Are finger tattoos a bad idea? Here’s what tattoo parlours really want you to know
Finger tattoos can be a bad idea, but why? Here’s why tattoo artists will ask you to think twice, Wolverine…
You’ve found that gorgeous – if somewhat microscopic – tattoo on Pinterest. It’s cute, sexy and, being on the side of your finger, demurely discreet (whilst also being totally obvious you have a tattoo). Arriving at the studio, you cheerily wave your Pinterest discovery in front of the receptionist’s face, and suddenly find yourself being lectured at…
I work at a tattoo parlour, and I’m usually the staff member who’ll have to explain, for the billionth time that day, why getting a finger tattoo can be a really, really bad idea. For the billionty-first time today, I’m going to explain why you should think carefully before doing this to yourself. Especially if you’re considering it as a first tattoo.
You really need to think about the risks and understand it doesn’t just happen to other people, it could happen to you.
The thing is, I can’t blame people for being so unaware of the risks associated to such a placement. We live in such an image-driven society where celebrities are the beacons of what’s defined as beauty. When they do something like getting the side of their finger tattooed (Rihanna) or the sole of the foot (Miley), it’s no surprise that tattoo parlours suddenly become inundated with people wanting to emulate their idols.
Why are finger tattoos (usually) a bad idea?
1. They fade. And fast.
Finger tattoos fade because the skin on your finger regenerates super-fast. Verily, thy name is Wolverine.
If you paid attention in Biology, you may remember the teacher explaining how the skin on your palms, the sides of your fingers and the soles of your feet regenerates ten times faster than anywhere else on your body. It’s just the body’s clever way of coping with constant usage. If you want evidence for it right now, just take a look at your hand. Can you see how there’s almost a line separating the top of the hand from the bottom? The skin even feels different!
So what does this mean in terms of tattoos? I like to compare getting finger tattoos to playing an extremely twisted version of roulette – you can never tell whether the odds will be in your favour. When you’re up against such fast regeneration, the chances of the ink being able to remain wholly in your skin – if at all – are slim. Very slim.
For example, check out this cute Harry Potter tattoo (and hurry on back).
When freshly done (as most tattoo references you’ll find on the internet are), the ink looks bright, legible and… pretty good!
Sooner or later though, because of the placement’s fast regeneration, your tattoo will end up looking like the ‘six weeks later’ version on that same pic.
Not so good.
Of course there are some people who manage to attain a lovely-looking finger tattoo with no drama. And when I say “some”, I refer to a small minority of people who are just miraculously lucky from the offset. It’s a game of twisted roulette; are you sure you want to play?
Naturally the lucky ones will at some point fall prey to fading like the rest of us, providing they didn’t mess up their healing process, and depending on the skin’s ageing effects (which incidentally also occur a lot faster in these placements).
However, the majority of us have far more risks to contend with.
And here’s where the game gets interesting…
2. Blurred ink and blow-outs: common finger tattoo fails
Other than the fast regeneration which spoils the aesthetics of finger tattoos, the most common fail attributed to such locations is known to tattooists as blow outs. This is where the ink spreads out too far under the skin and causes the line work to appear blurred and distorted.
Unfortunately, this can make itself evident at any time (even to the initial lucky ones). It can happen during the healing process, whilst you’re being tattooed or even a few months later. Because your artist will be having to work extra hard to push the ink into the skin to remain there, blow outs are the most common fault to occur. The crappiest thing about it is that it’s more likely to happen with each re-touching procedure you have for the tattoo (and, because of the fast skin regeneration, you’re more likely to need them than with most other placements).
It’s not your fault. It’s also not the tattoo artist’s fault.
The most important thing to note here is that should any of this happen to you, it all falls down to how your skin takes the ink. For example, I have very pale and frail-looking skin. Whilst it’s great for keeping tattoos looking vibrant for longer, I tend to suffer from blow outs much more. It’s just a risk I’ve come to accept.
A finger tattoo isn’t always going to get better the more you try.
If you weren’t lucky the first time in hitting the sweet spot (where the ink settles properly into the skin), then you can sometimes achieve success with a re-touch or two, providing there were no issues other than fading. However, over time a re-touched finger tattoo will be subjected to fading a lot faster so you’ll need to get it topped up again. Whilst some people suffer no consequences and keep having it re-done to look fresh and vibrant, others may end up suffering a blow out anyway…
It’s a risk you’re going to have to accept and be prepared for.
3. Finger tattoos get more chance of an infection.
You guys still with me? Good, because now we get to the gruesome part…
A lot of people tend to forget that a tattoo is an open wound, because it doesn’t really look like one. And open wounds – whether they be a cut, scrape or fresh ink – are much more susceptible to infections than unbroken skin. With tattoo placements on areas that are used a lot, like the hands and soles of the feet, the chance of an infection is much greater.
Consider everyday activities like coming into contact with dirty dish water when washing up, or giving your kitty a belly scratch. Even putting on gloves can pose a threat to an unhealed tattoo. For the feet, sweating inside shoes or even the fibers from your socks can cause an infection. Basically, extreme care and diligence is required when looking after your tattoo through its healing process.
Unfortunately your artist can’t hold your hand throughout the healing process. They can only advise on how to take care of it, but as soon as their art walks out that door, it is solely up to the wearer to ensure its longevity. Of course, with the issues we discussed already, you can look after your tattoo amazingly on the fingers and feet, and still end up with it looking faded or patchy. However, an infection is something you do not want to add to that list. So be smart, and follow your tattooist’s advice.
Tattoo artists are not the bad guys. They care about what they do. That’s why they care about your tattoo placement.
Remember, whatever an artist creates on someone, it is their work and they’ll want it to look its best. If you suddenly find yourself losing your aftercare sheet, go back to the studio and ask. We take much more kindly to those who return to ask for the advice than those who come back with patches missing from the tattoo or an infection occurring because they forgot how to look after it and decided to wing it…
With all this in mind, you can’t really blame an artist for refusing to associate their work to such locations. Especially when they’re the ones usually coming out as the bad guys in this situation. No matter how they may advise and warn a client, there’s always one in a dozen who’ll end up blaming them for the tattoo’s failure. We get it, it’s hard to admit you got your first tattoo in the crappiest place imaginable, but that error can cost an artist their reputation.
4. Re-touches on finger tattoos aren’t free. The costs add up…
Speaking of cost, now would probably be a good time to mention the re-touches we mentioned earlier. Although they’re free on other body placements, re-touches are not free on finger tattoos. This goes for the palms and the sides and soles of the feet too. Whilst I can’t speak for all tattoo establishments and artists, I have yet to come across one that will offer free re-touches. Why? Well if they did, through material costs and the number of times they’d have to re-touch the area in order for it to stay or no longer be tattoo-able, they’d end up paying you to have the tattoo. Which, really, is not a great business model…
So to summarise, those small, delicate-looking tattoos come with a big risk. If you’re a first-timer in being tattooed, I really would reconsider and look for a tattoo placement area that’s not so high maintenance. Always look for a tattooist with a strong success record of tattoos remaining well in these areas – but also remember that how it heals is largely down to you, and how your skin takes the ink. Even the more “successful” artists for these areas will be encountering such problems.
Just remember, on your own hand be it…