Does It Really Hurt to Get a Tattoo? How Do I Stop the Pain of a New Tattoo?
Whatever your reason is for wanting a tattoo, there is always one question that goes through your mind . . . How much will it hurt?
There are many pain-filled horror stories floating about... and legends, as well. Maybe you've heard horror stories about the pain, or you have heard about someone who fell asleep on the table. So it comes as no surprise that the truth is somewhere in between those two extremes.
The reality is that getting a tattoo is a uniquely personal experience and there are many factors that contribute towards making it either a pleasant or painful one.
Does It Really Hurt to Get a Tattoo and Why?
The short answer is yes. It does hurt to get a tattoo.
When you're sitting for a tattoo, a specially designed tattoo needle pierces through your skin at approximately 10-15 needle drops per second, fast enough to avoid puncturing the skin and cause bleeding and slow enough to avoid tearing the skin.
Your skin has three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. Because the epidermis is constantly replenishing itself, the needle needs to penetrate through the dermis layer to make the tattoo permanent. For this to occur, the tip of the needle attached to the machine is entering your skin layers approximately 1/16" of an inch.
Which Part of the Body Hurts the Most?
Though everyone is different and can withstand different amounts of pain, there are some areas of the body where getting a tattoo is not as painful. Keep in mind that the pain you will experience is relative to you. If you're sensitive to pain, and your desired area for a tattoo is known to be painful, it might make sense to choose a different location.
Which Body Locations Report the Least Amount of Pain
The least irritating places to get tattoos are:
- Upper outside of arm and outer forearm
- Inner wrist
- Upper back (excluding spine area)
- Top and outer thigh
These areas have relatively few nerve endings, and more muscle and fat which will cushion the needle from the bone.
Medium Amount of Pain or Mixed Reviews
In some of these parts of the body, there is a lot of movement like the ankle and inner arm and may take longer for them to heal. Some people report these areas as being very painful, and others don't. It just depends on your body. If you are thin, you'll probably find these areas more painful.
Some more sensitive or painful parts of the body to tattoo are:
- Inner arm (with exceptions)
- Centre back
- Lower back
Significant Amount of Pain
There are some areas that are known to generally be very painful to tattoo. Make sure you're prepared to withstand it before going in! Tattooing directly on bony bits like the elbow or knees can be torturous. You feel as though the whole bone is vibrating and sometimes the adjoining bone, too. Furthermore, the healing process can be just as painful as getting the tattoo itself and you might need to take some time off from your usual routine.
The most sensitive parts of the body to tattoo are:
- Back of knees
- Inside of elbow
- Top of foot
- Any joint areas (Insides particularly)
- Lower chest and sides (It feels like the tattooist is working under your armpit! Not a nice feeling!)
Help yourself have a more enjoyable tattoo session by following some of the tips below.
How to Minimize Tattoo Pain
- Have a good, filling meal at least an hour before your session begins.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Wear comfortable clothing for sitting a long time and a piece of clothing that exposes comfortably the part of the body that you want to have tattooed.
- Sleep a full night's sleep the night before (no big parties!)
- Take some mild pain killers like paracetamol with you just in case (avoid aspirin and other drugs that can thin the blood).
- Ask your artist about skin-numbing creams and if they recommend them for you or not.
- Listen to what your tattoo artist advises regarding aftercare; they usually know best.
- Bring lollies, breath mints, and food to munch on during the session to keep your energy levels up.
- Have a shower and wash before you go. Don't overdo the perfume or deodorant.
- Bring some music and earphones in case you want to zone out.
- Consider your tattoo as a minor medical procedure and go easy on your body afterwards.
- Have an effective aftercare routine in mind and have the necessary antibacterial soaps and cream and lotions purchased before you get your tattoo as you'll need them within an hour of finishing your session.
What to Avoid Doing to Reduce Tattoo Pain
- Avoid drinking alcohol the night before your tattoo as it thins the blood and hinders the body's natural ability to seal a wound and prevent infections.
- Avoid drinking more than one coffee the morning before your session since it also thins the blood.
- If you don't know what design you really want, don't get a tattoo!
- If you don't see clean equipment and new needles at the parlor, don't go through with it.
- Don't get a tattoo when you are sick. You could infect other people and your body won't be able to heal itself as well.
- Don't drink or take drugs before your session, as they increase heart rate and thin the blood.
- Avoid taking more than one person with you for support. Getting a tattoo is not that emotionally damaging and space at the studio is often limited.
- Don't have a heap of photos taken of your tattoo in action. It could distract the artist and they may make an error.
How Long Will My Tattoo Take?
Sitting for your tattoo is not generally very much fun, though it can be exciting.
Tattoo sessions last for three to four hours on average.Generally, this is a standard session for both the client and the artists comfort equally. Keep in mind, they are bending over you, grasping a tattoo machine for as long as you're sitting there getting tattooed. This is enough time that both the client and the artist, should be able to stay relatively comfortable.
Once a person has experienced getting a tattoo, it's not uncommon for them to sit for longer lengths of time. However, this can (in some cases) be counter-productive since the skin can experience greater trauma, which hinders healing and might need touch-ups later on.
If your design is very small it could be finished in as little as 20 minutes. Even so, you will most likely be charged at a full hour's rate to cover the costs of the studio, artist and equipment used since the set-up cost is pretty much the same whether it's a 20-minute or two-hour tattoo.
Large, detailed designs can take multiple sittings and many hours. For the more dedicated, a long session can go anywhere from five to eight hours. However, if it's tattooed for too long, the body will often go into shock. You might notice you're shivering and that the tattoo hurts a lot more than it did half an hour ago. When this happens, it's time to go home. You've hit the wall and you're only going to go downhill from here.
However, as in most situations in this crazy thing called life, everyone is unique; people will be able to sit for varying lengths of time before they hit the proverbial wall.
What Happens During a Tattoo Session?
Your session could either be in a private cubicle or in an open room with other artists and clients. You can request a privacy screen if you feel uncomfortable with other people around or if you have to reveal a private area while getting a tattoo.
No matter the setup, you can be sure that you won't be moving around for quite some time. The artist will position you on a bed or chair that is similar to what you might see in a doctor's or dentist's office and is usually covered in plastic wrap for cleanliness.
You'll need to maintain your position for as long as the artist needs you to in order to finish the design. That said, do let the artist know if you're cramping or begin to experience any discomfort. They might be able to work with you in order to find a more comfortable position.
More Information on Getting a Tattoo
Is the fear of the pain experienced when getting a tattoo holding you back from getting a tattoo?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.