Lip Tattoo Pain - How Much Does It Hurt?

Written by: Claudia

You’ve narrowed down your placement and decided on tattooing your lips. But now you’re wondering about how much it will hurt. Our Tattoo Pain Series of articles looks at the most popular tattoo locations and gives you the rundown on what you can expect in regards to pain.

Are Lip Tattoos Painful?

Lip tattoos are far up there on the pain scale, and are believed to be one of the most painful places to tattoo due to the difficulty of tattooing this diverse skin, as well as the many nerve receptors within your lips.

In a medical research study, a man used a bee to sting himself on various body parts in order to rate the amount of pain felt. After stinging his upper lip, not the inside which is infinitely more delicate, he rated the pain an 8.7 out of 10. This was significantly more painful than other body parts, ranking second highest below the nostril, and more than one whole point higher than stinging his groin area.

tattoo pain chart

In addition to the pain felt, lips tend to remain swollen and face healing difficulties, making the discomfort extend far into the healing period.

There are various factors that make the lips different from other body parts and make the experience more painful.

Skin Thickness and Fat Content

It doesn’t take a magnifying glass to notice how different your lips are from the rest of your skin. In fact, unlike the skin, your lips don’t have a dermis; they’ve got an epidermis, connective tissue full of receptors, and a muscle layer. The dermis layer is where tattoo ink is usually deposited on other parts of your skin.

The Tattoo Itself

Not only will the length of the tattoo session influence your pain, as adrenaline fades over time, but you need to understand that the real estate on the inside of your lips is very small, and paired with this pain, simple designs should be considered. Most tattoo artists won’t do anything more than script or a simple line drawing as a lip tattoo.

How Are Lip Tattoos Different From Other Tattoos?

As we mentioned, when you are being tattooed, the ink is deposited in the dermis above a layer of fat. This doesn’t exist on the inside of your lips. As such, the tattoo artist is either tattooing the epidermis directly, or getting deeper through the connective tissue and into the muscle. This will actually cause the tattoo to blow out or feather when it is healing.

If the tattoo artist is tattooing the epidermis, this will not last long. In fact, lip tattoos fade rather quickly. If you’re getting the outside of your lips tattooed for a cosmetic tattoo, this process will look different as the dermis is present there.

Lip Tattoo Risks

Here are some other risks involved with getting a lip tattoo:

  • Swelling - When our lips experience trauma, blood rushes to that area in a response. Lips that have been tattooed experience more swelling than other areas.
  • Infection - Your mouth is a host to a multitude of bacteria, and wounds in the mouth stay wet which allows for even more infection-causing growth. In addition, you simply can’t wash a tattoo on the inside of your lips like you would any other tattoo. You will need to use an alcohol free mouthwash as a cleansing alternative. Cosmetic tattoos are no less susceptible to this issue.
  • Allergic Reactions - Your lips are far more sensitive to ink-triggered reactions, and this is especially prevalent in red and yellow pigments.
  • Short-Lived - As Today’s Registered Dental Hygienists write, lip tattoos are, “only temporary due to the inability of ink to adequately penetrate the mucosal membrane and the quick turnaround of cells in the oral cavity, most only [lasting] a few months to five years.”
  • Extra Caution - You need to take extra caution when eating, smoking, drinking, and even kissing after a lip tattoo. In fact, smoking, drinking, and kissing should be avoided until you are fully healed.

Types of Lip Tattoos

There are two primary versions of lip tattoos:

Inner Lip Tattoo

This trendy ink is the most painful and complicated of the two. Often revealing only script or simple black line designs, these have become more common due to the fact that they can be so easily hidden from others. Even popular models have chosen this ink option.

Tattoos on the inside of your lip take long to heal and deteriorate quite quickly, as well. You need to determine if the pain is worth the short-lived display, or whether you’re willing to sit through another session for a touch up down the line.

Learn more about Inner Lip Tattoos

Cosmetic Lip Tattoos

These can be performed at tattoo parlors or also at spas and esthetician spaces. They’re often a way that people get permanent liner done on their lips, to either cut down on prep time during makeup application, or to give the appearance of fuller lips.

Because of the technical training and skill involved with this particular tattoo, it’s recommended that you pursue getting it done at a cosmetic surgery office that specializes in it. These tattoos take a while longer to heal than most tattoos, but last many years and hurt significantly less than inner lip tattoos.

Keep in mind that in the medical test we mentioned, where a man stung himself with a bee on various body parts, it was done on the upper lip and still ranked an 8.7 out of 10 on the pain scale. This means your cosmetic tattoo could be a very painful experience.

Our Final Thoughts

Getting a tattoo is a very personal decision, and what may be painful for some is completely bearable for others. You need to determine whether the short-lived beauty of a lip tattoo is worth the monetary and pain investment, on your own. If you’re ever unsure about whether it’s the right decision for you, talk to a trusted tattoo professional who can walk you through their tips and suggestions regarding lip tattoos.

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