How Bad Do Lip Tattoos Hurt?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 16, 2019
    Last Updated: January 6, 2021

Getting a lip tattoo is a very different experience from getting inked 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 from a regular skin tattoo. How much will a lip tattoo actually hurt once you finally decide to go for one? Find out below.

Do Lip Tattoos Hurt?

Lip tattoos tend to be more painful than tattoos on other areas due to the sensitive nature of the tissue, along with the large number of nerve endings in the area. The lip also tends to remain sore and tender for longer once a tattoo procedure has been performed, and moderate to heavy swelling can also be expected.

However, it’s not all bad news. While some people claim lip tattoos to be excruciating, others report little to no pain during the sitting. This large variance can be attributed to the fact that pain thresholds are determined by gender, lifestyle factors, preparation, and whether you’ve had a tattoo before. 

The pain of getting a lip tattoo will also depends on:

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

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.

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! 

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.

Lip Tattoo Risks

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.

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