What Are Nail Tattoos And Are They Safe?

Tattoos have seen a major surge in mainstream social acceptance over the past few decades. Once mostly reserved for biceps, ankles, and lower backs, this permanent form of body art has now become commonplace even on the forearms, hands, legs, and faces of over a quarter of adults in the U.S., as reported by Ipsos. Even professionals now sport visible tattoos in many areas in the US, which once unheard of. As proudly displayed tattoos become more and more of a norm across the country, it only makes sense that new variations would emerge.

The latest tattoo trend to grace the beauty communities of social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Pinterest is nail tattooing. This delicate art, shared by users like tattoo artist @Avalonvaloretattoo, involves using a tattoo gun to etch a small image or symbol into the surface of a fingernail. The process is similar to traditional tattooing except the ink is deposited into the nail rather than into the recipient's skin. But what all does this nail trend entail, and is it safe?

What to expect from a nail tattoo

The first question most people have when they learn about nail tattooing is whether nail tattoos are permanent. The answer is a little complicated. Tattooing on the nail is technically permanent, meaning the image won't fade away or wipe off of the fingernail over time. However, it will grow out and eventually be cut or — let's be real — chewed off to reveal a brand-new blank canvas beneath. This regrowth process can take up to six months, according to Healthline, depending on how fast your nails tend to grow.

One of the main perks of getting tattoos on your nails is that, unlike traditional tattooing of the skin, they aren't painful. When properly applied, nail tattoos do not penetrate below the nail and into the skin. This is why they grow out with the nail and why they don't cause pain during application. One important note when choosing your nail tattoos is to select simple, minimal images (via Inside Out). Since tattooing a nail is more like etching a hard surface, intricate designs with multi-curved lines can be difficult to create without imperfections.

Nail tattoo safety

In general, getting a tattoo on your fingernail is about as safe as getting one on your skin. All the same risks apply, including infection and allergic reactions to the tattoo ink, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, there are a few special considerations when it comes to tattooing nails. The first is depth. If the tattoo is applied too deep, it could penetrate the skin under the nail, increasing the chance of infection and leaving permanent ink markings and/or scarring. Since the tissue is contained under the fingernail, swelling or bleeding could lead to acute compartment syndrome, which OrthoInfo categorizes as a medical emergency.

Another risk unique to fingernail tattoos is nail splitting. If too much pressure is applied with the needle, nails can crack or split in half. This leaves the nail bed exposed, which can be very painful and lead to infection. At the very least, the nail will be lost and you'll have to wait for it to regrow. A skilled and experienced tattoo artist should be well aware of these risks and understand how to tattoo nails in a way that minimizes the risk involved. Be sure to ask questions and view the artist's work before booking your appointment.