Are Sharpies Toxic On Skin? Find Out If You’re Being Poisoned


Shocked Boy Photo used in Are Sharpies Toxic on Skin - Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Are Sharpies Toxic on Skin?

Are Sharpies toxic on skin? Sharpies such as Sharpie Fine Point markers are generally non-toxic and xylene free and are safe to use on skin. If you are using King Size Sharpies, Magnum Sharpies or Touch-Up Sharpies then do not risk using these on yours or anyone else’s skin.

  • They 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.

Tattooist Photo by Marcus P. on Unsplash
Tattooist Photo by Marcus P. on Unsplash

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?

Only permanent markers that still use Xylene, benzenetoluene, are still toxic to breathe in the fumes and a risk to health when not used as directed.

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.

Xylenes are metabolized to methylhippuric acids. The presence of methylhippuric acid can be used as a biomarker to determine exposure to xylene.”

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.

Artline and Sharpie Markers
Artline and Sharpie Markers Side by Side – Xylene Free

Can you get skin cancer from drawing on yourself?

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

Conclusion – Are Sharpies Toxic On Skin?

Xylene Free
Xylene Free

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.

Can Sharpies give you skin cancer?

No they can not give you skin cancer. Sharpies 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.

How long does Sharpie stay on skin?

Without using any solvents or cleaning agents, it can take a few days to a week to stay on your skin, depending on your skin type and how frequently you wash.
You can use some gentler cleaning agents but for quick results, use nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer.

Do Sharpies contain xylene?

King Size Sharpie, Magnum Sharpie, and Touch-Up Sharpie do contain xylene and not intended to be used on skin or breathed in. Your average Sharpie markers are generally non-toxic and xylene free. It is still best not to draw on yourself or inhale any marker vapors.

What is Xylene?

According to wiki, Xylene is a type of benzine chemical (a petrochemical) so it is flammable and toxic. Xylene is also a skin irritant and strips the skin of its oils. It is used as a solvent when used in permanent markers.

What types of markers do tattoo artists use?

Tattoo artists use all sorts of skin markers when free-hand drawing tattoos on skin prior to using a needle.
They use brands such as Sharpie, DERMarker Removable Ink Skin Markers, Electrum Disposable skin markers and Squidster sterile skin markers. Find some skin marker supplies here

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Joseph Colella

I'm an avid artist and I love to share everything I know about art and all the new art related tips i've recently learned. Get Your WastedTalentInc Merch at Redbubble https://rdbl.co/2OkI0CM

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