Do Tattoos Really Hurt? What to Expect for Your First Tattoo

Updated on February 7, 2016

Nothing will prepare you for the sensation of getting your first tattoo. You just have to push through the panic to obtain your beautiful body art! However, people try to compare the feeling of getting one with the following:

  • Slowly getting scratched by a cat
  • A sunburn getting irritated by someone poking at it
  • Having a tack being firmly dragged across your skin
  • A hot knife cutting into you
  • Someone poking you with a sharp fingernail
  • The sensation when you're scratching a mosquito bite too hard
  • The feeling of poking at a gross zit

Help! I'm Getting My First Tattoo, and I'm Scared!

Let's start out by saying this: people who say that they felt no anxiety before their first tattoo are liars. There is not a single person on this planet who wasn't apprehensive, anxious and/or panicky during the days leading up to it.

You're not alone! A quick Google sweep will show you just how many are wondering if they hurt, how they feel, and if anyone else was scared the first time . . . and these are just the people asking online!

Lots of people feel embarrassed asking about the pain because they don't want to seem like wimps. Just remember: everyone is nervous the first time!

Getting your first tattoo can be scary... what do they REALLY feel like?
Getting your first tattoo can be scary... what do they REALLY feel like? | Source

My First Tattoo Experience

I had always been a huge fan of tattoos since I was really young, but never got around to actually having one of my own because I was just too scared. Seriously!

I wasn't afraid of the pain, either—I was anxious about the situation itself. I didn't know what to expect at all, and nothing was helping me. Articles I read on the Internet preached "know what you want because it'll be on your body forever," blah blah blah, "don't pick at it afterwards," more blah blah blah.

I knew exactly what I wanted, where I wanted it, and all that. I was only slightly anxious about the pain factor, but I was more concerned with what to wear, if my artist was going to be mean or rude, if I would jump or twitch when the needle first hit my skin, and if I would faint. So many things were running through my head and they kept me up at night all week.

You can read about my own personal experience below. For yours, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

Getting tattooed can be scary-yet-exciting!
Getting tattooed can be scary-yet-exciting! | Source

What to Expect for Your First Tattoo

  • If you've even got a bit of fuzz, you'll have to either shave it yourself or get it shaved. It's not a big deal, and nobody even thinks about it!
  • Your artist may be a bit geeky or awkward, but should never be mean or snobby. If you feel uncomfortable with him/her in any way, don't feel like you need to go through with the process.
  • You won't jump when the needle first hits your skin. It may make you feel uncomfortable or annoyed, but it's not a pain that will cause you to embarrass yourself by jumping ten feet high. When the needle first touches your skin it's a slow pain, not a sudden one.
  • People don't pass out from pain. They pass out from not eating and resting properly before getting ink done! Having a celebratory feast and nap beforehand will let you handle trauma on your body like a champ!
  • Tattoo artists and other people in the shops couldn't care less about what you're doing unless it affects their work (or others'). You're not the first person to be nervous, and you're not the last.
  • Your skin gets oiled up so the needle glides over it smoothly! That way it doesn't feel like a jackhammer trying to get to the center of the earth.
  • You can talk to your artist about how you're feeling if it makes you feel better. Unless s/he's a total jerk (see above), s/he understands and will try to make you feel comfortable.
  • You may not be able to "think about something else" while the needles are going into your skin. However, it helps to keep your eyes moving. Count tiles, look at floor stains, your artist's shoes, whatever keeps you engaged.
  • An artist's hand shouldn't be heavy. The needles are only going in your skin 1/16th of an inch! You've gotten paper cuts much deeper than that and they didn't look cool for the rest of your life.
  • Some parts are more painful than others. It's okay that it hurts! But, the needle won't be there forever. The artist will eventually move on to another place.
  • Because the pain transfers, it's new everywhere it goes. This is actually quite refreshing! When you think you can't stand it anymore, it's over.
  • Time passes more quickly than you'd think. You always hear horror stories about eight-hour tattoos and, unless you're getting a huge piece yourself, yours won't be the same.

My Experience

The day I awaited with dread and excitement had arrived. I almost backed out but decided not to because the ink was a birthday gift. Nothing anyone said could calm me down inside. Hearing things like, "it's worth it in the end!" didn't make a single dent in my anxiety.

I was on high alert when I stepped inside the parlor. It was clean inside and everyone was really nice, but my heart was still beating out of my chest. I just wanted to get it over with, but I had to wait twenty minutes or so before getting called back.

When I was walking to the back of the parlor, I felt like I was walking to my execution. I looked around, wishing I could be the tattoo artist, or the guy at the counter, or the guy in the waiting room. Anyone who wasn't me!

I got the temporary purple tattoo and decided the placement was even. Now, it was time for the real thing.

