How harmful is it to write on skin with a Sharpie?

(Photo: Flickr/Dan4th Nicholas)

Q: How bad for you or your skin is writing on your hand or arm with a Sharpie pen? My nieces and other girls do it frequently to list their races before swim meets and later wash off the ink with sunscreen. Should I be worried?

A: The absorption of any toxic substances from the Sharpie is zero.

The ink dyes the skin cells, which are dead, and they are rubbed off with the sunscreen. So I would not be worried.

Cool idea regarding the swim meets!

-- Answer from Dr. Cameron, a physician on

Daily Answer is excerpted from the archives and features information provided by a professional on

Sharpie pen


Its very unlikely that short term exposure would cause any medical issues, either short or long term. That being said, the manufacturer of Sharpies does not recommend that they be used on the skin and recommends the use of baby oil to remove it on the skin.

It is also not recommended to use Sharpie markers as surgical site markers as the risks are not known.

I want to forward from customer service at Sharpie:

"Thank you for contacting Sharpie. Our Sharpie Permanent Markers are AP Certified Non-Toxic. Non-toxic is defined as the following: identifies that products have been reviewed in a program of toxicological evaluation by a medical expert to contain no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic or injurious to humans or cause acute or chronic health problems.

"This means that if the Sharpie markers are to get on your skin or nails, it will not cause any long term effects.

"However, we can't approve the use of a marker or a pen on one’s skin. Our markers and pens are writing instruments and have been tested and developed for normal writing conditions.

"For a product to be used on the skin, it must be FDA approved. None of the writing instruments in the Newell Rubbermaid Office Products line are FDA approved. We recommend purchasing a face paint that has the FDA's approval."

The complete constituent list of Sharpie markers is proprietary information, and it is not publically disclosed. Therefore, the best available guidance is limited to the official document mandated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the EPA: the Sharpie Material Safety Data Sheet, available at:

In "Section Two: Hazard Identification", it states:
"Not Hazardous under normal use conditions. Not for use on skin. Do not ingest. Contact with eyes may cause irritation."

The statement "not for use on skin" is not further explained, but as an inclusion in the "hazards" section, it indirectly implies that use on skin is hazardous. Whether that hazard is likely or unlikely to be encountered by the average individual is left unstated.

Anecdotal reports of widespread use of Sharpies as instruments for skin ornamentation without harm do not rise to the level of scientific proof. With today's emphasis on "evidence-based practice", and assuming that the answer to this weighty question is important to some, the best answer at this time would be to get another hobby. Since there is no shortage of meritorious public health strategies (e.g., fluoridation of public water supplies, vaccines against serious disease) which have been so unjustly vilified over the years, I see no reason why Sharpies should be given a free pass.

The bigger problem with sharpie markers is the fact that they have a smell which is from volatile chemical compounds that have been implicated in inhalant abuse, and altered brain function. Certainly, any problems from ink on the skin would probably be minimal, but the amount of any compound absorption and effect is not well studied. So marking up the skin excessively might not be a good idea....a precautionary rule with artificial colors and chemicals should always be used. Dr. Thomas.

Yes be woried!...Sharpie contains Bad chemicals that destroy skin cells and mix with blood causing skin cancer and or blood cancer

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