Sharpies such as Sharpie Fine Point markers are generally non-toxic and these days they are xylene free.
Sharpies are safe to use on skin.
Sharpies won’t even give you cancer so relax.
If you are using King Size Sharpies, Magnum Sharpies or Touch-Up Sharpies then do not risk using these on your or anyone else’s skin as there is still a possible toxic risk where a Sharpie is bad for your skin.
- Sharpies contain xylene and are not intended to be used on skin or have their fumes breathed in.
- Your average Sharpie markers are safe.
- While we can assume that these markers are safe, it is still best to not draw on yourself too much or inhale any marker vapors
- Xylene is what gives permanent markers their nasty smell
While we have seen some Tattoo artists use all sorts of markers to pre-draw designs before going over them with the needle gun we should generally not take health advice from a tattooist.
Can Sharpies on your skin kill you?
A Sharpie on your skill will not kill you. Just do not cover your entire body with a Sharpie and stay on the safer side.
Modern Sharpies are designed to be non-toxic under normal usage, which includes drawing or writing on the skin.
While Sharpies on your skin will not kill you, for some people there is always the risk that Sharpies are bad for your skin. Keep that in mind when you read the following considerations:
- Skin Irritation and Allergic Reactions: Some people may be sensitive to the chemicals in permanent markers. This can lead to skin irritation or allergic reactions. Symptoms might include redness, swelling, or itching at the site where the marker was used.
- Inhalation of Fumes: The fumes from permanent markers contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Prolonged inhalation of these fumes in an unventilated space can lead to headaches, dizziness, and nausea. In extreme cases, it could potentially lead to more serious respiratory issues, but this would typically require prolonged and repeated exposure in a poorly ventilated area.
- Accidental Ingestion: If the ink is ingested, it could be harmful, especially in large quantities. However, incidental exposure, such as drawing on your hands and then touching your mouth, is unlikely to be harmful.
- Mucous Membranes and Broken Skin: Applying marker ink on mucous membranes (like the inside of your mouth or nose) or broken skin should be avoided as these areas are more susceptible to absorbing chemicals.
- Long-term Exposure: While occasional use of a Sharpie on the skin is unlikely to cause harm, frequent or long-term use might increase the risk of skin problems or other health issues due to prolonged exposure to the chemicals in the ink.
While it’s unlikely that using a Sharpie on your skin will cause serious harm, it’s not recommended for frequent or extensive use.
If you experience any adverse reactions, you should wash the area with soap and water and seek medical advice if symptoms persist.
For body art or drawing on the skin, it’s safer to use products specifically designed for this purpose, such as body paints or cosmetic markers.
Sharpie Ink Ingredients
According to chemistry resources online, Sharpie ink is made up of:
- Alcohol: hydroxyl functional group (-O H) combines with a carbon atom,
- Ethanol: (C2H5OH) Isopropanol: common compound with molecular formula, C3H8O or C3H7OH
- Ethylene glycol: HO+OH, ethane-1,2-diol,
- Alcohol or ethanol or isopropanol is the solvent, it makes it smell better
- Ethylene Glycol monobutyl to make it evaporate quickly
They also state “In a permanent parker like a sharpie the nasty smell is organic chemicals such as: xylene, and then solvent of their choice such as: alcohol, ethanol or isopropanol, ethylene glycol monobutyl. There is at least propanol, butanol, and diacetone. Therefore resin or polymer is added as a “binder” that promotes adhesion. Permchrome ink has the alcohol but not glycol ether.”
In the instance where Xylene is not being used, safe Non-HAP (Hazardous Air Pollutants) solvent xylene substitutes are being used.
The specific types of non-HAP solvents being use to substitute Xylene vary like ethanol and isopropanol which are basically alcohol and safer to use.
Why are permanent markers a health risk?
According to wikipedia page for Xylene under Health and Safety (edited to remove chemistry references & citations), “Xylene is flammable but of modest acute toxicity….”
