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Everything You Need to Know Before Getting a Rib Tattoo

When I got my rib tattoo, the artist pulled the needle away just as it was getting really uncomfortable to give me a break from the pain.

Long Rib Tattoo of Some Writing

Long Rib Tattoo of Some Writing

Planning a Ribcage Tattoo

Rib tattoos are very popular, with designs ranging from little quotes and phrases to giant pictures that span from the underarm down to the hip.

Either way, it's easy to hide a rib tattoo whenever necessary and not worry about how it will affect your career in the professional world. These tattoos are also easy to expose when desired, especially in swimming attire or by cutting or stretching the sleeve holes of a shirt down to expose the ribs.

When planning your tattoo, keep in mind that the size and detail of your design determine the experience you will have under the needle. It especially affects the amount of pain you will experience.

What Should You Wear When You Get a Tattoo on Your Ribs or Side?

Loose-fitting clothing is a must. Women who wear bras will have to consider other options. Scroll down for more information.

How Much Pain Will You Experience With a Rib Tattoo?

The ribs are considered one of the most painful areas to get a tattoo because the skin is thin and the bones come close to the surface. Of course, those who have a high pain tolerance will have an easier time, but if someone with a low pain tolerance desperately wants a rib tattoo, they should consider something simple and small with thin lines.

The girl in the video describes the pain she is feeling while getting her tattoo. We can see the discomfort on her face and in her gestures to her friend filming the process. She also describes feeling it in her bones and her stomach, which is most likely the vibration from the machine.

This guy is biting a napkin to help him manage the pain.

This guy is biting a napkin to help him manage the pain.

If It's Your First

Since the ribs are considered one of the more painful spots, most artists will advise against getting your first tattoo there because you won't know what to expect. Sometimes, people have to stop the tattooing session since the pain is too unbearable and end up with an unfinished design. Experiencing a tattoo in another spot on the body first allows people to understand what to expect regarding sensation and pain.


How It Works

The machine used for tattoos has a needle that moves up and down, puncturing the skin and injecting ink. The needle pushes under the epidermis and into the dermis, where the ink is injected, and where people will see the ink once a tattoo is fully healed. Some say it just feels like someone scraping a sharp object across the skin, but for others, it feels excruciatingly painful.

Rib and Back Floral Tattoo

Rib and Back Floral Tattoo

How Much Pain Are We Really Talking About?

Depending on the artist and the design, the sensation can be mildly to extremely unpleasant. Some artists will start slowly to allow you to adjust to the feeling. Once the needle begins piercing the skin, it can feel like a sharp poke or like being stabbed by a knife, as some have described it. The sensation will increase, along with the pain, until the artist pulls the needle away for a short break. The process will go faster if you remain still and don't fidget or flinch.

A good artist will let up after a few seconds to allow you a few seconds of relief from the pain and to wipe away the excess ink. When I received my rib tattoo, the artist would pull the needle away just as it was beginning to get really uncomfortable and would start again after a few seconds.

Once the tattoo is finished, the artist may need to go back and touch up a few places. Expect this to be the worst pain of the whole process, since the skin is already sensitive.


Things That Help the Healing Process

  • The first night after the process, the skin will be easily irritated, and it may feel like a mild sunburn or an intense burning sensation. You'll probably be sent home with a thin layer of covering, which you should remove after 24 hours.
  • Wear loose shirts for the first weeks after getting a tattoo on the ribs. Even if it looks fine, a new tattoo is an open wound, after all, and fitted clothing can adhere and tear away the ink.
  • Sleeping on the new tattoo can also cause it to stick to the sheets and pull the ink off. Apply a protective layer of lotion before you go to bed.
  • The new ink will feel very itchy, but it's important not to scratch! You can apply a lotion (such as cocoa butter) to the area to help ease the itching.
  • Keep the area clean and dry. Follow your artist's instructions for tattoo care.
  • Washing may be difficult for the first few days as the skin will remain sensitive. This happens with a tattoo in any location, but it won't last long. After a couple of weeks, it will begin to feel normal and look more natural as the excess ink is sloughed off.
This kind of tattoo would be best for those with a low pain tolerance.

This kind of tattoo would be best for those with a low pain tolerance.

What People Want to Know About Rib Tattoos

Will a bra prevent my rib tattoo from healing?

Fabric that rubs against a new tattoo can not only hurt but can prevent proper healing.

After your tattoo is scab-free and mostly healed (after at least a few weeks), it's no longer an issue, and you can wear your bra without worrying.

But what if I really need to wear a bra?

If you're smaller than a C cup, you might use those sticky cup things for the first few weeks. A bikini top might also work. You might also try putting saran wrap or a soft medical (nonstick) bandage under your bra strap, but remember to let your tattoo air and dry out as often as possible.

Will clothing, bag straps, or bras rubbing against my tattoo make it fade more quickly?

You need to be careful about friction while you're healing, but after that, tattoos don't just rub off. Remember that most reputable artists offer a free post-healing touch-up.

How long will it take to heal?

The surface will take about four weeks to heal. An infection will delay healing.

Will my rib tattoo stretch, distort, or fade when I get pregnant?

You will see stretching as the baby gets bigger. For some, there is a permanent change, but many others report that it all bounces back into place after the baby is born. It may take some time, but the skin is resilient. It all depends on you—how elastic your skin is, how quickly you heal, how much weight you gain, etc.

If I get really muscular or gain or lose weight, will my rib tattoo stretch or lose its shape?

Slow and moderate gains or losses in weight or muscle mass shouldn't have any noticeable effect on tattoos. But losing or gaining a lot of weight fast is more likely to distort the ink and cause stretch marks or sagging skin.

Final Note

These are some of the many things to take into account before making that appointment with an artist. Everyone has a different experience while getting a tattoo. Some view them as a rite of passage. If you really want one, you will need to face the pain to get it.

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.

© 2014 Samantha Partin


Michael McPherson on May 14, 2020:

Ink is for losers. And piercings. Stop the fadness.

Melissa on May 09, 2020:

I got my second tattoo on my rib cage, it starts about an inch under my armpit and goes down to my pants line, it’s a big floral tattoo. I can honestly say that when she was going over the ribs, that was the worst pain Ive ever felt, almost couldn’t finish. None of my other ones have been even close to that amount of pain

jasleen on December 07, 2019:

i got my first tatt on my side and it didn’t hurt n my pain tolerance isn’t that high

Hailey on September 24, 2018:

I just got a rib tattoo and I can honestly say its very painful but bare able the healing just takes a lot of work

Lindsay Langstaff on August 07, 2017:

Good article! I recently got my first tattoo on my shoulder and have been considering getting a rib cage tattoo. For me, the hardest part wasn't the pain, but it was actually the nausea and feeling light-headed. I would imagine those feelings are a lot more intense for a rib cage tattoo, so right now that's the only thing scaring me away. But for right now, I'm trying to find ways to have it done still!