My tattoos are often the first thing people notice about me.
I like to think that it’s not necessarily the actual first thing they notice about me, but it is almost certainly the first icebreaker a stranger will lob at me when they want to interact with me – specifically speaking about my hand tattoos.
My hands are collages of barbed wire, florals, palm trees, chains and snakes, and flames. They’re my favorite part of me. I’ve had them almost both fully covered for less than a year, and people ask me questions about them on the street or in passing at the grocery store almost every day when I step out to run an errand.
Silly questions like, “Did that hurt?” (yes, lots) and the insulting “Who will take you seriously outside of your friends and family?” (a lot of people, actually). Comments aside, when I look at them and have a fresh set of nails on, I feel unstoppable. When I feel my power, nothing else really matters.
With that being said: I feel as if I would be lying to you if I said that hand tattoos (at least ones as visible as mine) don’t make a huge impact on my day to day life––affecting how I feel about myself and at times the way others perceive me.
Taboo tattoo culture
There is still a heavy stigma towards having visible tattoos as a Chinese person in the United States and abroad. I often catch people staring at me on the street. Strangers and relatives often make snide comments about my tattoos. But that’s okay, because I got them to please myself.
Like any other tattoo or body modification, it has to be something you do because you want to do it for yourself. Hand tattoos are really powerful and empowering adornments. You own your individuality and you aren’t afraid of anyone seeing it.
How much does a hand tattoo cost?
Hand tattoos are not something you should try to save money on. How much your hand tattoo costs can depend on a lot of things: the artist’s hourly rate, how long it takes to complete, how detailed it is, and overall placement.
Hand tattoos can take longer to do because of the precision involved in applying ink into the dermis (skin!) layer, which determines how well your hand tattoo will heal and reduce the likelihood of ink bleeding. In big cities like New York or Los Angeles, expect to spend at least 150$ minimum for a small one, with prices going up for larger pieces. This doesn’t include the tip for your artist, which is a must if you live in the US.
My hands are nearly fully tattooed and I spent about six or seven hours and $1,800 total on intricate single needle designs and fluid line work from four different artists.
Because of the visible placement, it is worth it to save up and spend more money on something you really want that will age well, especially because it’s an area that requires more skill to tattoo properly. It lasts forever until or unless you laser it, which could take multiple removal sessions at $200-500 a pop, which can total more than the original work.
Hand tattoo best practices
Everyone can see your hands, so make sure you’re getting tattooed by someone who has experience tattooing hands. Also, make sure that you’re getting something you’ll love looking at, and that you don’t mind other people seeing readily. You can only tattoo them once, and you’ll have to look at them every day, because they’re literally your hands, so don’t settle for something that you know you won’t be happy with later down the road.
Hand tattoos fade faster than tattoos on other parts of your body. Because you use and wash your hands so much, there is constant cell turnover in that skin. While that is true, that doesn’t mean hand tattoos are any less permanent. You just have to give them a little more TLC to help them last.
Hand tattoo aftercare
For the first week, wear latex or polyurethane gloves over your ink after you take the initial dressing off your tattoo. Change gloves frequently, and wash your hands with an unscented soap.
I am most often told to use Dr. Bronner’s unscented baby soap ($7) while healing, and I’ve stuck to it. Lightly apply Aquaphor healing ointment ($10) on your tattoo until it starts peeling, and then switch to an unscented moisturizer (WOO has a terrific aftercare balm) Keep them clean and moisturized at all times. Don’t wear rings if you have finger tattoos that are healing.
Once your tattoo is healed, consider washing your hands with gentle, unscented face soap instead of hand soap when you’re at home. I use one of the bigger pump bottles of La Roche-Posay face wash ($15) to wash my hands so they stay relatively soft.
We’re still in a pandemic, so hand sanitizer is still a must, but you have to stay on top of moisturizing your tattoos so they stay cute longer. I use Necessaire’s Body Serum ($45) on my tattooed skin after I get it wet, following up with WOO’s revitalizing body moisturizer ($40). WOO’s cream moisturizer has green tea extract that helps slough off dead skin while keeping your ink moisturized and fresh.
Hand tattoo touch-ups
You might find that your hand tattoo might need a touch up sooner than you’d like, but that’s normal. Some designs need to be touched up multiple times before they heal fully into your skin. I had to get the dollar sign on my middle finger done a second time, but after the second round, it didn’t budge. Most artists won’t touch up hand tattoos for free due to the nature of the area, so keep that in mind when you’re budgeting the actual cost of the work you want to be done.
When all is said and done, remember that you are that STAR with the hand tattoo–and that you did something loving for yourself. Hand tattoos are a celebration of you, your power, and your individuality, and we are so so here for it.
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