The main effect of inhaling xylene vapor is depression of the central nervous system (CNS), with symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting…. symptoms can include feeling “high”, dizziness, weakness, irritability, vomiting, and slowed reaction time.
The side effects of exposure to low concentrations of xylene (< 200 ppm) are reversible and do not cause permanent damage.
Long-term exposure may lead to headaches, irritability, depression, insomnia, agitation, extreme tiredness, tremors, hearing loss, impaired concentration and short-term memory loss.
A condition called chronic solvent-induced encephalopathy, commonly known as “organic solvent syndrome” has been associated with xylene exposure.
There is very little information available that isolates xylene from other solvent exposures in the examination of these effects.
Hearing disorders have been also linked to xylene exposure, both from studies with experimental animals, as well as clinical studies.
Xylene is also a skin irritant and strips the skin of its oils, making it more permeable to other chemicals.
The use of impervious gloves and masks, along with respirators where appropriate, is recommended to avoid occupational health issues from xylene exposure.
Permanent markers that do not use Xylene or other types of benzenes as a thinner are safe to use. The easiest way to see if they do not contain these chemicals is to either read the label or check the marker.
If neither exist, a quick smell of the marker’s tip will let you know: if it smells strong or bad then they may contain xylene.
I did a few sniffing tests at home using Sharpies and Artline markers with “Xylene free” on the label and can attest that they do still have a smell but not one that takes over a room when using the marker.
You really need to be smelling the tips closely.
Can Sharpies Cause Cancer?
No, you would need to basically be covering your entire body in markers and also be using markers that are made with carcinogenic ink or thinners.
From my research, no permanent markers officially for sale in the USA, Europe, Canada or Australia contain carcinogens in the ink or in the thinners.
Be careful when ordering cheap markers from site such as Alibaba as they may be sourcing permanent markers from factories based in countries where the types of chemicals being used are not regulated.
Carcinogens (Class 2B carcinogens) are usually only found in printer toner ink and even those pose little to no health risks under normal use.
Sharpies and other brand markers do not penetrate the skin deep enough and do not modify skin cells or mutate skin cells. At worst they can irritate the skin and give you a rash.
Are Sharpies toxic on skin? Covering large sections of your skin with ink can reduce its ability to absorb oxygen.
Your skin needs to breathe. So unless you are covering yourself from head to toe in marker ink, you should be ok.
Are Sharpies toxic if ingested?
They tend not to be toxic if ingested but if you have a small child who has ingested the tip of the marker then I would suggest a doctor visit just to be sure.
If they have accidently written on their tongue or mouth or have licked their fingers after getting them covered in Sharpie markers then I would not be too concerned.
What are safe skin markers to use for free hand drawing tattoos?
Tattoo artists use all sorts of skin markers when free-hand drawing tattoos on skin prior to using a needle.
While some use brands such as Sharpie, there are other brands out there that are safe to use on skin as they are designed specifically for drawing on skin: DERMarker Removable Ink Skin Markers, Electrum Disposable skin markers and Squidster sterile skin markers. Find some skin marker supplies here
So after all my research, when someone asks “Are Sharpies toxic on skin?” I can comfortably say Sharpie markers like any other permanent marker are generally safe to use.
Even the ones with Xylene as an ingredient are safe to use when used as directed.
If you wish to draw on your skin or practice drawing tattoos then I would suggest medical grade skin markers.
If someone has drawn on your face while you were asleep, i can reassure you as someone who has woken up with a set of Sharpie eyebrows that you will be fine.
Joseph Colella (Joe Colella) is an Editor and Writer at WastedTalentInc. As a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech).
While Joseph holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent fashion he spent years applying for various Art degrees; from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), to failing to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney.
While he jokes about his failures at gaining formal art qualifications, as a self-taught artist he has had a fruitful career in business, technology and the arts making Art his full time source of income from the age of 18 until 25.
His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. Joseph’s art has been sold to private collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia.
He is a trusted source for reliable art advice and tutorials to copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.