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Getting a Rib Tattoo

Updated on August 7, 2014


Rib tattoos are becoming very popular with little quotes and phrases to giant pictures ranging from under the arm to the hip. There are benefits to getting a tattoo on the ribs which include the ability to hide it whenever necessary and not worrying how it will affect one's career in the professional world. These tattoos are also easy to expose when desired, especially in swimming attire or stretching the sleeves of a shirt to expose the rib area. People can choose whatever type of rib tattoo is appealing or meaningful, but the size and detail of a tattoo determine the experience one will have under the needle. It especially affects the pain one will experience.


The ribs is considered one of the most painful places to get a tattoo because the skin is thin and is directly over the bones. This does not mean every tattoo will be unbearable because pain tolerance is key. Those who generally have a high pain tolerance will most likely have an easier time while getting a rib tattoo. If one with a low pain tolerance desperately wishes for a tattoo on the ribs, he or she should consider something simple with thin lines and small in size.

The girl in the video describes the pain she is feeling while receiving 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 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. | Source

If It's the First...

Since the ribs is considered one of the more painful places to get a tattoo, most tattoo artists will advise people from getting their first tattoo here. The first reason is not knowing what to expect while being under the needle. This video mentions people not knowing what they are getting into and not being able to finish if the pain is unbearable. Experiencing another tattoo allows people to understand what to expect in terms of feeling, and in terms of pain.


How It Works

The machine used for tattoos has a needle that moves up and down, puncturing the skin and injecting ink. Some would say it just feels like someone scraping a sharp object across the skin.

Notice the picture to the right. The needle will push under the epidermis and into the dermis. This is where the ink is injected and where people see the ink once a tattoo is fully healed.


So What Does It Actually Feel Like?

Depending on the tattoo artist and the tattoo one is receiving, getting a rib tattoo can be mildly unpleasant to extremely unpleasant. Some tattoo artists will start slow to allow the customer to adjust to the feeling. Once the needle begins piercing the skin, it can feel like a sharp poke to "being stabbed by a knife" as some have described it. The feeling will increase along with the pain until the tattoo artist pulls the needle away for a small break. The process will go faster if one remains still and does not fidget through the tattoo or flinch away from the pain.

Note: When I received my rib tattoo, the artist would pull the needle away just as it would begin to get really uncomfortable and would start again after a few seconds.

The artist in the video to the right will let up after a few seconds to allow the woman a few seconds from the extreme pain she is feeling and to also wipe away the excess ink.

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. The skin is already sensitive and the pain will be more intense.


The Healing Process

Always wear a loose shirt after getting a tattoo on the ribs. The first night after the process, the skin will be easily irritated and it may feel like a mild sunburn to an intense burning sensation. As one follows the artist's instructions to tattoo care, it will feel as if the ink is sitting on the surface of the skin while washing. This comes with a tattoo in any location, however, and it will soon come away as a scab comes away from a cut. Washing may be difficult for the first few days as the skin will remain sensitive.

Loose shirts will also be necessary whenever the ink begins to peel away from the skin. It will become very itchy, and one can apply a lotion, such as cocoa butter, to the area to help ease the itching. A shirt can easily pull away the peeling ink, and sleeping on the side of the tattoo can also pull it away. The goal is for the ink to peel away on its own.

After a couple weeks, the tattoo will begin to look more natural as the excess ink is completely removed.



Everyone has a different experience while getting a tattoo. There are many things to take into account before making that appointment with a tattoo artist. Some view tattoos as a rite of passage. If one really wants a tattoo, they will need to face the pain to get it.


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    • Lindsay Langstaff profile image

      Lindsay Langstaff 6 weeks ago

      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!