You Can Tattoo Your Eyelids – But Should You?

Lil Wayne had his eyelids tattooed, and now the trend is on the rise. While some have designs, the most popular is lettering, such as Lil Wayne’s “Fear God.” Unlike permanent makeup tattoos, where the eyeliner only lasts 1-3 years, these are proper tattoos that go beyond the first skin layer. But how safe are eyelid tattoos?

The safety of an eyelid tattoo is heavily dependent on the artist. They are at high risk for infections, and studies have found that people with eyelid tattoos have shortened tear break-up time and are at risk for ocular surface disease. Aesthetically, eyelid tattoos are prone to blowing out.

Many people associate eyelid tattoos with Canadian Catt Gallinger’s traumatic experience where she cried purple tears and was left partially blind. However, the twenty-four-year-old model had actually had her sclera tinted, which is the white part of the eyeball. A sclera tattoo is not the same as having eyelids tattooed. However, that doesn’t mean there are no risks.

Are Eyelid Tattoos Risky?

The quality and safety of a tattoo are always artist-dependent. However, even highly skilled and incredibly hygienic artists may refuse to do eyelid tattoos due to how different the skin is compared to the rest of the body. While not everyone who wants one can get a spot with renowned artist Carlos Macias of Cryptic Tattoo, it is essential to have an experienced artist.

The Aesthetic Risks Of An Eyelid Tattoo

The need for an experienced eyelid tattoo artist is not just about avoiding health complications. The thin and delicate skin of the eyelid is unique, which makes these tattoos aesthetically risker.

Risk 1: Placement of An Eyelid Tattoo

Placement is always important for a tattoo, but it is crucial for eyelids. Just a fraction of an inch wrong with an eyelid tattoo will look wonky and uneven, and unlike the small of your back, you can’t cover it up with a long shirt. Your artist must have absolute precision, or you will be unhappy with the result.

 Risk 2: Blowout

Because the skin of an eyelid is thin, they are at higher risk for blowing out. Many eyelid artists will hand poke the design to have greater control and minimize the risk of such an event. A blowout on an eyelid will produce an eye-shadow effect and, of course, a smeared and blurry design.

If a blowout occurs, you will be left with three choices: living with it, seeing if an artist can do a coverup or laser removal. A coverup is the least likely, due to the size of the space.   

Risk 3: Longevity

We already know from the rise of finger tattoos that high friction areas that are routinely exposed to the sun have an increased risk of fading. The average person blinks over 19,000 times a day. That’s not even taking into account how much they are touched. Thus, if you rub your eyes a lot, then an eyelid tattoo may not be the best choice for your body.

For eyelid tattoos to maintain their art, you will also have to be committed to sunscreen, sunglasses, hydration, and moisturizing after the tattoo is healed. (Do not put anything on a fresh eyelid tattoo except what your artist has prescribed.) If this sounds like too much upkeep, it might be best to consider tattooing a less high-maintenance area of your body.

We also know from the rise of micro tattoos that these fine lines also have a high risk of fading. So, while the eyelids, spatially speaking, seem like an excellent place for a micro tattoo, it is probably not an ideal choice.

Thus, the thickness of the line and the spacing between them are crucial details to discuss with your artist if you are concerned about your eyelid tattoo’s long-term recognizability.

The Health Risks Of An Eyelid Tattoo

The obvious risk of an eyelid tattoo is the needle penetrating the eyeball. Thankfully, the evidence of this happening is scant, so this may have never occurred. Nonetheless, the fact remains that an eyelid tattoo involves a needle piercing the very skin designed to protect a precious and important organ.

Short Term Eyelid Tattoo Risks

In the short term, your most likely negative consequence is contracting an infection. Eyelids are slower to heal than most other areas of the body. They are also right on top of a leaky orifice and can be exposed to more undesirable microorganisms than, say, a shoulder tat. Thus, while it is doubtful you will get a needle injuring your eye, the infection risk is high.

The other reason for high infections and complications is the abundance of oil glands in that region. According to Milwaukie Eye Care, we have 75 oil glands per eyelid, known as the Meibomian glands. If these get injured, plugged, or infected, you can suffer from:

  • Blepharitis and Meibomian Gland Dysfunction
  • Chalazion
  • Dry Eye Syndrome
  • Styes
  • Trichiasis

Unfortunately, while infections are a short-term risk, they can have long-term consequences. While long-term ramifications from an infection are rare, they should never be taken lightly. An infection needs to be treated immediately to mitigate long-term problems.

Long Term Eyelid Tattoo Risk

A study has found that there can be long-term consequences to eyelid tattoos. They looked into the corneal erosion and the damage to the meibomian glands. Those that were tattooed had greater meibomian gland loss and higher rates of corneal erosion. This translates to drier eyes.

This might not sound like a high price to pay, but it does raise the chances of you rubbing your eyes and causing additional wear and tear to your actual tattoo. Although getting eye drops can help with this.

Are Eyelid Tattoos Painful?

Pain levels are personal and subjective, so every individual experience is different. However, human physiology would suggest that it is one of the more painful parts of the body to get tattooed. This is because there are some significant nerves and nerve fibers in the upper eyelids.

There are three types of motor nerves involved in the movement of the eyelid:

  • Seventh cranial nerve
  • Third cranial nerve
  • Sympathetic nerves

In addition, there is the fifth cranial nerve that branches across the surface of your eyelids that is responsible for sensations such as heat, itching, and touch.

Thus, the pain of having eyelids tattooed isn’t just because the skin is so thin. It is also because the area is rich in nerves.

This is why most tattoo artists who do eyelid tattoos will not do them on a client unless they have had some decent tattooing experience beforehand. The area is sensitive, and for the tattoo to be successful, the client needs to remain still so the artist can do their job. Thus, you, the client, need to have a deep understanding of how well you deal with tattoo pain.

