Long-term ultrastructural changes in human corneas after tattooing with non-metallic substances

Br J Ophthalmol. 1999 Feb;83(2):219-24. doi: 10.1136/bjo.83.2.219.


Aim: To investigate the ultrastructural appearance and the deposition pattern of dye particles in long term non-metallic corneal tattooing.

Methods: Two tattooed human corneas were obtained by keratoplasty. One corneal button was fixed in Karnovsky's solution and the other in Trumps' solution. Both corneas were divided and processed for conventional light (LM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Five additional formalin fixed corneas with tattoos were retrieved from paraffin for TEM. The time between tattoo and removal of the corneal button/enucleation ranged from 7 to 61 years. All seven corneas were examined using a Jeol JCXA733 microprobe for wave length dispersive analysis in order to exclude any presence of metallic salts in the tattooed area.

Results: Histologically, clumps of brown-blackish granules were present mainly in the mid stroma, but also in anterior and partially in the posterior half of the stroma. On TEM, numerous round and oval electron dense particles were seen in the cytoplasm of keratocytes arranged as clusters or large islands. The larger particles appeared black, while the smaller particles were grey. In well fixed tissue a unit membrane was observed around these clusters. No granules were detected in the extracellular matrix.

Conclusions: Keratocytes can actively ingest and retain tattooing particles of non-metallic dyes within their cell membrane for very long periods of time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Cornea / ultrastructure*
  • Corneal Diseases / pathology*
  • Eye Foreign Bodies / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metals / therapeutic use*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning Transmission
  • Middle Aged
  • Ophthalmic Solutions
  • Tattooing / adverse effects*


  • Metals
  • Ophthalmic Solutions