I recently got my fiancé’s initial tattooed on my ring finger above my engagement ring (which happens to be a $40 white topaz number from Etsy, ’cause I ain’t fancy). Luckily, his first initial is the same as my first initial, so if it doesn’t work out, I can just tell people I was really feeling myself that day.
Beyoncé liked it, so she put a finger tattoo on it. (Photo: Xposure)
Hand and finger tattoos used to be colloquially known as “jobstoppers,” since they’re virtually unhidable short of trying to bring opera gloves back. But they’ve gone mainstream, as evidenced by lists and slideshows with names like 33 Impossibly Sweet Wedding Tattoos You’ll Want to Say ‘I Do’ To and 28 Tiny Finger Tattoo Ideas. Not to mention, Beyoncé has one, and she is flawless in every way.
As my incredible tattoo artist Virginia Elwood, co-owner of Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn, reports, “Ten years ago, most shops wouldn’t even tattoo the hands if the client didn’t have visible tattoos. Now you see people coming in for their first tattoos on their hands.”
Teensy, delicate, girly, finger tattoos are Pinterest and Instagram porn waiting to happen, like wearing a chic, permanent ring. But that Instagram picture of an adorable moon and stars on a blogger’s index finger doesn’t tell you that finger tats are like the pastel hair of the body-modification world — high-maintenance.
So here are a few very important things you need to know before opting to tattoo ’dem digits.
1. The tattoo may fade quickly or fall out altogether.
“People may be looking at social media photos of finger tattoos that were probably just done and look really crisp. In two years, they probably won’t look like that,” says Elwood, who likes to “manage people’s expectations” when they come in for finger tattoos. “The skin there is thin and it moves a lot, so tattoos on the hands, especially on the fingers, don’t tend to last very long. They’ll often either spread or fall out in areas.”
As a heavily tattooed woman, I knew the particular risks of tattooing that area, but I went ahead because (A.) I don’t mind if my tattoos look a little “lived in,” and (B.) I’m in a shop often enough that I knew I could easily get it touched up. But someone who was expecting a bold, ’Gram-worthy finger tattoo might be disappointed by the amount of blurring and fading I got just weeks later.
Tattoo blowout isn’t a given. Elwood says she has done some finger tattoos that look great years later. It just depends on the skin God dealt you.
2. You may be refused.
Tattoo artists generally have their own sense of ethics when it comes to very visible tattoos. Most reputable artists, for example, won’t put a neck or face tattoo on someone who doesn’t already have extensive work done, because they don’t want to be responsible for exposing that person to the potential lost opportunities and stigma of having such visible tattoos.
Your tattoo artist will most likely at the very least talk to you about your finger tattoo to make sure that you understand both the cosmetic issues and the ramifications of having permanent ink in a highly visible place. I have full sleeves and already had an anchor tattoo on my other hand, and I still got a lecture before the artist agreed to tattoo my finger.
If you’re sure you want a finger or hand tattoo, go in with a humble attitude, remembering that no artist is obligated to tattoo you if he or she doesn’t feel comfortable doing so.
“People are much more educated consumers now, so it feels less risky,” says Elwood. No tattooer wants to do a tattoo that’s going to fall out. We want our clients to be happy. But as long as you’re communicating, we’ll listen.”
3. You have to be very careful while your tattoo is healing.
Elwood says there are a lot of factors that come into play when healing a finger tattoo.
“I always tell people right after they’ve gotten the tattoo to be really aware of mundane tasks like putting your hands in your pocket or doing dishes or washing your baby or yourself. If you have a tattoo on your finger that’s a little scabby and you put it in your pocket, you could rip the scab off and that could take some of the ink out.”
Unlike, say, your inner thigh, you use your hands almost constantly, so you’ll want to be extra mindful of protecting your healing tattoo in the weeks after you get it done.
4. That wedding band may not be just like you pictured it.
“For wedding or engagement ring tattoos, I usually try to talk people out of going all the way around the finger, because the inside and palm side of the finger are more difficult to have the ink stay in. You want it to look consistently saturated, so I’ll try to talk people into doing the band on the top and the sides a little bit, so it looks like it goes all the way around.”
As always, it’s good to take your artist’s advice on what’s going to make your tattoo look the best. Remember, that person is a professional who has done this a million times and will try to create only something you’ll be happy with and the artist will be proud to be associated with.
5. Don’t forget to put sunscreen on your hands.
Sun exposure is one of the biggest factors in how your tattoos hold up over the years, so wear sunblock! Even for us indoor kids, the hands are constantly exposed to the elements, and are an easy area to forget about when it comes to applying sun protection.
Ultimately, as long you are cool with the fact that it probably won’t look as saturated and bold as other tattoos and that it will probably require touchups, you should follow your finger tattoo dreams. I certainly don’t regret my faded but heartfelt symbol of my commitment to my fiancé. (Although I have warned him that when it falls out completely, it’s possible he’ll cease to exist or we’ll be granted an automatic divorce.)
Elwood doesn’t regret her 15-year-old hand tattoos either.
“They’ve aged with me, and some spots have dropped out, but I love them,” she says. “They’re part of your story.”