie ink from your skin even faster, however, you can expedite the process by applying mineral oils such as those produced by Johnson & Johnson to the inked surface of your skin. After this, the Sharpie ink should lift and remove easily following a washdown using water and soap.
If you want to remove Sharpie ink from your skin even faster and with fewer steps involved, you can also use rubbing alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol should do the trick just fine but we recommend that you use a less toxic option such as ethanol. Whichever you use, however, you are advised to avoid allowing these alcohol chemicals from contacting your eyes or being ingested. Ironically, eye contact and the ingestion of rubbing alcohol pose more significant health risks than the ink itself.
If you are using isopropyl alcohol for this purpose, you should note that its chemicals are harsh enough to penetrate through several dermal layers. In another twist of irony, there is a chance that isopropyl alcohol may assist the ink in reaching your bloodstream and causing health risks. This is why, as aforementioned, we keenly suggest you use ethanol instead. However, any other grain alcohols similar to isopropyl alcohol should do the trick as well. These alcohols are typically found in alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which is something you are likely to have ready at hand in this post-pandemic world. While ethanol and other grain alcohols can indeed enhance the bilayer permeability of your skin, they are at least more non-toxic and pose no notable risks.
There are a number of rubbing and thinning alcohols that you should avoid like the plague, however, given their high levels of toxicity and the risks these pose to physiological wellbeing. Steer clear of the following alcoholic solvents:
So, are sharpies toxic? For the most part, as illustrated in this article, they are safe enough to use on skin provided that you have no pre-existing dermatological conditions and that you avoid using Sharpies containing harmful chemicals such as xylene. You have little to worry about regarding the ink and pigments of Sharpies but you should take precautions against the solvents within these markers that become airborne when applied to any surface.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Sharpies?
Sharpies are a world-renowned brand of permanent markers, produced by Newell Brands, that can be bought from most stationery and arts and crafts stores. In the permanent marker industry, there is no brand more beloved and trusted than Sharpie. You can use the brand’s extensive range of products for both artistic and domestic applications. Although some have since been discontinued, there are still nearly over a hundred unique colors of Sharpies to choose from, most of which are available in different products and nib sizes.
Are Sharpies Toxic?
Sharpies Fine Tip Markers are actually considered by many experts to be the safest permanent markers to use on skin. This is despite Newell Brands’ stance of discouraging people from using their markers on skin. Sharpies have been granted the non-toxic seal from ACMI but this only accounts for ingestion and inhalation. The ink of sharpies is unlikely to cause health issues but their solvents have a small chance to cause physiological damage if inhaled or if they make contact with the eyes as they evaporate from the drawing surface. By and large, however, toxicological reports suggest no serious side effects can be caused by prolonged exposure to Sharpie chemicals.
Is Sharpie Bad for Your Skin?
While skin contact with Sharpie ink may prove harmful to people with pre-existing dermatological issues such as rosacea or eczema, most people’s skin will not react badly. Typically, Sharpie ink will not permeate deep enough past the epidermis to reach the bloodstream. The most common skin reaction to Sharpie ink is the development of a mildly irritating rash that can disappear without treatment.
Can You Get Ink Poisoning From a Sharpie?
Given the typically low quantities of potentially harmful chemicals within Sharpies, it is unlikely that these markers would cause ink poisoning.
Is It Bad to Draw on Yourself With Sharpie?
Although Newell Brands discourages the use of their Sharpie markers on human skin, Sharpies are not likely to cause you harm unless you have a pre-existing skin condition. Once the ink has dried, the health risks posed by its remaining on your skin are negligible.