This one may seem a little obvious, but we’ve come across a fair number of postings from people worried they might have gotten ink poisoning by writing on themselves or getting jabbed by a pen, and it made us curious.
After doing a little research, we are happy to report back that you’d have to swallow the contents of a half-dozen pens to make yourself feel sick, and it isn’t likely to be fatal. Maybe uncomfortable, but not deadly.
That means you’re relatively safe jotting down a phone number on your hand or accidentally sticking yourself with the pen in your pocket (although there’s the danger of infection from a poke, of course.)
In fact, it might be a little strong to even call it ink poisoning, since the combination of dyes/pigments and solvents that make up ink generally aren’t considered poisonous, according to the US National Institutes of Health.
And, “large amounts of writing ink must be consumed (more than an ounce) before treatment is needed,” the NIH website says.
Since the symptoms are limited to irritation of the eyes and staining of the skin or mucus membranes, the treatment basically consists of scrubbing away the ink. The NIH says you probably wouldn’t even need to go to a hospital.
The World Health Organization goes even further in dismissing the idea of ink poisoning. It lists pens under the heading “products that are usually not harmful,” in its “Management of Poisoning: A Handbook for Health Care Workers.”
Ink: ball-point pens, felt-tip pens, and fountain pens contain so little ink that there is not enough to cause poisoning if it is sucked from a pen. Some inks may cause soreness in the mouth. Large amounts of ink swallowed from a bottle could be irritant, but serious poisoning has not been reported.
However, there’s a caveat to all this. Some inks contain tiny amounts of chemicals like phenol, ethyl glycol or xylene (usually used in permanent markers), all of which can be dangerous in large amounts, so you’d obviously want to avoid ingesting too much of them.
Basically, if you don’t drink a lot of ink, you’ll be just fine.
But in case you’re concerned about the toxicity of your pens and markers, you can check the Art & Creative Materials Institute. The organisation has a program that certifies items that “contain no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic or injurious to humans or to cause acute or chronic health problems.”
(On a related note, you also cannot get lead poisoning from a pencil.)