What Do Teardrop Tattoos Mean? (Symbolism & Significance)

Teardrop Tattoos mean

Body art has long served as a powerful form of expression and cultural identity. From ancient tribal rituals to modern tattoo parlors, markings on the skin tell stories. Of all the iconic ink designs, few remain as shrouded in intrigue and mystery as the teardrop tattoo. But at their core, teardrop tattoos generally represent pain, loss, respect for the fallen, and overcoming life’s hardships.

With roots in prison and gang culture before evolving into a mainstream aesthetic, teardrop tattoos have a complex past. Their cryptic nature only adds to the fascination. Are they killers or mourners? Criminals or survivors?

To give you a quick overview, here are some common teardrop tattoo meanings and placement interpretations:

PlacementCommon Meaning
Left Eye TeardropCommitted murder, served long prison sentences, indicates number of murders or years behind bars
Right Eye TeardropMourning the loss of a loved one, often a fellow inmate or gang affiliate
Two TeardropsHigher “body count,” more deaths mourned, or time served as a gang member
Near Lips or MouthForced into oral sex or prostitution in prison, physical abuse and trauma
Neck, Arms, Hands or ChestMore generalized symbols of pain, loss, survival, and respect

This article will explore the history, evolution, cultural impact, and symbolic meanings behind teardrop tattoos. We’ll demystify the different placements, debunk false assumptions, and guide proper aftercare if you get an eye-catching teardrop of your own.

The Origins and Evolution of Teardrop Tattoos

While rudimentary ink and piercings have existed for thousands of years, permanent teardrop tattoos first emerged in the 1960s and 1970s within the prison systems and criminal underworld of the United States.

In their early incarnation, teardrops predominantly served as signs of toughness and loyalty among inmates. The common interpretation was:

  • A teardrop tattoo under the left eye indicated the wearer had committed murder or served long prison sentences. Each teardrop signified the number of people they had killed or years spent behind bars.
  • A teardrop under the right eye generally represented mourning or memorial for a friend or family member who had died, often a fellow inmate or gang affiliate.

These meanings spread through the interconnected prison networks and gangs across the country during the following decades. As teardrops became an established symbol within criminal and prison culture, the trend slowly disseminated into mainstream media and pop culture.

Movies, music, and fashion began to popularize face tattoos and shift their connotations. While still associated with darkness and pain, the context evolved. By the 2000s, teardrops transitioned from an exclusively prison or gang symbol into a more widely embraced form of artistic expression.

The rapper Lil Wayne and other hip-hop artists sported prominent teardrop designs, further popularizing the look. Over time, the tattoos came to represent survival, memorialization, rights of passage, repentance, and honoring one’s roots or past struggles.

Common Teardrop Tattoo Meanings and Placement Interpretations

Though teardrop tattoos have expanded in artistic style and individual meaning over the decades, some common symbolism and imagery have remained:

Left Eye Teardrop

Left Eye Teardrop

  • Associated with murder, successfully completing rights of passage into a gang, or serving lengthy prison sentences
  • Can indicate the number of murders committed or years spent behind bars
  • Sometimes done forcibly against the wearer’s will as a symbol of shame
Right Eye Teardrop:

Right Eye Teardrop

  • Typically represents mourning the loss of a close friend or family member
  • May memorialize someone who died or was killed within prison gang culture
  • In some Latin cultures, shaped like precise replicas of Incan Mourning God tattoos
Two Teardrops

Two Teardrops

  • Two teardrops often indicate a higher “body count” or more deaths mourned
  • May represent time served in prison or years as a gang member
  • Can also signify a loved one and fellow gang affiliate who died

Teardrops Near Lips or Mouth

  • This can indicate the wearer was forced into oral sex or prostitution in prison
  • Associated with physical abuse and trauma around the mouth

Teardrops on Neck, Arms, Hands or Chest

  • When placed away from the eyes, teardrops tend to lose association with murders and crime
  • Become more generalized symbols of pain, loss, survival, and respect

While these common affiliations developed, there remains no universal teardrop meaning. Symbolism and placement on the body can vary regionally, culturally, and between different groups and settings.

