Do Lip Tattoos Hurt?

April 3, 2022
Max Stevens
do lip tattoos hurt

Lip tattoos are cool, no doubt. But do lip tattoos hurt? You may have seen Miley Cyrus or Kendall Jenner sport their lip tattoos, or you may have seen a cool dude walking downtown confidently showing off his lip tattoo.

These tattoos are so cool and stylish you want to have them too, but before you give it much thought, have you asked yourself if you can handle it? And by “it”, we mean the pain the tattoo entails. For lip tattoos, pain and risks are the biggest concerns and factors you should be wary of.

If you can’t handle the pain of a lip tattoo, you will probably have troubles mid-session that can make or break your tattoo experience permanently. After all, it’s the lips we’re talking about.

We eat with our lips, drink with our lips, kiss our loved ones, and smile with our lips. We do so much with our lips that one big mistake can ruin your smile and disrupt the way you eat, drink, and kiss for weeks, if not months, if you’re not careful.

So before you decide to get a lip tattoo, it helps to understand if you can tolerate the pain involved and other important factors you need to know about lip tattoos. We’ve written this article to help you out and make your lip tattoo session great to end with a good note.

Do Lip Tattoos Hurt Bad?

illustration of the lip with muscles annotations
Anatomical diagram of the lips.

The lips are one of the most sensitive parts of the body. So with that logic in mind, yes, lip tattoos definitely hurt. In fact, lip tattoos are considered one of the most painful tattoos to have together with high-sensing, non-bony, and non-fleshy areas such as the palms, fingers, neck, and ankles.

If we resort to anatomy, the lips are full of nerve endings that sense pleasure and pain.

Did you know? The lips are an erogenous zone, which means sexual arousal is possible if that zone is touched.

The bad part with this is that the lips can also feel so much pain aside from pleasure which means you can have severe pain during a tattoo procedure.

man with inner lip tattoo saying dead and gold teeth
Minimalist text-based inner lip tattoo. Photo by Alex Alexander from Pexels.

To roughly gauge the pain involved in a lip tattoo session, you can try running down the tip of a pen on your lips until it’s smeared with ink. Although this experiment is not a surefire way to gauge the pain of a lip tattoo, it can give you a rough idea of how much do lip tattoos hurt.

However, the dilemma is that a regular pen is different from a tattoo pen. So if that little experiment hurt badly using just a regular pen, you can expect to be in pain to be at least 3 times more with an actual tattoo pen.

Tattoo pens employ tiny needles that prick the skin to deliver the ink to the topmost layer of the dermis—the second layer of skin beneath the epidermis (the protective layer of skin) and encourage the skin to retain the ink inside.

However, numerous factors will either amplify or reduce the pain you can feel in a tattoo session aside from the actual anatomy of the lips.

Lip Tattoo Pain Factors

As mentioned earlier, numerous factors affect your pain sensitivity, particularly in your lips. Here are some pain factors involved:

  • Mental readiness. If you are nervous and expect the lip tattoo to hurt really bad, it would likely come true. This is called catastrophising and what happens here is that the more negative you think about tattooing, the more likely it is to translate to real-time in real life. If you think it will hurt bad, it will hurt bad.
  • Gender. Studies confirm that biological women have higher pain sensitivities than biological men. So if you’re a woman wanting to have a lip tattoo, you would probably feel pain more than your male counterparts.
  • Tattoo experience. If you’re a newbie, you would most probably feel pain more than people who have been tattooed before. This is because people who have been tattooed before having an idea how much a tattoo hurts, so they can prepare themselves physically and mentally. If you’ve got plenty of ink, then you know how to care for a tattoo that reduces pain and worries in the long run.
  • Tattoo detail. In every tattoo, detail matters. Unfortunately, a tattoo’s detail also leads to pain being amplified and sustained throughout the session. If you opt for a highly-detailed tattoo, it may be more painful because the tattoo pen runs down the same path repeatedly, which also sustains the pressure in the area. If you need to reduce or avoid too much pain, you can opt for a lower-detailed tattoo.