I lie face-down on the bed (since I was getting mine on my back). I told my artist that it was my first one and I was nervous. He told me it wouldn't be "that bad," which of course went in one ear and out the other. I waited anxiously as he prepared his tools.

When I heard the buzz of the tattoo gun, I knew there was no turning back. I held onto one of the legs of the bed beneath me so tightly that I think my fingers turned purple. My breath caught as I felt the needle descend upon my back . . . and I let out a sigh.

"Really?" I asked no one in particular. I quietly cursed myself. I realized at that moment the panic and anxiety before the tattoo was the scariest part! During the process, my endorphins never kicked in like everyone swore they would. They kicked in afterwards. When I was all finished, I was giggly and jumping around like a madwoman. I survived! And I loved it! That was truly unexpected.

This is what's going on. You can look or you can choose not to!
This is what's going on. You can look or you can choose not to! | Source

Your First Tattoo

Your experience may be exactly like mine. You may be wracking your own nerves, making yourself ill with worst-case scenarios, or you might just get nervous when you're on the chair waiting. You might think the needle feels like someone giving you a luxurious, rough back scratch . . . or you could fall asleep from boredom.

You could cry and faint, or you might think the pain feels wonderful. You won't know until you experience it for yourself.

Where do you think would be the most painful spot to get a tattoo?

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The anticipation is probably the worst part of the whole process. Nightmare scenarios are pretty powerful, especially when you have no frame of reference.

Don't ever let fear and anxiety rob you of the opportunity to get something that you really want. After you've gotten your first one, you'll feel liberated and exhilarated!

"It's a bird! It's a plane! Oh, no, wait, it's totally a bird."
"It's a bird! It's a plane! Oh, no, wait, it's totally a bird." | Source


Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    Ashley 2 years ago

    I'm getting my first tattoo for my birthday and knowing nerves are the worst part, I've been researching ways to cope with the anxiety. Your article really helped! You put things into a much better perspective than any other article I've found. I'm more excited and less worried, but still get nauseous every time I think about it!!

  • profile image

    Kelsey 2 years ago

    Thank you thank you THANK YOU for this! I am getting my first tattoo tomorrow and I have been scouring the internet for the last few days, reading articles about what to expect. But this hub was exactly what I needed! I have been feeling these exact same things, and the anticipation has definitely been brutal. I was smiling so big when I read this because I finally didn't feel crazy!! I feel so much better about tomorrow, and I'm mostly glad that I won't likely be jumping in the air when the needle first hits my skin. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • NornsMercy profile image

    Chace 4 years ago from Charlotte, NC

    @Jennifer Shields -- I know exactly how you feel. Everyone was telling me it was no big deal and made me feel bad for being scared. In hindsight I can see that they were right...but this does absolutely nothing for someone who has never experienced it. :) If you want a tattoo, get a small one first so that you can get the first-time jitters out of the way... trust me, from one anxious person to another! ;)

    Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment!

  • Jennifer Shields profile image

    Jennifer Shields 4 years ago from Corona, CA

    Ahhh! Great hub. Thanks! I haven't gotten a tattoo yet because of the anxiety surrounding the experience. I appreciate you going through the experience step by step. Knowing what to expect is really comforting. Great hub.

  • NornsMercy profile image

    Chace 4 years ago from Charlotte, NC

    @sparkleyfinger -- thanks for stopping by! :) I love hearing different opinions about tattoos. It seems everyone has something new to say. My sister has a couple five-hour ones and she said it got worse the longer she sat there. I've known people who have gotten sick in the chair! Really though, it's never as bad as it is in our nightmares. :)

  • sparkleyfinger profile image

    Lynsey Harte 4 years ago from Glasgow

    Nice hub... Thought I'd add some info... as someone with 13 very large tattoos, you tend not to feel them the longer the process goes on for. Also, the pain, for me, is resemblant of a friction burn (try rubbing an eraser over your skin a few times- like that) There are anaesthetic creams that you can use which you apply 2 hours before getting a tattoo- ask at your pharmacist for these, they are usually under the counter in the UK at least.. But, I totally agree with you that you tend to overestimate the pain, and your nerves are always the worst part! Good job!

  • NornsMercy profile image

    Chace 4 years ago from Charlotte, NC

    @ladydeonne -- Thanks for reading! It's nice to see you, as always. :) I imagine most people feel like I did before my first tattoo...even if they tried to act tough! I know I probably appeared less nervous than I really was.

  • ladydeonne profile image

    Deonne Anderson 4 years ago from Florence, SC

    I enjoyed reading you hub on getting your first tattoo. I was more curious than anything. For starters, I don't have pieced ears and do not plan to have them done. I imagine I would feel somewhat like you felt before getting your tattoo. I found your hub very interesting and useful. I now know what is involved in getting a tattoo. I learned something new on today. Thanks. Voted up, interesting, and shared.