This Is Why a Pencil Mark Lasts for Years

And is there a way to get rid of them?

Emily Hand pencil markMatthew Cohen/

A pencil is the best option for writers who like to edit their work thanks to handy erasers. Pencil marks off the page and on the body, however, aren’t easily removable—especially not with erasers. Some people might recognize these small, dark lines and think of a time as a child where a pencil poked or stabbed their skin.

These pencil marks also go by the nickname “traumatic tattoos.” Like a traditional tattoo, the pigment or color from a pencil mark is in the dermis, the second and thickest layer of skin tissue, says Ayelet Mizrachi-Jonisch, MD, FAAD, a CareMount Medical dermatologist. “‘Traumatic’ implies that a piece of foreign material was forcibly placed in the dermis, creating a permanent tattoo,” Dr. Mizrachi-Jonisch says. The nickname also stems from the fact that the graphite resembles typical tattoo colors, adds Peter E. O’Neill, MD, the Chief of the Division of Dermatology at NYU Winthrop Hospital.

Traumatic pencil tattoos stay on your body for years because cells in your skin can’t break down the graphite from the pencil, Dr. O’Neill says. Thankfully, these marks aren’t much of a threat, mainly since pencils today use graphite, Dr. Mizrachi-Jonisch says. The only major risk is a possible infection, so Dr. O’Neill recommends washing any wound with soap and water to avoid both infection and any unwanted tattoos. Luckily, these marks aren’t one of the 10 strange skin problems that could be a sign of a serious disease.

Most pencil marks or tattoos are small and not bothersome. Still, some patients might want to lose the mark. Dr. Mizrachi-Jonisch says laser treatment and cutting out or removing the mark is possible. Ask about these treatments at your next dermatologist appointment along with these 12 other things you should always ask your dermatologist during a checkup.

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Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.