Risks of Lip Tattooing

Getting a lip tattoo is not without any risks. Like any other tattoo on other parts of the skin and body, risks are an inevitable part of the tattooing process. However, for a lip tattoo, the risks go higher because of several reasons:

  • The oral microbiota. The human mouth is home to billions of harmful and good microorganisms. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi are all present in the human mouth, posing a threat of infection for a lip tattoo in its healing process. This makes the lip tattoo heal notoriously longer than other tattoos since it is easily accessible by pathogenic microorganisms present in the mouth.
  • Swelling. Every tattoo swells because of the micro-needling of the tattoo pen. But for lip tattoos, swelling can be a bad point since it can counteract the normal mobility of your lips. Having swollen lips will give you a hard time eating, drinking, and speaking, not to mention the dread of not being able to kiss your significant other.
  • Scarring. Scarring can occur since a tattoo is considered a break on the skin surface. Scars are formed when the body produces too much collagen on the wound site leading to a more noticeable appearance than the rest of the skin. Infections can aggravate scarring, so it would be best to prioritise preventing infections in your lip tattoo to reduce the possibility of scar-forming.

If you notice unusual symptoms such as profuse bleeding, pus-forming, blistering, or severe stinging, consult your GP for appropriate medical advice and information.

Conventional Lip Tattoos v.s. Cosmetic Lip Tattoos

Lip tattoos are divided into two: conventional and cosmetic. Conventional lip tattoos are the tattoos you would notice the most between the two. These tattoos can be in any form: shapes, texts, any colour, or any sort of pattern that would fit into a person’s lips.

On the other hand, cosmetic lip tattoos focus on one task: making the skin of the lips look natural as much as possible. This is done by tattooing the lips with the usual colours of human lips, such as pink and reddish-pink. Women commonly request these tattoos to make their lips beautiful without putting on lip balm or lipstick. This is why it is called “cosmetic” since it is done to resemble the natural colour of the lips just as lipsticks and lip balms do.

Cosmetic lip tattoos are also frequently called “permanent lipstick”, though as with any tattoo, colours fade gradually over time and need to be retouched after several months.

Are Lip Tattoos Permanent?

No, lips tattoos aren’t permanent. Like any tattoo, lip tattoos eventually fade, albeit faster than other tattoos, since the lips are frequently subjected to friction and moisture, such as when you eat, drink, and kiss.

Saliva is present in the mouth to aid digestion, so saliva plays a significant role in tattoo fading. It acts as a solvent that breaks down the ink, fading it gradually.

Lip tattoos fade eventually, so you would probably require some touch-ups in several months if you would like to keep the colour vibrance of your tattoo.

Do Inner Lip Tattoos Hurt?

Yes, they do. Most lip tattoos are tattooed in the inner lip anyway, but the critical point is that the outer lip and inner lip are one. This means that inner lip tattoos hurt as much as outer lip tattoos and vice-versa.

The difference between outer and inner lip tattoo pain is that inner lip tattoos would probably take longer because saliva will be present, causing the ink to mess up.

Did you know? You’ll also have to pull back your own lip whilst getting tattooed.  


Many people are in the same boat as you but don’t worry, most end up getting a lip tattoo regardless of the pain. It’s cool to have anyways, and it acts like some sort of war trophy you can show off because you paid for it in literal blood, sweat, and tears.

Now that you know the essential factors about lip tattoos, you can decide whether or not you will get one. If you don’t want to have one anymore, you’re good. If you choose to get one, enjoy your tattoo!


  • Anatomy of the Lips, Mouth, and Oral Region

  • The Erogenous Mirror: Intersubjective and Multisensory Maps of Sexual Arousal in Men and Women

  • The Dermis

  • Emotional and Cognitive Influences on Pain Experience

  • Gender Differences in Subjective Pain Perception during and after Tattooing

  • The Oral Microbiota

  • Scars

  • Saliva as research material: Biochemical, physicochemical and practical aspects


Max Stevens

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