Have you ever seen a tattoo on the inside of someone’s lip? Celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Madison Beer, and Kendall Jenner have been spotted sporting the ink, skyrocketing the tattoos in popularity and giving them some cool cred. They’re a great choice for anyone who wants a hidden tattoo that makes a big impact when shown off, and they can fit any aesthetic. From words and phrases to animals to abstract designs, the options for lip tattoo designs are endless.
However, these tats are considered one of the most painful and require a specific type of aftercare. Keep reading to learn everything about lip tattoos—from pain level to side effects.
Meet the Expert
What Are Lip Tattoos?
Generally placed inside the mouth, a lip tattoo is exactly what it sounds like—a design inked onto the lip's skin. These tattoos can be any design, just like a tattoo on any other part of your body. Though, keep in mind when choosing what to get inked that the area is much smaller and more sensitive.
“Simple designs definitely work best,” says Jade Jay, a professional tattoo artist at The Tattoo Temple in Zaandam, the Netherlands. “I’d say goes as simple and bold as you can. Small details are more likely to disappear.”
Besides keeping it small and simple, Jay says that you can opt for whatever design you want. If you want color, that’s possible! If you want black ink, that’s possible as well.
It’s also important to keep in mind the longevity of those done in this area when considering a lip tattoo. The lip is a popular choice for tattoos, but it’s not as permanent as other parts of your skin. While tattoos are typically considered to last forever, lip tattoos tend to last only one to five years. This is due to the rapid turnover of cells in the lip area, which sheds the ink quickly.
“There is no guarantee on how long it will last,” says Jay.
Pain and Healing Time
The lip's skin tends to be quite thin, and there are many nerve endings on the lip, so it’s important to consider the tattoo’s pain before booking your appointment. Lip tattoos are considered one of the most painful areas to ink, plus you have to keep the lip out-turned and perfectly still during the entire process.
“The only thing that might keep you from dealing with the pain and concentrating is that you have to turn your lip inside out yourself, so you have to hold it for the entire duration of the tattoo,” says Jay.
Once you’re inked, taking care of your lip tattoo is vital. Because of the number of bacteria in the mouth and how often it’s used, neglecting to care for your ink properly could cause complications. You can expect a lip tattoo to heal in about two weeks fully.
“Everything inside your mouth heals really fast, but for it to completely heal, it would take as long as any other tattoo,” says Jay. “Your mouth does contain a lot of bacteria, so it might take longer if you don’t take good care of your tattoo.”
The aftercare for lip tattoos is different from other locations, thanks to the fact you can’t wash your inner mouth with antibacterial soap. Instead, use an antibacterial, alcohol-free mouthwash to clean the area twice a day.
“Keep oral bacteria levels low with a daily mouthwash rinse,” says dermatologist Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group. “Avoid eating foods that may degrade the pigment early on and avoid trauma to the area while it's healing.”
During the healing period, be sure to stay away from acidic or spicy foods that may mess with the way the ink settles. Also, try to avoid smoking or any other activities that may irritate the area. Overall, keep the lip clean, and be sure to keep your tattoo in mind daily—even if you can’t see it!
Side Effects of Lip Tattoos
Because of the location of lip tattoos, the healing period tends to be easily interrupted, and side effects are common. It’s important to follow the recommended healing procedure and keep an eye on your tattoo for any signs of a problem.
“The biggest risk for lip tattoos is infection,” says Nazarian. “The oral mucosa has a high density of bacteria and is more challenging to keep consistently clean.”
To combat the probability of an infection, Nazarian recommends seeking out a professional tattoo artist who has a lot of experience with lip tattoos specifically and making sure they use sterile tools and proper techniques.
During the aftercare period, look out for any changes in the appearance of your new tattoo. While some swelling and redness are common right after getting inked, prolonged effects may indicate a worsening problem.
“Infections of the skin are classically painful, swollen, accompanied by fever, and worsen with time,” says Nazarian.
Another common issue is scarring, which can occur if a proper aftercare procedure isn’t followed. This can cause your tattoo to look warped and your lip to have a permanent scar that’s not as good-looking as your new tattoo.
Lip tattoos are a popular choice for ink placement for several reasons, including that they’re hidden and fade away within a few years. However, they also tend to be one of the most painful tattoos you can get, and they can easily become infected if not properly cared for.
It’s important to find an experienced tattoo artist to ink you, as lip tattoos require them to work with your body and be easily messed up by anyone who’s not a professional.
If you’re interested in getting a lip tattoo, though, they can be a great piece of ink. The pain will be worth it; proper aftercare isn’t difficult, and finding an experienced artist tends to be as easy as a simple search.