Long gone are the days of wearing earrings and other similar accessories—of course, that’s not entirely true, but there's a case to be made that ear tattoos are taking that place in popular fashion. Inked ear designs have been seen on celebs like Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, and Miley Cyrus, while tattoo artists are adding flash tattoo styles and hand poke options to their portfolios.
There is much about an ear tattoo that is appealing: the (potentially) low pain level of getting tatted on the seemingly sensitive skin, the whimsy of a personal small piece that many would miss if not actively looking. “They can be simple or intricate, and it's on a spot that is pretty hidden for the most part. I like the idea that you can also have a 'piercing' without actually getting one done,” says New Jersey-based tattoo artist Sydney Smith, who creates small, detailed pieces on ears, hands, and wrists, as well as large pieces throughout the body.
Meet the Expert
- Sydney Smith is a New Jersey-based tattoo artist and the founder of Blxck Rose Ink.
- Jennifer Schloth, PA-C, is a board-certified dermatology physician assistant at Marmur Medical in New York City.
Safety and Pain
A major question you may have before even considering getting an ear tattoo is probably: Is it safe to get an ear tattoo? Let Byrdie be the ones to confirm for you that it's as safe as any other tattoo placement. With that being said, keep in mind upkeep, aftercare, and picking an artist who keeps clean tools and sanitary shop practices. “As always you should choose an experienced tattoo artist since this area is delicate," says board-certified dermatology physician assistant Jennifer Schloth, PA-C. "The skin behind the ear is thin so it will be painful, and what will probably feel the most uncomfortable is when the tattoo artist is going over your mastoid bone since you will be able to hear the vibration inside your ear.”
As with most tattoo placements, pain levels vary. Ear tattoos consist of ink on the ear itself, the skin behind the outer ear, directly next to the ear near the back of the neck, and in front of the ear near the side of the face. Smith remarks that many of her clients felt zero pain when getting tattooed on the ear near the skin—away from the canal—or around the lobule.
When it comes to risks, the dangers increase with inexperienced artists. Smith, who has done “a decent amount of ear tattoos in the past year,” remarks that a possible risk could be an artist who “pushes too hard into that cartilage and causes the ink to bleed under the skin.” Yikes.
Infection is possible if someone has allergies to specific ink coloring, or if unclean tools are used. So, again for the people who skim-read, please pick an experienced tattoo artist—basically don’t let your friend do a random stick-and-poke with a hot needle because they found an “easy” video on TikTok.
Arguably, the most important part of getting a tattoo is aftercare. “You should care for your ear tattoo just as you would any other body part," says Schloth. "Once you remove the bandage, use unscented soap to gently wash the tattoo and then pat—don't rub—the area dry." She recommends water-based lotions like the H2Ocean Aquatat Moisturizer ($13). Smith, like many other tattoo artists, recommends the tried and true Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($5); however, stick to a designated cream at first, as Schloth warns that it can clog pores.
Those with sensitive skin know to keep away from fragrance, but as a new tattoo is similar to an open wound, avoiding fragrances is vital for keeping infection and irritation at bay. Smith recommends applying a thin layer of an ointment “three times a day for three days, and then unscented lotion to keep it moisturized.”
Fade time mainly depends on the application and the care afterward. “If it is going to fade it will most likely happen within the first two weeks (while the tattoo is healing)," says Smith. "I recommend to all of my clients that they should get at least one touch-up for the design to stay nice and crisp.” As a final care reminder, if your tattoo starts peeling, flaking, or anything gross after a couple of weeks, don’t play games—go see a doctor.
With all the who, what, where, and hows answered, let’s get down to the fun of getting an ear tattoo: The art inspiration and styles that are turning heads and bending ears. Below, see 17 ear tattoos for every tattoo vibe.
Specific to ear designs, one trend is evident to Smith based on her clients' requests: “Most of my clients have asked for flowers, ferns, leaves, etc. when it comes to an ear tattoo," she says. "I think florals work best in that spot since they can curve with the shape of the ear. I try to hand-draw all the stencils for my ear tattoos to make them fit with each client's shape.”
Reminiscent of the doodles in a high school notebook, these colorful designs are playful and vibrant for a fun statement. These collaged designs are simple enough for a beginner and expert tattoo artist; the only tricky part is deciding when to stop doodling.
This diamond-like ear tattoo is placed on the thick skin of the tragus near the canal opening. Smith shows us that an ear tattoo is possible everywhere, and the minimal designs are perfect for someone who wants a simple permanent accessory.
Based in Berkeley, California, tattoo artist Alex Rae Phelps gives voice to the work of hand-poke tattooing skills. Inspired by the art of client Aay Preston-Myint, these intentional squiggles and line art glitter span from the front to the back, spreading behind the ear and in front near the face.
Korean tattoo artist @pureum works out of the Sol Tattoo Studio in Seoul, South Korea, and I can’t be the only one who's considering catching a flight to be inked by their hand. The shading and detail of the small designs are truly a work of art.
Dots and Lines
A slight step up from other minimalist designs, these dots and lines are inked on the ear in clusters to create a design that's both simple and fun. Known as Electric Elaine, this artist is popular on TikTok for her controlled linework and leaf designs.
Take advantage of the space directly behind the ear with a garden of your own that you don't have to water (but you do need to moisturize). Elegantly placed, the violet flowers in this design make for a great peek-a-boo Instagram moment, courtesy of Hong Kong-based artist Mini Lau.
Most of Pennsylvania-based tattoo artist Scott McMahon’s work features detailed mandalas and patterns that cover large and small areas of his clients' bodies. This ear tattoo is no different, featuring the careful illusion of the design not being broken up as the art continues from the ear itself to the outer area. Add to it the delicate shading and the art truly speaks for itself.
Looking for a permanent earring? This tiny heart tattoo is an easy design that definitely won’t take long. It’s cute enough that if you did match it with an earring, it would still stand out in the best way.
This tiny fish bends with the natural curve of the ear. Be sure to put on post notifications for tattoo artist @baby.phag ASAP—their intricate designs are only amplified in their larger pieces.
This hand-poke tattoo is by Lucane Tattoo Shop artist Camille, who captioned her post noting that this symbol represents protection.
Among the many floral designs, none seem more popular than the famous rose that's often inked onto various places on the body. It’s easy to see why, especially when done cleanly by @lucaneries. Bonus, as seen on this client: The black ink pairs well with earrings.
Minimalism wins in this instance, with small black dots lining the rim of the upper ear and a thin black line perfectly placed to coincide with a piercing. Operating out of the Vantablack Tattoo Gallery, artist Kristy shows that tattoos can truly enhance an ear, even with straightforward art.
The lobes seem like the easiest place to get an ear tattoo, especially since most piercings happen there. While the upper inner ear has plenty of real estate for ink, the lobe is easily seen, making it a great location for a conversation-starting tat that you can leave your diamond studs behind for.
Don’t be afraid to add some color to any tattoo design, especially if the subject matter is naturally bright like these flowers. Colorful hues are tattoo artist Jenny’s bread and butter, which is evident from her work, especially this small bouquet of flowers. None of the colors are muddled; instead, each line and fill is intentional to not miss any spots.
See, we told you that Elaine is known for her leaf and nature work. This time, the design encompasses most of the ear in thick squiggles and shapes that mirror a leaf as it wraps over the edge of the ear.
The straight line of this dotted design follows the entire side of the ear with an effortless beauty that adds depth with the varying diamond spots. Additionally, the multiple silver hoops in this client's gauges truly add to our overwhelming desire for getting tatted and pierced.