Finger tattoos range from subtle and dainty to bold, in-your-face designs. From a surface-level point of view, these small tattoos are very versatile — they can be inked on top of the finger for the world to see, or tucked in between digits for a sneaky hint of style. They certainly look cool when they’re freshly inked, but they can present a few challenges. If you look into the trend, you'll find that finger tattoos are a bit on the controversial side when it comes to some tattoo artists’ opinions, given that they can fade quickly. So, while celebrities including Hailey Bieber, Ariana Grande, Kendall Jenner, Rihanna, and Miley Cyrus have popularized the placement, there are several things to consider before you tattoo your digits.
Maybe you're considering getting a few cute finger tattoos to flaunt your personal style. Maybe you want matching best friend tattoos with your lifelong bestie. Maybe it's your first tattoo and you want to start small. Maybe you are getting hitched and are choosing to permanently ink your commitment onto your skin with wedding band tattoos. Whatever the reason, here’s what you need to know about finger tattoos before diving in headfirst to this popular trend.
Do Tattoos On Fingers Hurt?
As with every tattoo, there will be some pain, and that pain will differ from person to person. That being said, finger tattoos are known to be on the more painful end of the spectrum purely due to physiology. As tattoo artist and owner of Black Amethyst Tattoo Co. Erica Rose tells Bustle, “Finger tattoos tend to hurt a little bit more than other placements because there is less muscle and fat tissue.”
So, yes, your finger tattoo is going to sting. Your fingers are full of nerves, and the skin lays right on the knuckle and bone. Generally there is not as much fat or muscle to cushion the sensation of the needle as opposed to other parts of the body. If you're getting a tattoo on a whim, and pain is not in your purview, perhaps think about getting inked in another spot.
However, people often get finger tattoos as a symbol of love, commitment, or an important message for the world, so embracing that discomfort can sometimes be “a symbolic moment,” San Francisco-based tattoo artist and owner of Cyclops Tattoo Jason Stein tells Bustle. “The pain is part of the experience."
This is a fabulously zen approach made possible by the fact that finger tattoos are fairly small and the process is over quickly. As Rose says, “I feel like my clients usually react really well to finger tattoos, but I make sure to prep them for the amount of pain that they’re going to be in. It hurts but it’s very quick. It's normally like, ‘ouch, ouch, ouch,’ and then we’re done with that finger.”
Plus, where you get it done will affect how much pain there will be. “The top of the finger can definitely be less painful than the inside part of your finger,” tattoo artist Sydney Smith explains tells Bustle. “Most clients handle the pain pretty well. My style is definitely a lot lighter and thinner than most, so I don't do too much damage to the skin. Some clients even say they don't feel it at all!”
How Long Do Finger Tattoos Last?
The skin on your fingers takes tattoo ink differently than most parts of your body. Stein suggests this is due to the active nature of our hands, the frequency with which we wash our hands, as well as the nature of the skin — which is thick, but not backed by much fat and has a lot of movement over the bone.
As for how long they actually last, that’s unique to the individual as well as the style in which the tattoo was done. “Finger tattoos tend to fade a little more quickly because we are constantly using our hands, causing the skin to shed and regenerate more often,” Rose says. “It’s really hard to say how long it will last. Everyone's experience is going to be different. I’ve had my fingers done for 10 years and they could use a touch up, but overall they still look good!”
Knowing that finger tattoo placements tend to fade more quickly than in other spots, Rose typically asks her clients to come back in after their initial session to retouch. “Just to be safe, I normally schedule a touch-up four weeks out after the original appointment just to make sure that everything is in there [is] really solid and even,” she says. “Especially with clients who have their hands in the water like bartenders, hairdressers, waitresses, mechanics, people who are really really active with their hands, I always like to make sure that I see them back in a month just to be safe.”
The same goes for Smith, who finds that even just one retouch makes a huge difference when it comes to the staying power of a finger tattoo. “From my experience, finger tattoos usually require at least one touch-up,” she says. “After that, my clients don't usually see fading as much!”
What Can Finger Tattoo Designs Look Like?
