How painful is a cosmetic lip tattoo?

Tattoos have been a popular form of body art for many years. Statistic Brain reports that 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo somewhere on their body.

The latest tattoo trend to explode in popularity is lip tattoos. Although any tattoo procedure can be risky, if you’re thinking about getting one on or inside of your lip, you might want to first investigate the specific risks of lip tattoos before going under the needle.

Lip tattoos are done on either the inside or outside of your lips. Permanent makeup may also be tattooed on your lips.

A lip tattoo is a professional procedure that involves inserting colour pigments into your lips with small tattooing needles. This may come in the form of tattoo art in your lip area, or perhaps permanent makeup Trusted Source as an aesthetic procedure called cosmetic tattooing.

Whether you get a tattoo on the inside or outside of your lips, you should know that both can be painful and prone to infection. It’s essential to know all the facts about these trendy tattoos to see if they’re worth it for you.

We’re the first to admit we are lipstick hoarders. We have more shades than there are days in the year. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, and we have no intention of changing. But, that’s not to say we wouldn’t love it if our lips looked like they naturally had the perfect shade of nude lipstick already applied from the minute we woke up. 

Mostly, you can have just that, if you’re willing to get a lipstick tattoo.

We agree, it sounds scary, and it definitely shouldn’t be a treatment undertaken without knowing all the facts, which is why we wanted to fill you in on all the need-to-know details.

Not to be confused with the lip tattoos people get on their inner lip (why, Kendall Jenner?!), this is a cosmetic beauty treatment that enhances your natural lip colour and can even make your lips appear fuller. 

“Lip tattooing is a semi-permanent cosmetic procedure whereby you can have the effects of wearing lipstick without the hassle of applying it, smudging it and reapplying it throughout the day,” says Amy Jean, founder of Amy Jean Brow Agency and beauty vlogger Chloe Morello’s go-to girl for her own lip tattoos.

Known by a couple of names, such as lip tint tattooing, lip staining, lip blushing and ombré lip tattooing, it’s more about enhancing lips to give them the illusion of fullness, rather than adding actual volume into the lips as fillers do. “An experienced lip artist can create balance in asymmetrical lips and extend the colour discretely past the natural lip line to give a fuller appearance,” explains Amy Jean.

“It began to surge in popularity in the 1980s; however, the results were very harsh and solid,” says Amy Jean. Think overlined lips that weren’t fooling anyone. “The technology has advanced greatly with regards to tattoo machines and the pigments. We now use organic pigments that don’t run the risk of changing colour over the years,” says Amy Jean. The results are more like a sheer lip stain that looks natural. 

If you’ve been on social media in the past five years, aesthetically, it’s clear—the lips have it. In the past, lip injections were often an undiscussed augmentation. (Then again, most aesthetic alterations were hush-hush until the online beauty renaissance.) Now, there are over 1.6M hashtags on Instagram with tagged photos of lip injections and lip fillers, and Google searches for “lip injections near me” have continued to increase since 2014. People discuss their injectors openly. In short: filler provides major lip service for the non-invasive aesthetics industry.

From injecting filler directly in the lips to plump to adding filler under the bottom lip to make what you already have looked more pronounced, there are several options out there for increasing your lip real estate, including tattooing. It’s not a new service by any means—permanent makeup has been around for decades—but gone are the days of the stark, fade-to-blue lip liner tattoos. Meet lip blushing, the tattoo that not only colour corrects but enhances the shape and size of your lips, too.

“Lip blushing is a form of semi-permanent makeup. Essentially, it is a cosmetic tattoo of the lips that enhances the beauty of the natural lip colour, improving the shape of the lips, giving definition and the illusion of fullness,” said Christina Son, owner of Sugarin Studio in Los Angeles. “This treatment delivers very natural results, once healed. The filler is great for creating volume in your lips, but lip blush delivers a more natural look and gives the illusion of fuller lips.”

About the Procedure

Cosmetic lip tattoos and permanent makeup techniques, in general, have progressed greatly over the years. Instead of appearing to be wearing makeup at all times, much like scalp micropigmentation and microblading, the goal of a cosmetic tattoo is to create a realistic enhancement of facial features with natural tones that complement the individual’s complexion. Lip tattoos not only focus on increasing the borders of the lips, but also enriching the colour of the lips themselves to a richer shade that further creates the look of larger lips. The actual procedure will vary among individuals; the aesthetic goals will differ from person to person as well as there is a myriad of devices that can be used for the tattooing. However, every cosmetic lip tattoo will begin with a consultation with your provider to determine shape and shade. The lips will then be cleansed, numbed, and the area to be tattooed will be marked. Once the procedure is complete, lips will be swollen and may appear darker than expected; however, this is natural, and both size and colour will fade during the healing process.

The goal of a cosmetic lip tattoo is to improve, refine, and define the “red” part of the lips. The red lip is the pigmented part of the lips and is separate from the “white roll”, or vermillion border of the lips, which is the border between the red lip and the skin surrounding the mouth.

“Topical anesthetic is applied to the lips to pre-numb the area,” Amy Jean explains. “We then do a thorough consultation and design the shape using ultra-fine pencils. The tattooing itself can take 45 minutes to one-and-a-half hours. You feel pressure on the lips and buzzing from the machine, but some clients have been known to fall asleep! Once the anaesthetic wears off you will not be in pain. You will feel as though the lips are very stimulated.”

