Why Many Tattoo Artists Refuse to Tattoo Hands, Feet, and Faces

Be the Change Tattoo
beccapeterson.26/Flickr

If you’re looking to get a tattoo on your foot, hand, or face, you’re probably going to have a difficult time finding an artist to do it. Many studios have policies against doing tattoos in these areas. Some artists feel strongly enough about it to turn down potential business by refusing to do this type of tattoo. So what's the big deal?

A Professional Dilemma

You may not realize it, but a tattoo artist frequently becomes the conscience of naive or impetuous customers who want tattoos that could cause them a lot of problems down the road.

These professionals know that highly visible tattoos, such as on the hand and face, can cause the wearer to become the subject of ridicule or impede the chances of finding employment. A tattoo artist who feels you're not ready to take on the consequences cannot in good conscience allow you to get such a tattoo.

True, you could probably just find someone else to do it, but at least the tattooist who refuses can rest easy with a decision that protects you. At the very least, the situation should cause you to stop and think about the potential consequences of your actions. The tattooist is trying to assess your ability to deal with the consequences of your decision. Are you really ready to handle the reactions of the public to an unconventional, highly visible body modification? Are you prepared to accept rejections to in future job interviews? Remember: It’s permanent, and it’s not in a place where you can cover it up easily.

It’s always out there, always visible. And no matter how society's acceptance of body art grows, you will still have problems being accepted in many places and by many people. If you are not ready to handle that, it’s best that you hold off on the tattoo until you are—and a reputable tattoo artist will tell you so.

An Issue of Quality

Of course, not all studios refuse to do certain tattoos for strictly altruistic reasons. After all, foot tattoos certainly aren’t high-visibility social and work liabilities. Quality and longevity are the issues.

Foot and hand tattoos are difficult to do well. To understand why, consider the nature of a tattoo. The ink is liquid, of course—but you might not realize that it remains a liquid, expertly positioned between the epidermis and the dermis. It neither sits on top of the skin nor gets absorbed. The feet and hands have thinner skin than the rest of your body, and positioning that ink just right takes skill and practice. Just a smidge too deep or too shallow, and you'll wind up with a blurry or discolored tattoo that screams "mistake"—and it's one that even the most expert artist can make.

Even if your hand or foot tattoo turns out perfectly, it'll be very difficult to maintain. Your hands and feet take a lot of abuse in everyday life, and all of it can nudge that pocket of ink out of place. Getting to the healed point for a foot tattoo is difficult and tricky; socks and shoes constantly rubbing against your feet can irritate the site. Sure, you can go barefoot, but then, you'll expose your injury—because, let's face it, that's what it is—to the elements.

Foot tattoos are all too easily infected, and sunlight, because it penetrates skin layers, can wreak havoc. If you really want to get that foot tattoo, you must be totally prepared to baby it like you have never babied your skin before. 

The same thing goes for hand tattoos. If you’re a mechanic, a dishwasher, or in any other job that is rough on your hands, just don't do it. You’ll only ruin the tattoo and be stuck with a mess in a very visible area.

A Matter of Reputation

Most tattoo artists guarantee their work and back it up with things such as free touch-ups. A tattooist's reputation is on the line the moment you walk out the door. Your tattoo is a walking advertisement, vouching for the artist's expertise to every person who sees it. If you mess up your tattoo by insisting on poor placement or not performing meticulous aftercare, it’s the artist who's going to get the blame.

Finding an Artist to Do a Hand, Foot, or Face Tattoo

If you’re really determined to get one of these tattoos and you’re having trouble finding an artist, you can try a couple strategies. If the artist you prefer has a policy against doing them, you can always try reassuring him or her that you're aware of the risks and willing to accept them. Agree to sign a form releasing the tattooist of any responsibility in the event that anything goes wrong with the tattoo. Agree—preferably, in writing—that touch-ups will not be free, and acknowledge that you understand you might need them on a regular basis.

If the artist still refuses to do the tattoo, the only thing you can really do is keep looking. Ask for recommendations from the artist or from friends.

Choose Wisely

Keep in mind, though, that an artist who will do such a tattoo might understand the desire for all kinds of art—or just be willing to take your money without caring about quality or about the consequences of your decision. Make sure you choose your artist wisely, and take very good care of your tattoo.