Do Markers are Safe for Your Skin?

There are tons of fun ways to use permanent markers, from the boring (office work) to the fun (crazy colorful drawings). 

Unfortunately, despite Kylie Jenner's cool Sharpie tattoos, body art is not one of them. 

If you're looking for skin safe markers, don't uncap a Sharpie just yet. Here's a quick explanation of why you really shouldn't draw on your arm with a Sharpie.

What Makes a Sharpie/ Markers?

To understand whether a Sharpie or markers ink is skin safe or not, you first need to understand what ingredients go into a ​markers. 

The exact chemical composition of Sharpie ink varies between products, but it may contain any of the following: 

  • N-propanol
  • N-butanol
  • Diacetone alcohol
  • Cresol

According to the EPA, n-propanol exhibits low acute toxicity from dermal, oral, or inhalation routes of exposure. The other ingredients, though, aren't so kosher. 

N-butanol, like most other alcohols, is a flammable, corrosive irritant that is generally viewed as toxic. Diacetone alcohol isn't toxic per se, but it is a known irritant. Cresol is also a strong dermal irritant and animal studies showed liver, kidney, and blood problems as a result of chronic exposure.

Is Sharpie Bad for Your Skin?

The short answer: yes. But he long answer: it depends. 

The chemical composition of Sharpie products varies, which means some products may theoretically be safe. According to the company, markers bearing the ACMI "non-toxic" label are safe for use in art (NOT body art), even by children. 

Keep in mind, however, that there may be other harmful chemicals in Sharpies that we haven't listed here. Either way, the company does not recommend using their products for body art of any kind.

Sharpie Ink vs Tattoo Ink: The Argument

The biggest concern with Sharpie body art is the absorption of ink through the skin since chemicals that permeate the skin or enter the body through broken skin can enter directly into the bloodstream. Basically, you're getting a highly concentrated dose of toxic chemicals straight into your blood. 

For the sake of argument, you might be wondering: what about tattoo ink? Temporary Sharpie tattoos don't permeate the skin the way tattoo ink does, so why can people safely get permanent tattoos but not temporary Sharpie tattoos? 

The short answer is that tattoo ink has a different chemical composition than a markers ink. 

The slightly longer answer is that most tattoo inks aren't actually ink at all--they're pigments suspended in a carrier solution, typically metal salts. The chemical composition of tattoo inks vary depending on who's using them, but they're not anything like Sharpie ink (or any other type of pen ink). 

Pen ink is designed for one specific purpose: to write on paper. Some markers can even be used to make amazing art. But if you're contemplating body art, stick with temporary tattoos or proper tattoo ink.

Skin Safe Markers

So, if you're looking for skin safe markers, Sharpies, tragically, are not it. 

Don't get dispirited though--there are still plenty of fun things you can do with permanent markers! If you're looking for other artistic outlets, check out these post on how to draw with markers.

About the Author Eva