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Everything You Want to Know About Wrist Tattoos

Got my first tattoo at 18, then waited 32 years to get another. Meanwhile, I'm the editor of TatRing, a body art website.

What you need to know about wrist tattoos

What you need to know about wrist tattoos

7 Types of Wrist Tattoos

  1. Inner wrist: The tender part just below the palm of your hand.
  2. Outer wrist: The bony side—the tips of the radius and ulna and everything in between.
  3. Bracelet: A tattoo that wraps around like a bracelet.
  4. Side of wrist: There are spaces on both the outer and inner edges of the wrist where a small tattoo might fit.
  5. Half-glove: A tattoo that runs from the wrist down the fingers to the middle knuckle.
  6. Glove: A tattoo that covers your hand and wrist like a glove.
  7. Forearm: If you search for images of "wrist tattoos," you'll see a lot of forearms. Of course, they're just not the same thing: your forearm lies between your elbow and your wrist and shouldn't really be on this list, but most people equate wrists and forearms for some reason, so I'm including them here.
Just a little splash of color at the wrist. Or forearm.

Just a little splash of color at the wrist. Or forearm.

What Is the Significance of a Wrist Tattoo?

Most cultures have associations and attitudes about the parts of the body and what they represent. Here are some of the traditional ideas about wrists:

  • Control and power . . . or lack of it: Limp or weak wrists have long been associated with powerlessness. The wrists are seen as a weak point, a place where ropes might tie and bind a person. On the other hand, think of those indestructible bracelets Wonder Woman uses to deflect bullets.
  • Stability and centeredness. In Chinese acupuncture, the inner wrist area corresponds with pressure point P6 (pericardium 6 or nei guan), which can help ease nausea and vomiting. If you're ever feeling queasy, applying pressure to this point can help to ground or settle you.
  • Flexibility and dexterity. The wrist joint is one of the most flexible in the body. Imagine how much more useless your hands would be without your wrists. Could you manipulate tools without wrists? They allow for movement, proficiency, fine skill, and mastery.
This one combines image with text very effectively in a bracelet tattoo.

This one combines image with text very effectively in a bracelet tattoo.

What Does a Wrist Tattoo Mean?

Connection: Your wrist allows you to shake hands, wave at someone, write or type, use your phone, or raise your hand to answer a question. When you extend a helping hand, your wrist makes this possible.

Health and balance: The wrist is one of the easiest places to take your pulse to get a "reading" and insight into what's happening inside.

Your spiritual journey: Because the spot is so vulnerable, the skin is so thin, and the placement is so visible to you, it is the perfect place to put a tattoo that reminds you about your overarching purpose or goal in life. Many people get their personal motto, mantra, or totem tattooed on their wrists to help as guidance.

Vulnerability and strength: The wrist is a very tender spot, arguably even more vulnerable than your Achille's tendon. It's also a notoriously easy spot to kill oneself. This tattoo will always remind you of the strength it took to endure the pain and also of your own vulnerability.

Openness and honesty: It's very hard to hide a wrist tattoo—from yourself and from everyone else. A wrist tattoo is pretty much always out there in the open air. It's like wearing your heart on your sleeve—literally—for all to see.

Good luck: Baci is a traditional Lao ceremony, a rite of passage for celebrating life's important events and changes. The ritual involves tying symbolic threads around a person's wrist to symbolically wrap them with good luck. To hold onto fortune, you're supposed to leave these strings until they fall off on their own.

Glorious old-school hand, wrist, and forearm tattoos: almost an entire glove

Glorious old-school hand, wrist, and forearm tattoos: almost an entire glove

How to Design the Perfect Wrist Tattoo

  1. First, consider size: You'll likely have some size constraints in this area, so keep that in mind when you're choosing your design. In general, the smaller the tattoo, the less complicated it should be.
  2. Refine your design: Due to lack of space, you'll probably want to keep the details of your design to a minimum. Make sure this tattoo is something you're never going to get tired of looking at (and having others see, too) because this spot is very visible.
  3. Choose color wisely: As with too many details, excess colors will likely distract. If you decide to use something other than black, choose very carefully, keeping in mind that this skin will often be exposed to the sun, and color inks fade more quickly than black.
  4. Placement: This is a small and awkward spot, so the placement of your tattoo will really matter. After you've narrowed in on some size and design ideas, it's smart to print or make your own rough sketch on paper, cut it out, place it on your wrist, and make adjustments in size, design, color, and angle/orientation.
  5. Work with your artist: Share all these concerns and thoughts with your artist so you can work together to get it just right.
A wrist tattoo reaching for the stars

A wrist tattoo reaching for the stars

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Which Way Should I Get My Wrist Tattoo: Up or Down?

The odd thing about a wrist tattoo is that if it's going to face the wearer, it has to look "upside-down" to most onlookers and vice versa. Which way is "right"? That's for you to decide.

