What Is the Meaning of the Teardrop Tattoo?

Because tattoos are interpreted differently depending on geography and cultural background, a tattoo design that symbolizes one thing in the United States may have a different significance in another country. This is important to remember if you are thinking about tattooing any part of your body, but especially your face. The decision to ink your face permanently is not to be taken lightly, and research of the symbolism of the tattoo is the first task to perform when considering a facial tattoo. Expect instant rejection from professional tattoo artists if seeking a facial tattoo if you are not already heavily tattooed--i.e., full sleeves, neck and hand tattoos.


Membership or initiation into a street gang, a history of served time in prison, or suffering through a loved one's death are three meanings of teardrop tattoos located on the face. A teardrop tattoo also may indicate the wearer committed a murder or multiple murders. In Australian prisons, the teardrop tattoo has a completely different meaning. There, inmates convicted of child molestation or abuse are often held down by other prisoners and tattooed with a teardrop tattoo design.


Teardrop tattoos are tattooed in black ink. These tattoos generally appear to be blue, though, because they are usually applied in prisons without professional tattoo equipment or ink, and the black ink fades to blue. Located underneath and on the outside edge of either eye or on the cheekbone, teardrop tattoos have several different designs. A teardrop that is colored in completely with ink represents a murder committed by the wearer. For more than one murder committed, there could be two or three teardrops underneath the same eye. A teardrop with only an outline represents the death of a loved one. If the teardrop is filled in with ink on the bottom and the top is just an outline, the person committed murder as revenge for a fellow gang member or loved one.

Time Frame

The time needed to tattoo a teardrop is usually less than 30 minutes. Teardrop tattoos are 1/2 inch in size and do not require added details, so the tattoo is performed quickly. Tattoos take two weeks to heal, but because of the size of the teardrop tattoo, the healing period is shorter. Consistently exposed to the sun because of placement on the face, a teardrop tattoo fades quickly if not protected by sunscreen.


Wearing a teardrop tattoo on your face limits professional and social options. A teardrop tattoo cannot be covered up or camouflaged with clothing when attending an interview for employment or a formal social occasion. Professional establishments may refuse to hire a person wearing a teardrop tattoo because the tattoos indicate prison time or criminal acts. Some social circles may shun the teardrop tattoo wearer because they do not want to associate with a person affiliated with crime.


Most professional tattoo artists refuse to tattoo teardrops on the face because they know what the teardrop tattoo signifies. This may make you think about getting a tattoo from an nonprofessional. Don't. Nonprofessionals spread diseases like hepatitis by reusing needles and equipment. Never actively seek a teardrop tattoo for adornment purposes, either. Gang members take this tattoo quite seriously and may retaliate against someone wearing a teardrop tattoo just to make a fashion statement.