Writing on your hand in a pen is something many of us do, but is it bad for your health to write on your hand in a pen? As a nurse, I do this ALL THE TIME and I often get told by some of my older patients, “that is a bad habit, and it will give you ink poisoning! “. But does writing on our hand in pen or a sharpie bad for our health and skin?
Writing on our hand in a pen will not affect your skin. Lucky for us, your skin is always shedding, and even if your naughty and don’t wash your hands thoroughly throughout the day, the pen or ink will come off over the next couple of days. This is due to our dead skin cells constantly shedding and flaking off into our environment. Any pigment that is left on the skin’s surface will eventually flake off.
Writing on your skin in ink is not considered harmful to your health and will not cause ink poisoning
In saying that, there is really no available evidence (please comment below if you have come across any), that has looked into this over a period of time. There are many blogs and online forums that discuss if writing on your skin in ink is harmful. It appears to be a common consensus that it is not harmful long-term. However, there is no available research to prove if writing on your hand in pen, long term has no health effects.
Can you get ink poisoning from writing on yourself?
Most pens are non-toxic, as long as you are not breaking the skin or using ink over broken skin you shouldn’t have any health effects from the ink.
Ingredients of some common pen makers
As a general rule, writing ink is composed of a combination of
- Dyes or pigments
- Fatty acids
Big pen companies such as Paper Mate, Bic, Sharpie, and Pilot like to keep their exact formulations secret. However, here is a breakdown of some of the ingredients found in the most common pens and markers.
|Bic- Ballpoint||Colored pigments or dye are mixed with benzyl alcohol or phenoxyethanol |
Pigments are mixed with an oil such as benzyl alcohol or phenoxyethanol. Bic’s gel ink is water-based and colored with powder pigments
|Not considered harmful|
|Waxed crayons such as Crayola||paraffin wax and color pigments||Harmless however may cause tummy upset if eaten|
|Sharpies||Permanent markers, including popular brands like Sharpie, contain ink that is made from the chemicals xylene, toluene and urethane resin. Permanent markers are safe when used as intended.||Intentionally breathing in the marker fumes can be harmful.|
|Lead Pencils||Don’t actually contain lead, but contain graphite which is harmless.||Harmless|
|Papermate Ballpoint pens||Ink/pigment, water, phenoxyethanol||Considered Harmless|
Some additional additives such as oleic acid and alkyl alkanolamide are added to promote a smooth writing process. The fatty acid, oleic helps to lubricate the ballpoint pen and reduces the number of clogs or pen-poo while writing. Surfactants such as alkyl alkanol amide improve the absorption of ink into the paper before it dries.
As a general rule, ink pens such as ball-point pens, fountain pens, and felt tip pens contain a small amount of ink, so little that there is not enough to cause poisoning if sucked from the pen. There have been some incidences of some pink causing irritation and soreness around the mouth if swallowed in large amounts, but serious poisoning has not been reported.
Marking pen emissions and health
A study looking at acute toxicity of marking pen emissions was performed by researchers to evaluate adverse reactions of emissions on groups of mice for 8 different brands of felt tip markers or whiteboard cleaners. The study showed that some marking pens emit chemicals that can produce respiratory toxicity in mice, and also some acute behavioral changes were noted in the study.
In other words, do not breathe in fumes as they can cause harm and ensure when they are being used, you are in a well-ventilated area.
For information on sharpie and other permanent marker poisonings please go to
Poision Control Centre
Clinical Nurse Consultant