The Issue with Ink (Hint: There is none)

By Juliana L.

Hand that says To do: Stop writing on my hand.

You’ve heard it everywhere (most likely from your mom): “Don’t write on your hands, it’s bad for you!” “Ink poisoning causes cancer!” “Pen ink is bad for your skin!” Well, maybe not those words exactly, but you get the general idea. Direct contact with some inks are said to have ill effects on your health, specifically ink poisoning, leading to a higher risk of cancer. Still, many students jot a note or two on their hands once in awhile. They doodle on their fingers when they get bored, or scribble a little to make sure their pen works. An even fewer amount draw and write on their hands continuously, almost unperturbed by the scary stories of mysterious illnesses that lurk in the ink. Still, even the most prolific hand-scrawler wonders from time to time, are these innocent memos going to cause long-term health effects?

Nope. While ink poisoning is a very real condition, the myth that ink on your hand can cause it stems from decades ago when fountain pens were more common. Back then, ink regulations were far less strict and the chance of ingestion, inhalation, and spillage from inkwells was frequent. The ingredients in those inks have now been recognized as toxic and been replaced with non-toxic components for this exact reason. Ball-point pen ink currently does not consist of toxic elements. The ink in permanent pens, on the other hand, may contain small amounts of a substance called xylene, which has the possibility of causing ink poisoning. However, the amount of xylene you would need to ingest before contracting ink poisoning would be extremely high. The minute amount of ink absorbed by your skin would not be enough to make you sick, but it will be much harder to get off than a ball-point pen. So while it isn’t recommended, scribbling a few notes in permanent marker on your hand won’t kill you.

According to MedlinePlus (a government health website) ink poisoning is quite the specific disease. In order to contract it one would have to swallow ink. Specifically, “Large amounts of writing ink must be consumed (more than an ounce) before treatment is needed.” So if you like drinking ink, you’re out of luck. It would be impossible to contract ink poisoning from writing on your hand, however. Now you can successfully prove that ink is perfectly safe for your skin to any annoying skeptics that ask. Who knows, you may even get them doing it.



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