Summary List Placement
Getting a tattoo involves an ink-filled needle repeatedly puncturing your skin. Consequently, it’s not unusual to wonder how much pain you should expect when considering a tattoo.
As it turns out, pain is a highly subjective experience, and how much discomfort you feel while getting tattoed can depend on a couple of factors including your biological sex, pain tolerance, and most importantly — the area of your body getting tattooed.
Most and least painful spots to get the tattoo
Most of the data on tattoos and pain is anecdotal, but some general rules apply. The most painful places to get tattooed are typically bony and have very little fat covering them, says Gianna Caranfa, a New York-based tattoo artist.
The most painful areas for all people include the:
- Head and face
- The bony part of the ankle
Less painful areas to get tattooed include parts of the body with thicker skin and more fat, including the:
- Parts of the back
- Back of arm
- Outer arm
- Outer thigh
How bad do tattoos hurt?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to how much pain you’ll feel when getting tattooed. But if you’re wondering what type of pain to expect, Caranfa says the experience is comparable to the feeling of a cat scratch or a sunburn.
“Long periods of irritation and tenderness are what make you feel any discomfort,” Caranfa says. “The sensation of a tattoo needle is very dull compared to a syringe [and needle], it isn’t the needle that causes discomfort as much as it is prolonged tenderness of being tattooed.”
Importantly, different people will report varying experiences of pain based on their individual nervous systems and pain thresholds, says Channelle Charest, a California-based tattoo artist and Co-founder of tattoo scheduling platform Tatstat.
Other factors that could affect pain during tattooing include:
- Age: Studies suggest aging decreases your pain sensitivity, meaning elderly people might experience less pain when getting tattooed. Researchers have yet to determine why this happens but note that the size of parts of the brain that process pain decreases with age.
- Sex: People who are biologically female are more likely to experience greater pain intensity, a lower pain threshold, and a lower tolerance for induced pain compared to people who are biologically male. However, research is still emerging.
- Psychological expectations: If you go into a tattoo expecting it to be an excruciating experience, this might affect how much pain you actually feel. Studies suggest that people who feel anxious about and “catastrophize” pain before a procedure often experience higher levels of pain intensity and distress than people with “neutral” pain expectations.
Fortunately, most of the discomfort you feel while getting tattooed will end when your tattoo artist puts down the tattoo gun.
“The sensation is only when the needle is in you,” Caranfa says, adding that while it’s typical to experience some soreness, swelling, and itchiness in the days after getting tattooed, it’s “not debilitating.”
It’s natural to feel nervous about pain when getting tattooed, but there are steps you can take to prepare yourself and make the process a more pleasant experience.
“Make sure you eat an hour before you go, drink plenty of water, and wear comfortable clothes,” Charest says, and always be communicative and honest with your artist if you need to take a break while getting tattooed.
If you’re really worried about pain, you might opt to use a numbing cream. Remember to avoid NSAIDS or drink alcohol prior to being tattooed as they can thin your blood and cause excess bleeding, making it harder for the tattoo artist to do their job.
7 signs of an infected tattoo and how to treat itWhy you should reconsider getting a tattoo while pregnantHow to tell if your piercing is infected and how to treat it at homeDermatologists explain how to take care of a new tattoo and avoid infection