The concept of getting a lip tattoo tends to elicit more questions than your run-of-the-mill arm tattoo. Whether you’re a veteran of the tattooing process, or you’re finally ready to take your first leap, tattooing such a sensitive facial area requires an extra dose of care and savvy.
Since we believe arming yourself with knowledge is the best way to make any decision, whether body mod-related or otherwise, we spoke to Emily Effler, a Los Angeles-based tattoo artist of The Honorable Society Tattoo Parlor and Lounge.
With her knowledge and expertise in tow, we gathered the hot tips and crucial safety precautions you’ll need to know before getting a lip tattoo. As with most tattoo experiences, knowing what to expect is half the battle, so going in prepared skyrockets your chances of an enjoyable session and great experience. During our chat, Effler generously gave us the lowdown on how to best care for your new ink, and more interestingly, which designs people gravitate towards when opting for a lip tattoo.
Naturally, finding a skilled artist with a compatible drawing style and friendly chair-side manner will help make the process smooth and fun. But you won’t be able to pinpoint those traits without knowing the basics of what to expect.
So, here’s what you should know before getting a lip tattoo.
First off, you’ll need to know how to best prepare yourself for your lip tattoo. According to Effler, the best way to prepare yourself is by treating your body well the day before. Effler shares, “Try and get a good night’s sleep. Getting tattooed can really take it out of you and not functioning on fumes is a big advantage. Eat a good meal beforehand.” Why you might ask, well Effler says that blood sugar is important with any body modification. “Your body is going through a trial and needs fuel to cope. Avoid alcohol beforehand. Most people think it’s solely because of the impaired judgment, but alcohol is also a blood thinner. Everyone bleeds during a tattoo, but with thinned blood, it is happening on a stronger level. Therefore, the quality of your tattoo is likely to suffer long-term if alcohol is involved.”
Because the skin on our lips is much thinner and tends to get rubbed and shed more than other areas, Effler explains that lip tattoos have a higher risk of fading. Before tattooing her clients, she warns them that the healing process may end in a partial tattoo, or as people in the biz call it, “fall out.”
“Before I even agree to do a lip tattoo I want to make sure the client knows this may not even stay,” she says. “Everyone heals differently and our skin is constantly shedding, especially the mouth. What we call ‘fall out’ is fairly common in lip and finger tattoos because of this.” She adds that while she wishes the tattoo would completely stay or completely fall out, you might experience an “almost there” heal. “Some pieces stay great and others fade, resulting in a confusing arrangement of partial dots and lines that used to resemble a more distinct image,” she notes.
Since lip tattoos interact with food and all of our lovely saliva, many people assume they run a higher risk of infection. Contrary to this belief, Effler shared that lip tattoos run the same risk as any other body part, and it all comes down to proper care. She says the best way to ward off infections is by regularly cleaning the mouth.
Due to the technical difficulties involved in tattooing a design on the lip area, Effler shares that lip tattoos tend to run a higher price tag. So if you’re considering it, make sure you know it’s worth the jump. “They usually are more expensive than the shop minimum because they are harder to do that an arm or a leg tattoo,” Effler says. “The process is more tedious and dangerous for the artist because of how the area must be handled, so prepare to pay extra for that. If you’re going to pay extra for a tattoo that might not last, you should make sure it’s worth it.”
Naturally, the most interesting part of tattoos is the designs themselves. So we were fascinated to hear any trends or patterns Effler’s noticed when it comes to lip tattoos. Due to the extra invasive nature, she said that lip tattoos are often a group activity. “People usually don’t come alone for these.” She adds, “They are usually the result of an inside joke or something silly, which is good because they rarely turn out perfectly because of the distortion of the lip. Not to mention there’s only a finite amount of room there, so word economy is real.”
As for what you should get? Effler recommends keeping it simple — something like a heart, name, one word, etc. “I did a stegosaurus once that turned out pretty cute, but it definitely had a cute cartoony vibe going, definitely nothing realistic.”