Note: If you’re prone to cold sores, you should take anti-viral medication before your procedure. The stimulation of the needles may potentially cause cold sores to appear, which can negatively impact the healing process.

So what happens in an appointment? First, there’s pout prep. A topical anesthetic is applied to pre-numb the lips for 20 minutes. Afterwards, the technician will draw the shape of the “new” lips so that you can evaluate and make any changes.

“Generally, I love to make the cupid’s bow a little more pronounced and add fullness to the sides of the lips, as sometimes the natural colour is lost in those areas. Once the client is happy with the shape, we begin the actual tattooing,” said Son.

The procedure takes place over the course of an hour to an hour and a half, if not longer, depending on the look you’re going for. Once the appointment is completed, your lips may be swollen—it is a tattoo, after all—so you can ice them if necessary. Over the next week, your lips will start to heal, meaning they may scab, so it’s important to time this carefully around your schedule.

During a lip tattoo session, the tattoo artist will first draw the design you want. They will then trace it onto the desired area of your lips.

Using new, sterile needles, your artist will then insert the desired ink colours by making slow, methodical punctures in your skin. Once the tattoo is complete, your lips will be covered up with a sterile bandage to prevent infection.

Expect pain as well as some bleeding during the process. You might experience more pain with a lip tattoo compared with other areas of the body, such as an arm or leg tattoo.

It can take about two weeks for a new tattoo to heal, so be sure you understand all aftercare techniques before leaving the studio. Since you can’t clean the inside of your mouth with soap, you’ll need an antibacterial mouth rinse.

Do lip tattoos hurt?

Surprisingly, no. Well, not surprising given a numbing cream is applied to the area, but still, we’re talking an hour of needles on your lips, so consider us relieved.

A lip tattoo can be trickier and more painful than tattoos on other parts of your body. But when done by a reputable artist and allowed to heal properly, a lip tattoo can be an effective artistic expression.

If you develop any issues post-tattoo session, be sure to speak with your doctor right away. They can give you tips for resolving an infection before it gets out of hand and leads to scarring.

When it comes to scabs, it’s important that they fall off naturally—picking them can result in scarring or loss of pigment in those areas. Son also suggests avoiding workouts and sun exposure for two weeks (a great excuse to avoid the gym if we do say so ourselves) and if you plan on getting injections, wait a full month. Sleeping on your face could also cause the scabs to fall off prematurely. An occlusive ointment like Aquaphor should be worn to keep the lips properly moisturized. (But then again, Aquaphor should always be worn because it’s a god-send.)

Initially, the color will be super vibrant, almost like a lip stain. “It is important not to be misled by the immediate ‘after’ results. The immediate results look nothing like when the lips are healed. Once healed, the colour fades approximately 30-50 percent and also blends in with the natural lip colour,” Son said.

Scabbing typically lasts five to seven days, and after four weeks, the lips should be fully healed to completion, but Son suggests a touch-up appointment around six weeks in the event the client wants to alter the shape of the blush or to fill in areas that may have rejected pigment, although it’s not mandatory.

During the procedure, there was a good amount of discomfort. I had no issues with pain when I got my eyebrows microbladed, but the lips are a whole different story! The lips have many more blood vessels, which makes them more prone to sensitivity and swelling over any other area on the face, even with numbing cream.

The first service was the most uncomfortable out of both appointments. In essence, the whole session was about 2 hours because my hyperpigmentation was so dark that those areas were not taking the colour well, so Lynn had to make sure that those areas received a good amount of pigment to make sure that the colour would remain after healing. After the service, I took two 200mg Ibuprofen tablets, tried to eat (and failed miserably because my lips felt so swollen and tight), and then immediately went home to binge-watch Netflix while gulping down some Juice it Up with a straw.

Lips were swollen as if I’d gotten lip injections, and it felt almost as if I’d gotten punched in the mouth. They felt extremely tight and tender to the touch, so it stung a bit to clean them and apply A&D ointment to keep them moist.

What are the risks or side effects of getting a lip tattoo?

Despite the popularity of tattoos, there are still risks and side effects to consider. This is especially true of the ever-so-sensitive lip area. Consider the following risks:

Swelling: Tattoo needles create micro-injuries in your skin. It’s natural for your skin to swell up as a reaction to such injuries, but this should ease up within a couple of days. Cold packs can help alleviate the swelling.

Infections: An infection after a tattoo in the lip area can occur for a few reasons. It’s important to make sure your tattoo artist uses sterilized equipment and needles. You must also follow your aftercare instructions, including using a mouth rinse. Since the lips come into contact with saliva, food, and drinks, this can also increase your risk for infections. Inner-lip tattoos are most susceptible because of moisture and bacteria inside the mouth.

Scarring: When a lip tattoo doesn’t heal properly, it may scar. Allergic reactions and infections post-tattooing can also increase your risk of developing scar tissue at the site.

Allergic reactions:If you have a history of skin allergies or sensitivities, consider talking to your tattoo artist about using allergenic ink. Signs of an allergic reaction may include itchiness, rash, and hives.

Anaphylaxis: While relatively rare, this severe allergic reaction has been previously reportedTrusted Source in some people within hours of getting inked. The swelling of your lips is normal after getting a lip tattoo. But if you also notice swelling around your neck and cheeks and experience breathing difficulties, go to the emergency room right away. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.

Blood-borne illnesses: Not using sterilized needles can lead to the transmission of blood-borne illnesses, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.

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