Which direction should a wrist tattoo face?

Is the tattoo for you or for others? Is it for you to remember, or is it for others to see? If it's a text tattoo or an image you want to look at every day for any reason (say a memorial tattoo or something religious), then I suggest orienting the design so that it always appears right-side-up to your eyes.

A full panorama tattoo that wraps around the wrist

A full panorama tattoo that wraps around the wrist

Which Wrist Should I Tattoo?

What is the difference between the left and the right wrist? Do they have different meanings or associations?

In Chinese tradition, yin and yang are underlying principles of both medicine and philosophy. The right side of the body is yang (masculine), and the left is yin (feminine). Good health is achieved with a balance of yin (negative, dark, and feminine) and yang (positive, bright, and masculine).

Keep in mind which hand you use when choosing, since you'll probably notice your tattoo more often if it's placed on the hand you use most often.

Infographic of the wrists' acupressure points and points for pulse readings according to Chinese medicine and what they mean at both a shallow and a deeper depth.

Infographic of the wrists' acupressure points and points for pulse readings according to Chinese medicine and what they mean at both a shallow and a deeper depth.

A line of music makes a lovely tattoo bracelet—especially with watercolor.

A line of music makes a lovely tattoo bracelet—especially with watercolor.

Do Wrist Tattoos Hurt . . . and If So, How Much?

Of course, pain is relative and varies from person to person (and tattoo to tattoo), but overall, a wrist tattoo is one of the spots that are more likely to be painful. The amount and type of pain you experience also depends on which side of your wrist is being tattooed.

  • Tattoos on your inner wrist (just below the palm of your hand) can be painful since the skin there is soft, thin, and sensitive. There are many nerves and veins that run along your inner wrists, so this area can be very sensitive.
  • Tats on your outer wrist (the part you see if you're looking at a wristwatch) can be painful because the bones are so near the surface there.

Do wrist tattoos hurt your veins?

The answer is no: Rest assured that the needle will not go that deep. Still, some people worry—possibly because your veins and nerves are so close to the surface that they're visible on your inner wrist, or maybe because we associate that area with the act of "cutting your wrist," some are concerned about a tattoo in this area. They wonder . . . will the needle puncture a vein? But really, don't worry, you'll be fine. The tattoo needle does not puncture deeply enough to be a risk.

Simple and bold lines connect the fingers, knuckles, hand, and wrist.

Simple and bold lines connect the fingers, knuckles, hand, and wrist.

Do Wrist Tattoos Last?

Fading happens with age, time, and exposure.

  • The wrist tattoo is in an area that gets a lot of exposure, which means it's more apt to fade with time.
  • Age and sun exposure will take their toll. Take care of your skin to prevent fading. Use sunscreen and keep your tattoo covered when you're out in the sun.
  • Black is the longest-lasting ink, then gray, then darker colors (like dark blue or violet) . . . the vibrant, palest colors fade the quickest.
These two wrist tattoos "speak" to one another.

These two wrist tattoos "speak" to one another.

How Long Does It Take for a Wrist Tattoo to Heal?

Of course, healing time depends on many factors (your health, how well you care for the healing skin, etc.), but in general, you can expect to wait six months before you can call yourself healed. It will usually take about 2–3 weeks before you can soak it under water (like in a pool or a bath).

How Can I Hide a Wrist Tattoo?

It's not easy to hide a wrist tattoo since it's in such a visible area, but you can try:

  • long sleeves
  • a watch
  • a bracelet or wristband
  • makeup
  • If it's on your inner wrist, you might tilt your arm strategically or keep your hand in your pocket to keep the tattoo hidden from view.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wrist Tattoos

How long after getting a wrist tattoo can I wear a watch?

After about 10 days of clean, complication-free healing, you can wear your (clean) watch if you need to, but if you can wait longer to let your tattoo heal fully, you should. It's better to reduce friction for longer, if possible. If you notice any scabs, redness, or signs of infection, give it more time.

Do wrist tattoos bleed more?

No. Even if it's on your inner wrist, it won't bleed more than other tattoos. As stated earlier, you don't need to worry that you'll pierce a vein because the needle won't go that deep.

How much do wrist tattoos cost?

Most wrist tattoos can be completed in a single session, and the cost might range from $50 to $300 depending on your design (small and simple or large and complex?) and your artist's rates. Additional details, colors, and changes will add time and money to the overall cost.

Why does my wrist tattoo look wrinkled?

There could be two reasons for a wrinkly-looking wrist tattoo: either it's still healing, or the ink was applied on your wrist creases. If the tattoo is new, then a wrinkly appearance is nothing to worry about and will heal flat. However, the wrist is a wrinkly area, and it gets even wrinklier with age. Keep this in mind when you're choosing the placement.


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