The Most Painful Places to Get a Tattoo
The Most Painful Tattoos
Tattooing is an ancient art, and in the recent generation of millennials, it has become the rage once again. Soon, employers won't be able (or even want) to turn away our beautiful tattooed bodies because nearly everyone will have at least one visible tattoo! (What's the fun if you can't show it off?)
You're probably here because you've spent a lot of time figuring out just which tattoo you'd like to get and now you're trying to figure out just where to get it. If it's your first tattoo, the task of picking a place can seem especially terrorizing because you haven't yet experienced the needle and definitely don't want your first time to be a bad experience.
So as a person who received her first tattoo in one of the worst places you can get one, I feel it's my duty to inform you so you don't make the same mistake your first time.
Not only have I had tattoos done in some really painful areas (see below), but I've also spent a lot of time picking the brains of my various tattoo artists, so I feel I've got a pretty good handle on this particular topic. Please keep in mind that while you'll notice that everyone is different, the places I list below are the most sensitive areas on your body. People react differently to pain, but suggesting that it doesn't hurt is just a macho way to pretend you didn't notice. Anyone who says getting a tattoo doesn't hurt is lying through their teeth. They all hurt. It's just a matter of tolerance, grounding, and detachment.
With that in mind, I hope you find this article helpful in your trek for that tattoo!
The Elbow is a particularly sensitive area, which in part is largely a result of tattooing over the lack of fat in such close proximity to bones and joints.
Though that's not the only thing to consider when it comes to pain from elbow tattoos, as any tatts that go over your elbow are also going to swipe over your not-so-funny bone (ulnar nerve), which is exceptionally painful for 9 out of 10 people.
When my artist was running lines and filling in color over my elbow during the progress of my right sleeve tattoos, it created a whole new sort of pain that I wasn't expecting. In addition to the feeling of being scratched by giant super fast cats, it also felt like there had been several super large vaccination needles shoved down my forearm and all the way up to my pinky finger. To be honest, I'm not sure how I managed to hold still during those passes over my funny bone, though to the surprise of my artist and myself, I managed to do it without flinching once. That being said, it was not a tear-free endeavor. Meditation can take you far in terms of being able to handle the pain, but it isn't 100% foolproof and will definitely make your eyes water regardless of whether or not you can sit through a dozen or so passes over that super sensitive nerve that covers such a large piece of real-estate down your arm.
Inner Ankle Tattoos
This is the place that I choose for my very first tattoo. A simple black dancing devil in an area I was hoping wouldn't be too painful. Boy, did I learn my lesson!
The inner ankle doesn't have much skin and is on top of bone. Plus, you'll have to bend at all sorts of weird angles so that your tattoo artist can get the details right.
Inner Arm Tattoos
Where your inner arm bends forward (inner elbow) is a particularly sensitive area. Even though there is way more skin there than on your elbow, it has tons of nerve endings. On top of that, you'll have to get the work redone a few times because places that bend are subject to more flaking and fading than other areas.
Your feet area double-edged sword when it comes to tattoos. The top of your feet have tons of little bones and lots of sensitive nerve endings. On the soles, you'll not only be ticklish, but your nerve endings will light up and send chills up the rest of your body when that needle goes across them.
The bottom of your feet are also said to be pressure points for many different organs and parts of your body, so I would give it some long, hard thought before going there.
Example of a brave woman getting a foot tattoo...
As much as you would think this wouldn't be a bad area, it's actually one of the worst. Think about it: When you touch something hot with the palm of your hand, it hurts way more than it would on the top of your hand. The same is true of tattoos.
So take some time to really think about it before you try to push ahead with a palm tattoo. Many artists won't even risk it, as there is too much chance of you moving and it will fade a lot, meaning consistent touch-ups.
I very much doubt there is anyone who has done a neck tattoo without lots of numbing agents or heavy intoxicants.
