How Bad Do Lip Tattoos Hurt?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 16, 2019
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

Some people choose to adorn their bodies with ink that signifies something personal to them. Others view tattoos as a fashion choice. Historically, tattooing has been a signal in groups or communities of positive and negative accomplishments.

The pain of getting a lip tattoo depends on:

  • How much fat is in your lips
  • The thinness of your lip skin
  • The complexity of the tattoo

Why Get a Lip Tattoo?

While visible tattoos have become more mainstream in popular culture and no longer hold a connotation of criminality, face tattoos still have much more significance to them. In indigenous New Zealand, Maori women adorn their faces with tattoos around their lips and chins. Globally, face tattoos that aren’t tribally related are often still associated with criminal behavior.

None of these reasons really explain the motivation behind many of today’s lip tattoos. Getting a tattoo on your lips is a very different experience from one on any other part of your body. The level of detail you can put into a piece, the longevity of the work and the experience of being tattooed are all different.

How Are Lip Tattoos Different From Other Tattoos?

A tattoo on any other part of your body has a somewhat similar experience. Tattoo needles pierce the upper layers of your epidermis and deposit ink in your dermis. The cellular make-up of the outside and inside of your lips differs from one another, and both are very different from the cellular structure of most of your skin. 

The main difference lies in the thinness of the skin on your lips. While lips have epidermal and dermal layers, they have fewer layers than the rest of your skin. 

Our mouth lacks the outer layer of the epidermis, which provides UV protection and locks in moisture. Lips have only about three or four layers of skin, while the rest of your skin is thicker with 15 or 16 layers providing more protection against the elements. 

This thinness makes your lips very sensitive to the elements and the sensation of touch. There’s a reason we kiss with our lips and not our elbows! 

How Painful Are Lip Tattoos?

The experience of lip tattoos differs in the recollection. Some people claim it’s excruciating, while others have little to no reported pain. This makes it difficult to conclusively tell anyone how their experience of pain will be while getting a lip tattoo. Pain thresholds are determined by gender, lifestyle factors, preparation, and whether you’ve had a tattoo before

Skin Thickness and Fat Content 

Generally, though, it’s accepted wisdom that the areas of your body that have more fat and thicker skin are the least painful areas. For that reason, lips can be more painful because of the thinness of the skin. However, the thickness of a person’s lips will determine whether there’s fat to offset that pain. 

Longevity and Complexity 

The other factor to consider in pain experience is the longevity of a tattoo session and the complexity of the piece. The space on your lips or on the inside of your lips is minimal, so tattoos there take a short amount of time. There’s no ability to create complexity in the image or much color, which means that there’s definitely a positive trade-off. No matter how painful it may be, it won’t last long.

Types of Lip Tattoos

There are a few different types of lip tattoos that you can consider. Tattoos on the inside of the lip are trendy. Tattoos on the outside are often undertaken for cosmetic reasons.

Inner Lip Tattoo

Tattooing on the inner part of your lip is a trend that has gone in and out of style. Usually, these types of lip tattoos occur on the inside of the bottom lip, but can also be done on the upper lip. Owing to these tattoos being hidden, people often choose to put racy or rude things in this space.

Tattoos here also tend not to last long. That is because the inside of your mouth has a high moisture content, and the inside of your lip rubs against your teeth very frequently. These factors lead to a quick deterioration of an otherwise permanent tattoo. 

Another factor that limits the lifespan of inner mouth tattoos is the cellular makeup of the inside of your mouth. You have mucosal cells present here. These cells are very fast at regenerating, meaning they’ll replace the tattooed skin relatively quickly.

Cosmetic Lip Tattoos

Another popular form of mainstream lip tattooing is cosmetic tattoos. People get cosmetic tattoos to mimic makeup, give the illusion of fuller lips, and to change the shape of their lips or the pigmentation. 

These types of tattoos have become much more technical and should be done at a cosmetic surgery office as opposed to a tattoo parlor. These days, cosmetic lip tattoos, called micro-pigmentation, are applied differently than traditional tattooing, with different pigments as well. 

Take extra care with tattooing the outside of your lips. Lip tattoos that are cosmetic, like lip liner tattoos, don’t age well. Over time, your lip will shrink, and the tattooed line won’t. This will leave you with an outline of your lips that doesn’t reflect your actual lip shape anymore.

The Risk of Lip Tattoos 

Lip tattoos are an interesting trend. Inner lip tattoos are considered a safer tattoo because they aren’t visible, nor are they permanent. Despite this, remember the risks are the same, even if it may not seem that way.

Cosmetic tattooing has evolved into its own art form and requires different practitioners to complete the job. Even so, the pain of getting a lip tattoo isn’t easy to determine. Consider the thickness of your lips and the complexity of your tattoo when making the decision.