tattoo placement, you’ve got your obvious places like the legs, arms, and back — but those looking to take advantage of prime, tucked away real estate might consider behind the ear tattoos. That smooth spot before your hairline is perfect for minimalist ink that coyly peeks out behind strands of hair and shirt collars.
As tattoo artist
Diana Divina of Fleur Noire Tattoo in New York City says, “Behind the ear ink is a really fun way to accentuate a part of your body that you probably never think of.” The discrete placement makes these an easy introduction for tattoo newbies, too, or anyone who favors less in-your-face art. “They’re usually cute, quaint, and very easy to hide,” adds artist Ilia of High Hopes Tattoo in NYC. “For some people, they’re also seen as a sort of accessory, much like a sparkly earring.”
If you’re wondering how much it’ll
hurt to tattoo a spot that’s so close to the bone, Ilia says to keep in mind it depends on your individual pain tolerance. That said, you can expect most of the discomfort to come from the vibration of the machine versus the needle itself. Another plus, according to Ilia? “Behind the ear tattoos are [done] relatively fast, so if they hurt, it isn’t for long,” she tells Bustle.
Before you head out for that appointment, both artists say to keep
aftercare (and pre-care) in mind. Ilia recommends washing your hair the day before you get the tattoo to avoid unnecessary irritation as your ink heals. To that point, Divina says to avoid using harsh skin and hair care products around the area while it’s healing.
Another tip? To ensure your
tattoo ages well, remember to protect it from UV rays. “If the area is constantly exposed to sun, you can expect fading in that area in the same way that you would with a hand tattoo,” Divina says. So be sure to regularly apply SPF once the tat is healed. She also notes that if you opt for a fine line tattoo (a popular pick), it’ll likely require a touch-up at some point.
Now, the fun part: Scroll on for 24 subtle and chic behind the ear tattoo ideas that just may inspire your next piece of body art.
1 Flowers Floral designs are a favorite among tattoo lovers for a reason. Unlike trendier designs, it’s unlikely a flower will ever look old or outdated. Your floral tat is pretty much guaranteed to be unique, as well, since there are literally countless flowery options to choose from. For a fun take on a classic, you might even consider adding color, just like this pink and purple design that makes for a gorgeous pop behind your ear. 2 Globe
A fine line globe could be cute if you’re big into travel or if you’ve lived in lots of different areas. For a little extra detail, use this tattoo — with its teeny airplane buzzing around the world — as inspo.
3 Tiny Airplane
Another idea for the globetrotter? A micro-sized airplane. Every time you brush your hair behind your ear or look in the mirror, it’ll serve as a tiny reminder that you have a lot of vacation destinations on your bucket list.
A single butterfly is another go-to tat design that works pretty much anywhere, but especially behind the ear. Double up on the charm with a pair of simple butterflies, like the ink seen here. Whether you’re into nature or the
’90s aesthetic — when butterflies were all the rage — this elegant insect is where it’s at. 5 Twinkling Stars
If you want something super dainty, consider a behind the ear tattoo like this one featuring a cluster of delicately twinkling stars. The lines are so thin that the ink won’t feel like a big commitment, but it’ll still make an impact whenever you wear your hair up.
If you’re worried about disliking your tattoo in the future, go with something that’ll always feel personal — like your initials. Choose a
font that fits your style and leave it at that, or amp it up a bit by combining another design element like flowers or color. This floral watercolor example is super pretty. 7 Sea Creature
For a whimsical tattoo idea, get an outline of your favorite ocean
animal, like this simple line tattoo of a cute, cartoon-like stingray. For other fun options, think about an outline of a dolphin, a starfish, or even a dainty seahorse. 8 Morse Code
If you want your ear tattoo to spark mystery, go for a line of Morse code. All you have to do is figure out a sequence of dots and dashes that represent something meaningful — or an inside joke — and ask your tattoo artist to have at it. The red ink of this piece adds extra intrigue.
9 Flying Bird
Birds are a popular tattoo theme, whether you go for a flock of sparrows, a delicate dove, or a trendy flying swallow. Whatever you choose is bound to fit perfectly in the space between your lobe and hairline.
10 Spiritual Symbol
There’s no shortage of ways to show off your
spiritual side with a tattoo. You could go for a cherub, lotus, or the Om symbol. You might also connect with a simple scripted word that’s meaningful to you. 11 Lightning Bolts
Want to go for a tattoo with some edge? Opt for a design like this storm-inspired ink that features bolts of lightning streaking down behind the ear. You could also go for the classic jagged lightening bolt outline, for something a little less dramatic.
12 Musical Notes
Whether you grew up playing an instrument, are currently in a band, or just love to listen to music, putting a few notes behind your ear might feel right. It could be one note or a whole musical staff with a treble clef, quarter notes, and eight notes.
13 Zodiac Sign
Show off your
zodiac sign with a tattoo featuring your zodiac symbol, zodiac constellation, or let your tattoo artist design something unique to represent you. This is the perfect tattoo to get on your birthday or to honor a major milestone, like your 30th. 14 Constellation
Speaking of constellations, the sky is full of tattoo inspo. One chic and minimalist example is a spray of stars in the shape of your favorite celestial body. Do you like the look of The Big Dipper, Orion, or Ursa Major? Remember, you can get your
zodiac sign in constellation form, too. 15 Simple Heart
heart-shaped tats are a timeless go-to when you’re just looking to get inked. To keep the design clean, go for a simple drawn line tattoo, like this hollow heart placed behind the ear. Get one with an arrow through it for a more retro look or a cluster of hearts to really show the love. 16 Angel Number
If you’re into numerology, a vertical
444 angel number tattoo — which symbolizes manifestation and protection — is the perfect fit for this placement. You could also choose your favorite number or go with 11:11, since that’s when you always happen to look at the clock, anyway. 17 Fruit
Another whimsical behind the ear idea to consider? An outline of your favorite fruit. This
strawberry tattoo is adorable and discrete, and just so happens to be right on trend. To really make it special, get it in red ink.
Other fruits to consider: a peach or orange with a little green leaf, a bunch of grapes, a slice of watermelon, or two cherries on a stem.
rose is another classic tattoo, whether you get it on your arm, thigh, ankle — or behind your ear. While you really can’t go wrong, the way the stem bends around your ear seems particularly nice and truly does the design justice. 19 Moon
A moon tattoo really opens the doors for creativity. You can go with a full moon, half moon, crescent, or come up with your own moon design, similar to this tattoo here. The beauty of a tattoo is that you can make it your own or work with your artist to create something truly “you”.
Your favorite animal could also work well behind your ear. Whether you go for a simple outline of a cat, a filled-in snake design like the one above, or a colorful cartoony option, this is a fun way to show off a tiny sliver of your personality wherever you go.
Get the name of someone you care about, like a parent or grandparent, as a token of your love. Or, have them write your own name in their handwriting, and get it inked as a special tribute.
22 Line Work
Not in the mood to commit to a specific image? Then go for an interesting design like this one instead. Work together with your artist to come up with a line design that fits perfectly around your ear to accentuate your personal style.
23 Minimalist Shape
Behind the ear tattoos are the perfect way to add to your tat collection without all the pressure of commitment. Because they’re small and tucked away you can experiment or get something trendy, like a little red heart, a
mushroom, an eyeball, or even a smiley face. Think of it like a sticker and have fun with it. 24 Botanical
Go for a strand of winding ivy, a simple fern, or a minimalist botanical print to spruce up your ear — without calling too much attention to the area. The best thing about a behind the ear tattoo is that you can show it off when you want or hide it away.
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This article was originally published on
May 6, 2022