Body modification has become increasingly mainstream over the last couple of decades. Approximately 21% of Americans have at least one tattoo, compared to less than 6% in the 1930’s. There are about 21,000 tattoo shops open in the US right now, with one new tattoo shop opening every day. One new trend in body modification is lip tattoos. Although this temporary tattoo trend may seem convenient or funny, lip tattoos have extra complications that you should consider before rushing out to get inked.
What are Lip Tattoos?
There are two different types of lip tattoos. Inner lip tattoos are more similar to what you traditionally call a tattoo. A tattoo artist uses a needle or tattoo gun to inject ink, usually spelling a short word or a simple symbol, on the inside of your lip. It is only possible to see this tattoo if you pull down your lip and show someone. An outer lip tattoo is actually permanent make-up and uses pigment rather than ink. Usually, this is a line around the edge of your lips one or two shades darker than your natural color. It is intended to make your lips look fuller.
Both types of lip tattoos should be considered temporary. Your mouth and lips heal and shed skin cells much faster than most parts of your body, so your tattoo will fade and probably completely disappear in a few months to a few years.
6 Things to Consider Before Getting Inked
Human mouths are a haven for bacteria
Even more so than your skin, your mouth is home to millions of bacteria. (Maybe even more if you don’t stay on top of oral hygiene!) Consider the recommendation for cleaning your skin is at most once daily, whereas you should be brushing your teeth and cleaning your mouth no fewer than twice daily. The human mouth is actually home to more bacteria than almost any other animal. This is especially concerning when you intentionally put an open wound in your mouth. Bacteria can be put into the lip during or after your tattoo, making lip tattoos more susceptible to infection.
Before you get a lip tattoo, drink and swish with lots of water, and follow up with a long and vigorous swish with antibacterial mouth wash. If you’re getting an outer lip tattoo, clean the surface of your lips well. As with all tattoos, only go to a licensed professional tattoo artist who uses proper hygiene and sterile equipment.
You’ll need to make diet and lifestyle changes for proper healing
While your tattoo is healing, you’ll have to be extra careful what you choose to eat. Acidic foods like tomatoes, vinegars, and citruses can burn, irritate, and slow healing. It’s best to eat more bland foods and drink plenty of water while your tattoo heals. Smoking or chewing tobacco can also reduce blood-flow, slow healing, and increase the bacteria in your mouth. It’s best to quit smoking or chewing before getting a lip tattoo, but at the least you should avoid these activities until the wound is healed.
You’ll also want to be vigilant to brush, floss, AND rinse with mouthwash frequently to lower bacteria levels in your mouth. Additionally, other activities like kissing and sharing drinks with friends should be avoided for the same reason.
You should avoid getting touch-ups
Because infection risks are so much higher in your mouth, you should consider your tattoo temporary and not get it touched-up. Second and third injections in the same site significantly increase your risk of infection. Your skin cells have more difficulty healing after repeated injections, and scar tissue can trap bacteria in the wound.
Scar tissue from lip tattoos can make detecting oral cancer difficult
You may get some scar tissue from the tattoo as it heals, especially if you have an allergic reaction to the ink. Scar tissue resembles oral cancer and may make it difficult to catch early stages of oral cancer later.
Lips are highly sensitive, making lip tattoos very painful
Parts of your body that have lots of nerve endings are more painful to have tattooed. Lips have over 1 million nerve endings. This is part of what makes kissing so pleasurable, and part of how we enjoy food. But when you are injecting the area repeatedly, it means a lot of pain. Additionally, you will need to keep your lip open and hold completely still, which is difficult to do when it’s painful.
Lip tattoos can be riskier than other tattoos
All tattoos carry some risk. Tattoos in or near your mouth are slightly riskier than others for a few reasons. First, you are putting ink, pigment, and tools in or near your mouth, giving bacteria and pollutants two entry points to your body- through your bloodstream and down your throat. Second, your mouth has a lot of blood vessels and nerves which means that bacteria which make it into your skin will have a better success rate at spreading elsewhere in your body.
If you’re considering an inner or outer lip tattoo, take time to weigh the risks. Make sure you have a solid plan in place for proper preparation and after-care. Do your research and find a reputable tattoo shop with a licensed professional artist. If you are worried about lip infection, please call our office and schedule an appointment today.