Teardrop Tattoos in Pop Culture and Celebrity Ink

As teardrop tattoos permeated mainstream media and celebrity culture in recent decades, their meanings have splintered and expanded outside rigid definitions.

  • Amy Winehouse’s Teardrop– The late British singer sported a small teardrop below her eye, rumored to represent her imperfect life and inner demons.
  • Lil Wayne’s Teardrop – The influential rapper has a bold teardrop prominently inked near his left eye, helping ignite the face tattoo trend in hip hop.
  • Post Malone’s Teardrop – Recognizable for the “Stay Away” teardrop under his right eye, Post Malone also has a Playboy bunny teardrop under his left eye.

Other musicians like The Game, Gucci Mane, Travis Barker, and more wear signature teardrop designs with personal significance. Athletes, actors, and people from all walks of life have joined the trend.

While pop culture has increased its visibility, teardrop tattoos maintain an authentic symbolism of pain and perseverance for many wearers.

Should You Get a Teardrop Tattoo? Cultural Context and Considerations

Teardrop tattoos embody a powerful, if controversial legacy. Their links to crime and incarceration still loom large to many. But for others, teardrops represent resilience and respect.

If considering a teardrop of your own, certain cultural contexts and connotations remain highly charged. One person may see it as a form of tribute, while others could misinterpret it as a gang affiliation. Face tattoos also impact employment opportunities and social perceptions.

Here are some factors to weigh if contemplating your own teardrop tattoo:

  • Consider cultural backgrounds and possible symbolic assumptions others may make
  • Discuss your motivations with a trusted tattoo artist and get their perspective
  • Start with a small, subtle teardrop in an area like the wrist or shoulder
  • Add unique designs and artistic elements that hold personal meaning
  • Prepare responses if questioned on the meaning behind your tattoo

While social stigmas around facial tattoos persist in mainstream society, attitudes continue evolving as body art becomes more widely accepted. Ultimately, your ink should hold symbolic significance to you.

Caring for a New Teardrop Tattoo During the Healing Process

If you do decide to get a signature teardrop, proper aftercare is crucial during the healing process:

  • Gently wash with mild, fragrance-free soap and water 2-3 times per day
  • Apply a thin layer of moisturizing ointment 1-2 times daily after washing
  • Avoid sun exposure or tanning beds until fully healed
  • Don’t pick scabs or soak in baths, hot tubs, or swimming pools
  • Watch for signs of infection like excessive redness or oozing
  • Follow up with your artist for any touch-ups needed down the line

With proper care, your teardrop tattoo should heal nicely within 2-6 weeks. The ink will slowly spread under the skin over time. Most artists recommend scheduling a touch-up visit every few years.

If you’re interested in exploring more about tattoo meanings, especially the significance of 2 dots, be sure to check out our detailed article on the  2 Dot Tattoo Meaning.

The Cultural Legacy of Teardrop Tattoos

Teardrop tattoos maintain an iconic mystique after decades of evolution in meaning and style. They encapsulate a powerful shared symbolism of pain, rites of passage, criminal pride, mourning, survival, and perseverance.

In ancient mythology, warrior clans, secret societies, and throughout history, markings on the body have told cryptic stories. Teardrops are the latest chapter in that lineage – a poignant form of expression and bonded kinship etched in ink.

So whether freshly adorned on a prisoner, immortalized on a celebrity, or tucked discreetly on a survivor, the iconic teardrop retains its gripping ability to command fascination and exude resilience.


Teardrop tattoos hold a rich symbolic legacy that has evolved from prisons to the mainstream. They represent mourning lost loved ones, memorializing fallen friends, surviving abuse, and overcoming life’s hardships. While historically associated with crime, teardrops today provide a means of catharsis and expression for people from all backgrounds.

The intricacies around teardrop tattoo placement and meanings vary between cultures and communities. But no matter their origins, teardrops ultimately exemplify the deep human bonds of pain, loss, and respect. For the enlightened wearer, that poignant significance will continue being written in ink.

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