It's a common claim in school yards (and from parents?) that you should not draw on your skin with a pen, or you will suffer "ink poisoning".

Here's an example for notability: a Facebook page called People have warned me about ink poisoning... but I draw on my hands anyway

Wikipedia makes the following unreferenced claim,

There is a misconception that ink is non-toxic even if swallowed. Once ingested, ink can be hazardous to one's health. Certain inks, such as those used in digital printers, and even those found in a common pen can be harmful. Though ink does not easily cause death, inappropriate contact can cause effects such as severe headaches, skin irritation, or nervous system damage.

I've heard people say it leads to cancer; supposedly because the skin absorbs the ink chemicals.

However, I have never seen a warning on any pen or its packaging, which I would expect if it was toxic.

Conversely, many links returned from a Google search suggest that it's not toxic.

Can drawing on yourself with a normal ball-point pen lead to harm?

  • 4
    This person was allergic to the pen itself!
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 7, 2013 at 15:02
  • As far as I know, exactly because people use pens to draw on their skin, companies started to ensure they were non-toxic. I don't have references for this, though. Feb 6, 2015 at 17:21
  • +1 This question is of interest to me in a wildly different sense: should newspaper be composted. And the answer is awakening.
    – Vorac
    May 4, 2023 at 23:43

1 Answer 1


Drawing on yourself with a normal ball-point pen does not lead to harm since writing ink is considered non-poisonous per Medline. Xylene based writing ink is a concern, though toxicity for the xylene based ink is normally linked to inhalation.

Pen Ink Ingestion: Per Medline, "writing ink poisoning occurs when someone swallows ink found in writing instruments (pens). Writing ink is a blend of dyes, pigments, solvents, water and it is generally considered nonpoisonous. Large amounts of writing ink must be consumed (more than an ounce) before treatment is needed for symptoms such as eye irritation and staining of skin and mucus membranes".

Tattoo ink: Regarding tattoo inks, "FDA has not approved any tattoo pigments for injection into the skin. This applies to all tattoo pigments, including those used for ultraviolet (UV) and glow-in-the-dark tattoos. Many pigments used in tattoo inks are industrial-grade colors suitable for printers' ink or automobile paint."

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