Face tattoos, once territory only entered by the most rebellious and serious about their ink, are being sought after by the younger generation.
Thanks to some of the biggest celebrities like Justin Bieber and hip-hop star Post Malone sporting face ink, the lines are blurred between face tattoos being taboo and the new normal. Many young people are asking tattoo artists to give them their first tattoo on their face.
Most tattoo aficionados heavily tattoo the rest of their body before venturing up the neck, but because of a new generation of aspiring rap artists born on the music platform SoundCloud, this rite of passage is being skipped over. Many of the rappers have gone straight to face tattoos in order to sell themselves and seem more transgressive.
“I think it’s kind of like putting the cart before the horse,” Chris Harris, a tattoo artist at Liberty Tattoo Company in Smithtown, New York, said. “But now, it’s more common.”
While a number of tattoo shops in New York City don’t keep track of how many tattoos they give in certain areas, tattooists are still able to say that face tattoos are being requested more than ever before.
“It’s definitely a lot more than last year,” Annabelle Scott, the bookkeeper at Fun City Tattoo, one of the oldest tattoo shops in Manhattan, said. “I couldn’t say exactly how many, but I’d say we’ve given a couple dozen face tattoos this year, maybe more. It’s a lot more often every year.”
This number does not sit so high at other tattoo shops, who don’t have the long-standing establishment that Fun City does. Other tattoo shops say that they have seen an increase in young people asking for face tattoos, but deny many of the requests, in fear of hurting their reputation. This disapproval from professionals is sending face tattoo seekers to alternatives.
“I’ve done maybe six this year, but turned down like 60, way more than previous years,” Jon Brady, a tattoo artist at Addiction NYC in Manhattan, said. “The only person who’s going to tattoo someone’s face who isn’t heavily tattooed is a super unprofessional artist. It’s my business — so if I ruin you, it’s going to ruin my reputation and my business.”
Lucius Chen, an artist at Clash City Tattoo in Manhattan, said he turned down most of the increasing face tattoo requests he received this year.
“I’ve only done maybe three face tattoos, but I’ve denied probably over 40,” Chen said. “I’ll only do them if I really like the aesthetic. People come in here wanting just a copy of what they’ve seen before. It’s not McDonald’s, where you can just order something off of the menu. Be original.”
The moral repercussions of the tattoos and the hurt chances of employment for the client are the main reason why many tattoo artists will simply not give tattoos above the neck or on the hands either.
“I will not tattoo hands or faces on people that are not tattooists and have not been tattooing for a lot of years,” Mike Martin, president of The Alliance of Professional Tattooists, a non-profit organization that addresses the health and safety issues facing the tattoo industry, said. “I see young people and wonder what they were thinking when they had a tattoo put on their face. Then, I wonder what the artist that did the tattoo was thinking.”
Before their recent rise in popularity, face tattoos were the domain of gang members, Aryan Brotherhood members and convicts. But as young music fans see the allure of celebrities’ face tattoos, it’s evident that society hasn’t changed much in respect to the fascination with “slumming.” To young aspiring musicians, the once lowly markings have come around to mean status — symbolizing dedication, success and a one-way trip into the lifestyle of their idols.
Datrion Warren, a 20-year-old SoundCloud musician who had the word “dead” tattooed under his left eye in someone’s home, said the tattoo is a motivation to be successful in his music career, like many other SoundCloud artists.
“The music is the only option,” Warren said.
Priscilla Fuentes, a tattoo artist at Andromeda Studio 33 in Manhattan, said that kids as young as 16 have come into the shop asking for tattoos mimicking the mainstream rappers.
“It’s usually kids ages 16 to 24, asking me for things like a scorpion, the Ralph Lauren Polo logo, teardrops, dots,” Fuentes said. “I denied them, but everyone has a different standard. ”
Today, laser tattoo removal makes removing unwanted tattoos easier than ever before, and young people who want to try the rebellious lifestyle have the luxury, though expensive and painful, of lasering them off. But that option still doesn’t comfort tattoo artists.
“The minute you tattoo your face, you cross a line, where there’s a spotlight on you at all times,” Lalo Yunda, owner of House of Monkey Tattoos in Brooklyn, said. “There’s a three-month waiting list to get a tattoo with me, so I don’t really have impulsive clients that want face tattoos. But if they do, I’m most likely going to try to talk them out of it. Most of them don’t realize what they’ve signed up for.”
While that spotlight may be the goal for those seeking face tattoos, should a career as a rap star fall flat, falling back on a corporate job most likely is not in the cards. Thirty-seven percent of HR decision-makers would be less likely to hire a candidate who has a face tattoo, a recent survey from CBS News showed. This situation is a reality for Warren.
“I’ve been off and on with jobs,” Warren said. “I work through a temp agency. Sometimes I’m working, sometimes I’m just at home working on bettering my music.” He said that he felt he had definitely been turned away from jobs because of his tattoo.
“Young people don’t realize how corporate people think, and they think people will look past it during job interviews,” Martin said. “That is not going to happen, and people with face tattoos will have a hard time getting a good job.”
This notion doesn’t make Warren regret the decision to tattoo his face.
“If you want something, just go for it,” he said. “Life is too short.”