In short: are you the type of person that can remain still even when having a needle poked in your eyelid?

If that makes you want to run away screaming, consider having a tattoo on places such as:

  • Bicep
  • Calves
  • Forearm
  • Outer thigh

These are more robust areas on the body and generally respond well to being inked. They also tend to be places where artwork holds up the best, allowing you to enjoy a quality piece for years and years. The other bonus is you’ll get to see your tattoo. No way you can admire your own eyelid tattoo without using photography.

Is Recovery The Same For An Eyelid Tattoo?

There will be the itching and flaking stage with possible scabbing like any other tattoo. You will also be required to be attentive to the aftercare your artist has prescribed. However, unlike other tattoos, the swelling will be more prominent, and there may be discoloration in the surrounding areas, like a bruise. However, like a bruise, these will fade.

You will have to avoid sunscreen, makeup, and anything with fragrances for a while. While this is normal for any tattoo, this period will be longer as eyelid tattoos heal slower. Extra caution will be required regarding sun exposure, and you will have to resist touching your eyes, especially avoiding any picking or tugging.

You will also need to take immediate action at the slightest hint of infection to avoid any potential problems becoming worse.

Can You Remove Eyelid Tattoos?

Laster removal of eyelid tattoos is possible. However, because the laser has to be operated on a gentler heat, due to the delicacy of that part of the body, it is not always possible to fully eradicate an eyelid tattoo.

As with any other tattoo removal procedure, having eyelid tattoos removed are more demanding than having one done. While the eyelids and the actual eye are numbed before the procedure begins, it is still an uncomfortable experience.

Much of the discomfort associated with eyelid tattoo removal is due to eye protection. Contact-like shields have to be worn, and these are made of stainless steel or are plastic with handles to remove. These are thicker than any contacts people wear. But they are crucial to protecting the cornea from the laser.

Some tattoo artists also use stainless steel guards when doing an eyelid tattoo on their clients. Carlos Macias does not. But if this is something you want to avoid, then you need to discuss this with the artist beforehand.

Do Many Celebrities Have Eyelid Tattoos?

Eyelid tattoos are not a big trend in the celebrity sphere as of yet. Lil Wayne is the most famous example. Another is Trippe Redd, who has “TR 666” on his eyelids. The numbers supposedly stand for “6 protons, 6 electrons, and 6 neutrons.”

While most celebrities are not sporting tattoos are their eyelids, there are plenty with an eye design tattooed on their bodies. Famous names include:

  • Bishop Briggs
  • Jahan Yousaf
  • Jesy Nelson
  • Kesha
  • Malu Trevejo
  • Miley Cyrus

Eyelid Tattoos Vs. Tattooed Eyeliner?

Eyelid tattoos and “permeant makeup” where eyeliner is tattooed on are not the same thing. However, there is overlap, as both involve a needle and pigment being applied to your eyelid. Yet, even in that, they are different. The needle and pigments used for permeant makeup are not the same as those used in the tattoo industry.

Permeant makeup isn’t permanent. It will last about a year. After that, the pigmentation changes, and while the eyeliner’s line may still be visible, the color will change. The whole line might be lost by year three without touchups, although some say theirs stayed for five.

The makeup pigment used in these cosmetic inks has reduced amounts of metals. These are what help the color adhere to the epidermis.

Nor is the pigment inserted as far into the body. When permanent eyeliner is applied, it is only placed one layer into the skin. This means the color sits higher and will look brighter than regular tattoos for a time. But you lose longevity by doing this. However, it does make it safer, as a shorter needle significantly reduces any chance of it poking through to the actual eye.

This doesn’t mean that permeant makeup is without risk. For example, the majority of the oil glands in the eyelid are located precisely where eyeliner is applied. Thus, these glands can be damaged and still risk the long-term consequences of dry eyes.

The other drawback to permanent makeup is the frequency. Sure, they are not going as deep, and there are advantages to that when it comes to safety. But it also means you are looking at the same area being needled as much as once a year, and that’s not accounting for touchups due to gaps in the line.

Every time you have the procedure done, there is a risk of infection. The more often you do it, the more likely it is that you will contract an infection.

Thus, while permeant makeup is more common, it still has its own risks that must be considered.

Conclusion

Deciding to have your eyelids tattooed is a personal choice. The decision is not a matter of “should” or “should not.” However, there are some high-risk factors that need to be considered before having your eyelids inked. It also requires a lot of research. Not all brilliant artists will do eyelid tattoos. Likewise, not all artists that do them are the right person for you.

Good luck, and may your ink never fade.

Some of my favourite designs, tattoo books and aftercare products, selected for you

working on tattoo at my studio
Working at the studio on one of my projects

Thank you for reading my article, I hope that you have found it helpful. If you would have trouble finding ideas for your tattoo, wonder what is meaning of design that you have found or what to buy for aftercare, to make sure that your tattoo will be healing quickly and easily, here are some of my favorite products in one place, hope that this will also help.

Deasign and tattoo ideas

For some ideas you can have a look at those 3 books with hundreds of designs that I use with my clients, they are available on Amazon for Kindle or in classic, paper version (links below):

Tattoo meaning

If you would like to read more about the meaning of different tattoo styles and designs before you will decide what you would like to have, I can recommend a book that was really useful for me when I was starting my tattoo adventure – it’s “Conscious Ink: The Hidden Meaning of Tattoos” by Lisa Barretta (through the link you can find it on Amazon for around $10).

Tattoo aftercare

The skin at the tattoo site often dries out. To prevent it and speed up healing for my clients, I usually recommend one of those tattoo aftercare balms (you can find them on Amazon):

Links

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