Face tattoo

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Image of rapper Lil Peep, displaying his numerous face tattoos.

A facial tattoo is a tattoo located on the bearer's face or head. Considered taboo and socially unacceptable in many cultures,[1][2] as well as considered extreme in body art,[3] this style and placement of tattoo has emerged in certain subcultures in recent years. This is due to the continuing acceptance of tattoos[4][5] and the emergence of hip-hop culture popularizing styles such as the teardrop tattoo. Artists such as Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, Gucci Mane and, in recent years Post Malone, XXXTentacion, Lil Peep, Lil Skies, Lil Pump, Lil Xan and 6ix9ine contribute to its popularity.


In Ancient Rome, slaves who fled or attempted escape from their masters would frequently be branded on their foreheads or tattooed against their will. These tattoos portrayed the crimes committed and were a punishment because of the inability to cover up a tattoo on the forehead.[6] As the Roman world entered late antiquity, extreme Christian sects began to use former-slave forehead tattoos as religious symbols and signs of strength. Religious facial and head tattoos were not socially unacceptable within these circles[7] though in the greater Roman mainstream there was still an association between face tattoos and former slavery. In 315/316 CE, an edict outlawed facial tattoos and facial branding/tattooing for slaves.[8]

Medieval pilgrims would frequently get tattoos whilst visiting the Holy Land, including the occasional face tattoo.[9][10][11] Crusaders may have got facial tattoos as permanent proof of their participation in the Crusades, although this is unknown.[12]

In ancient Vietnam, face tattooing was considered as a form of punishment. In 1042, King Ly Thai Tong issued the Hinh Thu, or Criminal Law, in which criminals were caned or tattooed 20 to 50 characters on their faces.[13]

Ethnic practices[edit]

Inuit woman with facial tattoo

Face tattoo is traditionally practiced by many ethnic groups worldwide, such as the Inuit, Māori people, peoples of Northeast India such as the Apatani, the Chin of Myanmar and the Derung people of southwestern China.

Inuit and Alaska Natives[edit]

Facial tattoos were practiced among Inuit women, but this practice was suppressed by missionaries. In the 21st century, there was a revival of traditional facial tattooing among Indigenous Arctic women.[14][15]

Chin people[edit]

Elderly woman with extensive geometric tattoo across her face
Chin woman with face tattoo

Southern Chin women were also tattooed on their faces with closely set lines using blue pigments, ostensibly to discourage them from being kidnapped by invaders.[16] Chin women were typically tattooed between the ages of 15 and 20.[17] The practice has quickly disappeared, as it was banned in the 1960s by Burma's totalitarian regime and it was discouraged by Christian missionaries.[18][19] Mro women also wore tattoos in the form of small marks or stars on the cheek, forehead or breast.[20]


The Ainu people of northern Japan and parts of Russia, including Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands and Kamchatka Krai, have a practice of facial tattooing exclusive to women, in which a smile is inked around the mouth to prevent spirits from entering the body through the mouth. This form of tattooing also serves a secondary purpose of showing maturity.

Modern day[edit]

Face tattoos have been considered socially unacceptable and "outrageous"[21] and generally will prohibit the tattooed person from finding employment[22][23][24][25][26] and results in discrimination in many cases.[27][28][29] Most tattoo artists will attempt to dissuade clients from getting a facial tattoo, and in some cases may outright refuse to do a facial tattoo, but this refusal is usually done when the client has few tattoos collected on the rest of their body.[30][31][32][33]

Due to how taboo tattoos were originally, they are often associated with criminality. Many gangs and criminal organizations mark members with tattoos, including visible areas such as the face, head, and neck.[34][35][36] Members may get excessive facial tattoos as a form of intimidation.[37][38][39] This started in California in the 1980s before becoming widespread.[40]

A 2013 study published in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law concluded that face tattoos often lead to bias in the jury and more frequent convictions.[41] Many ex-convicts also have facial tattoos, due to prison tattooing, and the culture of prison tattoos includes the indoctrination of people within the prison populace into gangs, which often require tattoos to show aggression.[42][43] These tattoos include teardrop tattoos indicating that the bearer has either taken a life or lost someone close to them; a five-point crown, a common Latin Kings symbol; and a number of different facial tattoos alluding to Nazism in the Aryan Brotherhood and Salvadorian culture in MS-13.[44][45]

In the mid 2000s, the trend of getting a facial tattoo emerged among celebrities, starting with Mike Tyson's large tribal tattoo in 2003[46] and the ascension of rap music from the underground to the mainstream. This allowed artists with a criminal background and face tattoos to become well known, including Birdman, Lil Wayne and The Game.[47] Lil Wayne's excessive tattooing of his face created a minor trend that he helped pioneer[48] inspiring rappers like Gucci Mane[49] and then-chart topper Soulja Boy to get facial tattoos.[50]

Hip-hop culture[edit]

The influence of artists like Lil Wayne getting face tattoos wasn't fully realized until the mid-2010s with the resurgence of trap music and the "SoundCloud rap" scene.[51] Artists such as Lil Peep,[52] Travis Scott,[53] 21 Savage[54] and Migos[55] all have facial tattoos and emerged between 2014 and 2016, soon entering the mainstream and the Billboard Hot 100. The facial tattoos are often used by these artists as motivation to limit attaining meaningful employment, leading them to focus entirely on their music career. This, alongside with the entrance of hip-hop culture into the mainstream[56][57][58] has led to face tattoos increasing in popularity. The insurgence of many trap artists in the 2010s increased the popularity of face tattoos.[59]

Though discrimination remains in the fashion world for models who have facial tattoos, generally models with face tattoos of the brand they're modeling for, such as having a Chanel logo under your eye, is becoming acceptable.[60]

In professional sports[edit]

In 2003, American heavyweight professional boxer Mike Tyson received his infamous face tattoo. The iconic tribal design then went on to define his public image as the 'baddest man on the planet'.

Former NFL defensive end Ethan Westbrooks tattooed his face in order to motivate himself to further his football career.

See also[edit]


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