Are Fountain Pens Ink Toxic?

Users of fountain pens tend to get ink on their hands at some point. When you draw ink up from the bottle into the pen, when you are fiddling with that pesky nib that has dried up, or while you are flushing your pen, ink can get onto your hands or fingers. Is this cause for concern, and how safe are fountain pen inks when exposed to human skin?

Modern fountain pen inks are not considered toxic to humans. Though you should never ingest ink, you are exposed to such small quantities when using the pen that a few ink stains aren’t a health risk. Toxicity is dose-dependent. Some chemicals in the ink might be toxic, but only in large quantities.

The chemicals in fountain pen ink these days are water-soluble and easily wash off the skin with soap and water. Human skin has an oily protective layer that does not allow the ink to penetrate too far. That is why you have to insert tattoo ink using a needle if you want the ink to penetrate the skin. Ink on its own does not penetrate below the epidermis or outer layer of the skin.

The Ingredients Of Fountain Pen Ink

 

Whatever is in modern fountain pen inks is generally benign, and the ink quantity you are working with is so small that toxicity is not worth worrying about. Ink manufacturers are not obliged to declare their inks’ ingredients on the labels, and they usually don’t because their ink recipes are proprietary.

We do know enough in general terms about what goes into fountain pen ink to know that they are non-toxic. Obviously, ink should not be rubbed into open wounds, poured into the eyes, or swallowed. This is not how the manufacturer intended it to be used, and anyway, what sane person would do this?

Some fountain pen inks contain carbon nanoparticles, but this is rare because people have learned that it is better to use water-soluble dyes in ink than pigments which are particulate matter. The particles in pigments clog up the ink feed. The ink may have a chemical smell that is reminiscent of acetone, alcohol, or ketone.

Theoretically, carbon nanoparticles might be absorbed into the skin or lungs, but they are so small that they do not pose a health risk in the unlikely event that this occurs. Carbon itself is not a substance that is toxic to humans as it is usually inert. You can’t absorb a significant quantity of carbon nanoparticles from fountain pen ink to affect your health.

Toxic solvents in ink would damage the pen’s materials, so acetone, alcohols, and petroleum distillates are not used in fountain pen ink. The combination of dyes, solvents, surfactants, and biocides found in modern inks are not considered poisonous. At most, they could cause some eye irritation if you get ink into your eyes.  

With few exceptions, fountain pen inks use aniline dyes for color. Although aniline dyes are not considered safe for ingestion, they are considerably diluted with water in fountain pen ink, so the quantities are minimal.

What To Do If Someone Is Exposed To Fountain Pen Ink

If you accidentally jab your finger with the nib, causing a small wound, don’t worry about ink getting into your bloodstream. This is not likely, and the ink is, in any event, non-toxic. Injecting yourself with fountain pen ink – again, why would you? – is not recommended but then injecting yourself with water is also not recommended.

If you want a tattoo, use tattoo ink which is entirely different from fountain pen ink and cannot be used in fountain pens. Unlike fountain pen ink, tattoo inks are made sterile and suitable for insertion into the skin. However, using fountain pen ink to draw on your skin is not hazardous to your health, and it can be washed off with little difficulty.

Even if your dog eats your pen, he is unlikely to suffer any harm because the amount of ink he could ingest is so small. The best remedy for this is to flush your dog’s mouth out with warm water. If he has swallowed a large amount of ink, you should observe him for a while to see if there is any vomiting, diarrhea, mouth irritation, staggering, or seizures.

It would take more ink than a single pen holds to cause these symptoms. Your dog is more likely to suffer health problems from swallowing the pen components than from the ink itself.

If your small child has swallowed a whole bottle of ink, it is best to take a cautious approach and call a poison control center for more information and advice. The child may well vomit it straight back up again, and there is no need to panic.  

Writing ink is generally considered non-poisonous, and recovery is highly likely, according to Medline.

What The Authorities Say About Ink Poisoning

The Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) has a certification program for art materials used by children. Since 1940 they have evaluated the toxicity levels of various crayons, watercolors, inks, fingerpaints, school pastes, and adhesives, and other art materials. They give safe products an Approved Product (AP) seal.

Any product with an AP seal is non-toxic whether it is absorbed, inhaled, or ingested. The ACMI uses toxicologists to evaluate the product formulas of every product submitted for certification by the manufacturer. If you want to know more about the potential toxicity of a particular fountain pen ink you are using, you could contact the ACMI to see if it has been certified by them.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than an ounce of ink must be consumed before treatment is needed. That is quite a lot of ink to swallow.

According to the World Health Organization, fountain pens contain so little ink that there isn’t enough to poison you if you suck it from the pen. If you swallow large amounts of ink from the bottle, this could be an irritant, but there have been no reports of serious poisoning.

The US National Library of Medicine notes that writing ink is primarily composed of solvents, pigments, dyes, and water and is generally considered non-poisonous.

Some Inks That Are Stated To Be Non-toxic

Parker Quink is a high-quality and smooth flowing ink that has been used for almost a century. Like all Quink products, this ink is dye-based and non-toxic.

Diamine’s non-toxic fountain pen inks are water-soluble and dye-based. They are lovely for vintage fountain pens because they have a gentle formula but can be used with any pen brand. They are non-waterproof and won’t clog up the pen.

J. Herbin fountain pen ink is also non-toxic, water-based, and pH neutral. Penman and Pelikan inks also do not pose a significant health hazard. If you want to find out more about a particular ink that you use, you could try contacting the manufacturer or a reputable dealer.

Fountain pen inks are generally recognized as non-toxic to humans, even though their individual ingredients may be mildly toxic in larger quantities. The key is to understand how much of those ingredients are in the ink. You would usually have to consume them in far greater amounts than the ink contains for them to harm your health.

Conclusions

Fountain pen ink is generally non-toxic. However, it is not intended for human and animal consumption and should be kept out of the way of small children and pets. If you use it in the manner intended by the manufacturer and some of it gets onto your skin or in your mouth, wash it off or rinse it out but don’t be afraid as it is not hazardous to your health.

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