Your finger may not be the best place to put that intricate tattoo design you've been dreaming of. Due to the tricky nature of the skin in this area, colors might not be as bright and tattoo lines tend to be a bit fuzzy. “Putting too much detail in a smaller space can cause it to blend together over time,” Smith explains.
Instead, you may want to keep it simple for finger tattoos. “There [are] definitely a limited amount of things you can put on your fingers,” Rose says. “Depending on the size of people’s hands, you only have so much room to work with, so the less detailed, the better.” For example, delicate fine line art and lettering tend to work well. You might want to avoid intricate and detailed images and designs that are so small the ink breaks apart or bleeds.
Then there’s placement to consider. “There are also parts of the finger, such as the inside, the side of the finger, and where the knuckle skin kind of bunches and bends, that I don’t tattoo, because in my experience it just has never held well at all,” Rose explains. “I wouldn’t say that I won’t tattoo it, but I will really, really stress that it is probably not going to heal well, hold up well, or look good in the end. Ultimately, it’s up to my client if they want to go through with that.”
In general, Rose recommends checking in with the tattoo artist you plan on working with, be it a direct question or just a simple look through their social media portfolio, to make sure they are a good fit for the design you want. “The only thing I would add is if you were looking to get your fingers tattooed, ask to see some of the artist's healed finger tattoos and make sure what you want on your fingers is something that the artist is really comfortable doing,” she says.
One popular design specific to finger tattoos is the ring finger tattoo, which many people turn to as a permanent alternative (or addition) to traditional wedding rings. When asked about the most common wedding band tattoos or commitment ink he sees in his shop, Stein said the most successful are the simple styles that keep to the tops or sides of the finger. Diamond shapes, runes, initials, and dates are all examples of ring tattoo styles that can work well.
One thing to note about those ink bands that circle the finger, though, is that often, the ink will "fall out" of the fleshy underpart of the finger, according to Stein. This basically means that the color doesn't stay and you end up with a patchy ghost of a tattoo where your wedding ring used to be. But if that’s the case, you can always have it retouched.
How Do You Take Care Of Finger Tattoos?
First rule of finger tattoos: Keep your hands clean! Especially when you've recently gotten your ink. “Aftercare for finger tattoos can be tricky,” Smith says. “You have to be gentle while washing your hands, avoid wearing rings [or] anything that will rub up against them.” So, don't go boxing or building sand castles immediately after the tattoo parlor. Since a tattoo on your fingers is in a particularly active area of your body, you’ll need to be extra diligent about taking care of it.
“As far as aftercare, as annoying as it is to have on your hands and fingers, I recommend my clients use a derm bandage for healing,” Rose says. “It keeps the tattoo sealed and safe from germs and the outside world. They need to be changed a little bit more often with finger tattoos, but I think in the end it’s worth it to go through the process and have a really nice heal. With the derm [bandage], they’re typically healed on the surface in five to seven days.” Stein also recommends using a fragrance free moisturizer to keep skin supple and protected.
In addition, if you want your finger tattoo to look good in the long run, you will likely need to get it touched up fairly regularly — that is, if you want your tattoo to look fresh (it’s also OK if you don’t!). If you see blurring in the lines or the color didn't take immediately after your first visit, Smith recommends waiting to allow for complete healing before going in for a clean-up. “Finger tattoos typically take about two weeks to fully heal,” she says. “I don't recommend a touch-up until at least a month after your initial appointment.”
All in all, finger tattoos are a cool and trendy spot for ink these days, but it’s important to know what you’re getting into in terms of pain, aftercare, and logistics before you dive right in. Now that you know the facts, care tips, and best strategies for a successful visit to the tattoo shop when it comes to tattoos on your fingers, you’ll be able to navigate the inking process smoothly. Happy tattooing!
Erica Rose, tattoo artist and owner of Black Amethyst Tattoo Co.
Jason Stein, San Francisco-based tattoo artist and owner of Cyclops Tattoo
Sydney Smith, tattoo artist at Blxck Rose Ink
This article was originally published on