As a tattoo commentator and writer, I rely on my personal experience and time working in a tattoo studio.
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 stories floating about...and legends, as well. Maybe you've heard horror stories about the pain, or perhaps you heard about someone who fell asleep on the table. It should come 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 painless 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 needle pierces through your skin at approximately 10-15 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
- Top 50 Tattoo Quotes
A selection of the best tattoo quotes available. Top 50 quotes of all time.
- Reducing the Pain of Tattoos with Numbing Cream
Numbing cream can help reduce pain while getting a tattoo. Learn more about numbing creams, what they do, and how they work.
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.
Caroline on May 14, 2020:
I don’t want to get a tattoo they hurt so bad
Talon on July 13, 2019:
So I’m going to be 14 when I get my first tattoo, (1 year!) and I’m getting a teepee because I’m native and my Salish name in Cree, what do I do? Also I’m getting matching ones with my mom and my sister so I’m not crazy
Autumn Smith on May 16, 2019:
i am 16 teen will it hurt me
Autumn on May 16, 2019:
i am fixing to be 16 will it hurt
Quita on May 14, 2019:
I have tattoos but don't really remember how it felt been so long ago.wanted another on top of upper leg will it hurt
Sara on April 29, 2019:
It's been almost 25 years, but I don't recall the tat on my upper back being that painful at all. Maybe I have a higher pain tolerance than most, but it was more irritating than painful..like when someone gently scratches your arm for too long in the same place.
Kyle on April 28, 2019:
Out of 10 how much does it hurt getting a tattoo
Payton on April 02, 2019:
I like these
InkSearch on November 30, 2018:
The best way is to ask artist straight about place and pain. They know which place is the best for different sizes and ideas. I recommend to pick good artist at inkseach they did a good job and have only the best ones on website.
Moz on August 01, 2018:
Yes it does' after many years of not having any tattoos i finally had a few more this week' one on the left forearm & upper back & never felt so bad, today i was having my back done & fuck me i all most fainted i went as white as casper the ghost' my legs went completely numb & the artist was about to stop me falling to the floor, just be aware if your having one on your upper back
Dez on April 07, 2018:
I really would like to get a tattoo on my inner lower forearm or wrist, and the tattoo I want to get says "warrior" with the 'i' being a semicolon, in plain black ink. It would be my first tattoo; how much would it be expected to hurt? I get bloodwork done there just about every month, so I'm used to needle pricks and such in that particular area. Would it hurt more or less than that?
And what would be an estimate of the cost, since the tattoo I want isn't big or fancy?
derp on February 09, 2018:
paper cuts or BLOWTORCH?!! How are those two things even remotely similar? Regardless, this article and your other articles are a good read.
Matt on December 29, 2017:
I want to get a soaring eagle in my lower back. Yeah, I know it's a tramp stamp, but that's all I want to get. I tried it out by making a temporary tattoo out of it and it looked great!
fabiola on December 01, 2017:
does it hurt to get a tattoo if its your first time doing one??
Liam on November 20, 2017:
It’s a long time, and it hurts a lot; but it’s worth the pain for something you’ll love all your life
Jessica Classen on April 18, 2017:
Does it hurt behind your ear? I'm an actress and I can't get a tattoo in a place that many people can see so I was wondering if it hurts really bad back there
Drago on April 03, 2017:
I want a dragon tattoo on my back but I am very nervous about the pain. Would this be too painful to get and also does anyone recommend a company that will try and reduce the pain of the tattoo.
Toby Bruton on December 25, 2016:
How bad does it hurt to get like a cross on your Side?
tommie on September 27, 2016:
i have 13 tattoos and the shoulders forearms and calf were fine. It feels like a less painful bee sting or a cat claw scratching u. I would avoid ribs, neck, groin, and arm pits. the back of ur arm like the tricep can tickle a little but is not unbearable. for a first tattoo the upper arm or forearm is a good spot. Whatever u do, tattooing the male genitals hurts like hell and should never be done. TRUST ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!
celia gurney on September 07, 2016:
Please can you advise I want a tattoo but don't want pain we're do I get the tattoo on my arm that don't hurt
Brandon on August 05, 2016:
Chart is pretty accurate so far I got one of me right inner wrist, which was not bad. It felt like a pinch like a normal shot to me just worse because it's constantly going in and out of you skin, it was not that big it took about 30 to 50 min. I also got another covering most of my left shoulder and outer arm, seemed more bar able just me and my artist get moving positions every 20 min because we could not find a comfortable position. Now I plan to get my family name across my chest and then I think that will be enough tattoos for now, might continue down my left arm and make a sleeve I dunno.
Mentos on May 22, 2016:
Can anyone answer me question? I want to have a tiny tattoo on my inner finger. However, i just want the temporary one first. Does the temporary tattoo hurt? and how long does the temporary would stay?
Sandra Madsen on April 21, 2016:
Just had a four hour tattoo done and didn't think it was that bad. In fact I almost fall asleep for several times. The tattoo is in my upper back and includes neck and spine.
Kristin on July 28, 2015:
I will just mention that inner wrist for me was actually quite painful. I just got text across the entirety of my inner right forearm just reaching the wrist and right at that point was definitely the most painful.
Lee Cloak on April 01, 2015:
Great hub great info, I'll remember this stuff next time, voted up, thanks!
Amber Davis from Texas on March 31, 2015:
The only one of mine that made me want to stop was my dragon that goes from my hip to my ribcage on my side. Most of it was fine, but the bit on my stomach and ribs was killer. Luckily he saved those areas for last on each session, so I knew once he got there, I was done for the night. 15 hours in 3 sessions, and I have a beautiful masterpiece to show off during swimsuit season. :) I can't wait to get my dragon's mate on my other side.
Rich from Jacksonville FL on March 26, 2015:
Yes they are painful, however not unbearable. The body pain chart you posted is to my experience, very accurate. My whole front torso is inked as well as half of back, each shoulder, calf's, outer lower leg. Still working on the rest of my back. Your Hub should be very helpful for someone looking to get their first ink.
Tara Richardson from New Mexico on September 26, 2014:
Yes it really hurts :) Depends on where you are putting it too.