You know you’re having a memorable night when a friend pipes up and dares everyone to get an inner lip tattoo. It’s one of those things that seems like a good idea at the moment — and hey, in some cases it really can be. But the reality is there’s more to lip tattoos than meets the eye.
On the one hand, if you’re going to get funky, experimental, in-the-moment ink, the inside of your mouth really is a great option for placement. “Inner lip tattoos are fun and can be hidden easily,” tattoo artist Evilyn Ink tells Bustle. The unique part of this kind of tat? “It’s always a shock to people when you pull down your lip for a little tattoo surprise,” she says.
An inside-the-lip tattoo gained popularity in the early 2010s when Miley Cyrus and Kesha made them cool (Cyrus had a sad cat emoji stamped on her inner lip while Kesha went with the words “Suck It!”) Kendall Jenner also got a mouth tattoo back in 2016 of the word “cat.”
Besides being discrete, getting a design on the inside of your lip is also appealing because it’s temporary — they don’t last nearly as long as ink on other areas of your skin. That said, getting an inner lip tattoo can be slightly risky, which is why it’s a good idea to pause just long enough to weigh the pros and cons. If you’re considering getting body art in this area, here are a few things to keep in mind before you book an appointment at your nearest parlor.
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1. The Inner Lip Tattoo Cost Is Relatively Low
In terms of pricing, inner lip tattoos are on the less expensive end of the spectrum. On average, this kind of ink will run between $50 and $125 depending on the studio you go to and which artist you’re seeing.
2. An Inner Lip Tattoo Fades Pretty Quickly
Depending on how you look at it, this could be the best or the worst thing about tattoos on the inside of the lip. “The abbreviated longevity compared to tattoos on external skin is due to the rapid turnover of skin cells in the [lining of your mouth,] which means that the ink sheds more quickly,” says Dr. Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.
On average, an inner lip tattoo will typically last one to five years before it starts to fade, says King. If you get a sad cat emoji and end up hating it, this is good. If you get a sad cat emoji and want it to be a part of your life forever, however, this may not be the best placement for you.
3. It Won’t Necessarily Go Away, Though
While an inner lip tattoo will fade, don’t count on it fully disappearing. In fact, tattoo artist Gianna Caranfa says it could technically leave a slight mark for the rest of your life, depending on how deeply the artist places the ink.
If your artist is nervous or inexperienced with lip tattoos they might hold back and only scratch the surface, which means your design will fade faster. But if they really go for it, well... expect that baby to stick around (albeit as a lighter form of itself) for years.
4. Ink Could Come Out The Other Side (!!!)
One serious risk to consider: Caranfa says it’s not uncommon for artists to hold back when doing an inner lip tattoo because they’re worried about putting the ink in too deep, to the point it shows on the other side — aka right on your chin. “Have you ever been hemming a shirt and are scared of stressing your finger beneath the fabric? That's what tattooing a lip feels like to a tattoo artist,” she says. This is why it’s important to scout professionals who are experienced with this type of ink placement.
5. Lip Tattoos Can Hurt
Your lips are packed with nerve endings, making them one of the most sensitive areas of your body. This means that, unfortunately, getting a lip tattoo can hurt quite a lot. That said, everyone’s pain tolerance is different. According to tattoo artist Anthony Pereira, it’s not “that bad.” To each their own. The good thing, though? “It’s quick,” he says.
You also have to hold your lip out at a weird angle during the inking process, King says. If you’re worried about feeling uncomfortable, take a break or ask for some topical medication to numb the area, she suggests.
6. The Healing Time Is Fast
Thanks to that speedy cell turnover rate in the mouth, you can expect your inner lip to be back to normal in about two weeks, says King, especially if you take really good care of the area while it heals. See the recommended protocol below.
7. Aftercare Is Key
As with all tattoos, aftercare is super important. Not only does it help speed up the healing process, but proper aftercare will preserve the integrity of your fresh piece of body art. To ensure everything cleans up nicely, King recommends rinsing with an antibacterial, alcohol-free mouthwash twice daily to keep bacteria at bay. You should also avoid eating foods that are spicy or acidic, as this can aggravate the wound.
Irritation in the area — caused by eating spicy foods, smoking, or drinking alcohol — will not only up your risk of infection (more on that below), it could also push the ink out of the skin as it’s trying to heal, resulting in a blurry or faded tattoo.
Another thing to keep in mind? Wait until your lips are fully healed before you make out with someone or do other mouth-related activities. The last thing you want is to introduce even more bacteria while your tattoo heals.
8. It Might Get Infected
Speaking of bacteria, one of the riskiest things about inner lip tattoos is the chance of infection. “They can become infected because there are lots of bacteria in the oral cavity and it can be challenging to keep the area consistently clean,” says King. “You can't wash this area with an antibacterial soap as you can in other areas.” You also can’t wrap it like you would for external tattoos. If you swish twice daily with antibacterial, alcohol-free mouthwash, King notes you should be fine — but let a doctor know if the area is painful or appears infected.
9. Touch Ups Aren’t Recommended
While you technically could touch up a tattoo on the inside of your lip, it isn’t exactly recommended, says Caranfa, who suggests letting it fade naturally. Going over it a second or third time isn’t always as effective as you’d like. “The ink starts to spread under your skin and can wind up looking like a bruise,” she says. The more you do it, the larger it gets. Every time you go, it also increases your risk of infection since you’re opening up an old wound.
That said, if you want to maintain that body art, you can expect to book an appointment every few months.
10. Make Sure Your Tattoo Artist Knows What’s Up
It may be tempting to waltz into any old tattoo parlor — especially if you want fresh ink on a whim — but it’s always best to do a little research first. “Always be sure to go to a professional and licensed tattoo artist who is experienced in this area,” King says. “[Go to someone who] uses sterile tools and a proper technique.” This will ensure a safer inner lip tattoo experience, as well as ink that’ll stick around — in some shape or form — for years to come.
Nimish Deo, P. (2019). Oral microbiome: Unveiling the fundamentals. J Oral Maxillofac Pathol. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6503789/
Turabelidze, A. (2014). Intrinsic Differences between Oral and Skin Keratinocytes. PLoS One. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4157746/
Evilyn Ink, tattoo artist
Dr. Hadley King,M.D., board-certified dermatologist in NYC
Gianna Caranfa, tattoo artist
Anthony Pereira, tattoo artist
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