Just an inkling

Is writing on skin dangerous?


Photo by Elinor Melvin

Vicki Agrella, sophomore, writes a reminder on her hand after school. Agrella says the rumors she hears about ink damaging her health never give her pause.

Elinor Melvin, LZ Life Editor & Business Manager

Plenty of people write on their hands—school reminders when in a rush, therapeutic doodles when in slow moments—it’s a seemingly harmless habit. Nevertheless, rumors of skin cancer and ink poisoning from writing on skin persist. So the question has to be asked… are these rumors fact or fiction?

Sophomore Vicki Agrella’s hands are sometimes a page of notes, and other times a drawing canvas. Agrella has heard of these health concerns, but generally dismisses them as “wives’ tales,” she says.

“I suppose I’ve guessed that it’s not the best for your skin, just because it’s not supposed to be there in the first place, but I don’t think it’s going to affect me that much,” Agrella said. “I guess that I’ll take in mind [what I’ve heard], but it’s going to be sort of like the voice in the back of your head saying you shouldn’t do that.”

Photo by Elinor Melvin
Catherine Norberg, french teacher, writes a reminder for her schedule the next day. “[My notes are] very purposeful [and meant] to help my students, usually,” Norberg said. “That seems pretty important.”

The health concerns are background noise for Catherine Norberg, french teacher, too, who says she writes reminders on her hand one to two times every day.

“I’m not afraid of the toxic nature of whatever writing utensil I’m using,” Norberg said. “I’m more glass is half full kinda girl, and I just like to feel like it’s gonna be okay, you know?”

Norberg’s optimism appears to be well founded. According to healthline.com and healthguidance.org, these are facts:

This is good news for Norberg and Agrella, who simply find writing on their hands convenient.

“I feel as though it’s quicker,” Agrella said. “I mean, it’s the original leather notebook.”

For Norberg, a quick way to jot down a reminder is a necessity during her school day.

“Usually these are smaller things, like putting a test in the testing center. Something little like that, where if I don’t write it right away, I’m going to forget in the moment,” Norberg said. “And sometimes, if I know I’m not going to do it right away, I write on my hand [to] email myself [the reminder].”

Aside from the practical appeal, Agrella likes the artistic use of ink on skin.

“It’s sort of artistic expression. You know it’s not going to be there forever, but for the little amount of time that it’s there, it’s rather beautiful,” Agrella said. “The other day, I was messing around with ink, and I ended up doing the entire solar system along the length of my forearm, which was really fun. I think it’s just nice to know that it’s not going to be there forever as permanent as a tattoo, but it’s there to show other people who you are.”

Agrella finds writing on skin to be “therapeutic,” she says, and Norberg says that even washing her to-do list off her hand can act as a satisfying checklist.

It seems this handy habit is not as dangerous as it’s made out to be. So next time you write on your hand, rest assured: you will NOT get skin cancer. Probably.