Your neck is a highly sensitive area. Besides the nerve endings, you'll also play hell trying to keep centered while you feel the vibration of the needle in your head, jaw, and back. A neck tattoo is often too much pain for most, even with numbing. This is often why neck tattoos take much longer to do.
You'll want to consider how much it will hurt while healing as well. You'll have to wear shirts and coats, plus you'll be laying in bed at night. This means you'll be irritating the area constantly until it heals.
Q: Tatts over Scarring: Why is it so much more painful than anywhere else??
A: One might think you'd be less likely to experience any pain over scar tissue, but the opposite is more often true: It's EXCRUTIATING. This is often because scarred skin tissues are clusters of damaged nerves that are not able to respond to injury the same as healthy tissues would--resulting in a hypersensitivity to pain over the scarred areas of skin.
I've only known one person who got a tattoo on their head and I have only read about a handful of others. On top of having to pay extra, you'll also have to do a lot of meditation and detachment if you're going to get a tattoo on your head.
Plus, you'll have to shave until you're completely bald, then put up with the feeling of a needle being dragged across your skull. Can you do it?
Facial tattoos are becoming more and more popular as the social stigmas that have been attached to tattoos have waned greatly over the past few generations. That doesn't mean they'll come completely judgment free in terms of how other people will perceive you from their first impression at a distance. Though people don't care as much as they used to, which is part of why more folks feel comfortable getting a tattoo on the face.
This is particularly interesting, considering one of the largest factors to consider when getting a face tattoo isn't just the socio-emotional consequences--it's the PAIN. Your face is exceptionally sensitive in comparison to other areas of the body, because your skin is so much thinner and closer to bones. Not to mention, even without direct physical reasons for a needle running across your face to hurt, your mind also creates additional sensations of pain because the first instinctual reaction of your body is to protect your face from danger. Some of this can be mitigated through deep meditation and tolerance, though not 100%. No matter how used to tattoos you are in other areas of your body, or even other facial tattoos, you're still going to be fighting against your bodies natural urges to protect your face--including sending extra pain and fight or flight signals to your brain while you're getting tattooed, in an attempt to get you to stop.
Now... While I very much doubt there are many folks out there who would consider getting a facial tattoo for their first tattoo, I know there are definitely some of you out there. So, without negating that there are plenty of folks who feel very little pain even regardless of where they get tattooed (like your face), faces are statistcally one of the most painful places to get a tattoo. So consider yourself warned if you're looking for one of your first tattoos and are considering something anywhere on your face.
Likewise, even for those of you who've had several dozen tattoos already, it doesn't hurt to step back and really evaluate whether or not you want to move forward with a tattoo. Even ignoring the social consequences, facial tattoos hurt a lot. I have not gotten a permanent facial tattoo, though I have had a partial water tattoo done in attempts to see if I could make it through one, and it was definitely a no go. This is something that a lot of folks don't consider when going in for a facial tattoo; MANY people don't make it all the way through their facial tattoos.
That means you might end up with only a partially finished tattoo ON YOUR FACE, which yu might not ever get finished.
Finally, but not finitely, another thing to consider in terms of the pain of a facial tattoo, is that because the anatomy of your face is such a sensitive area, it's very easy to flinch or jump when or if your tattoo artists hits an area that's especially thick with nerves. That could result in extra lines, blowouts, or other areas of the tattoo that will take additional time to repair--if they can be repaired at all.
Facial tatts hurt!
I'll be the first to admit that Chest tattoos vary in terms of pain level. More often then not, because of how close ribs are to the skin, as well as the sensitivity of nipples and/or breasts, chest tattoos tend to be among the top-rated areas of incredible pain when getting tattooed.
Painful Tattoo Locations: Artists Advice
As you can see, getting a tattoo on the knuckles is something I have personal (and recent!) experience with. You could say it's fresh on my mind.
In this picture, you can see that there is only a relatively small area that covers one of my knuckles. There will be more decorative knot work on the rest of my hand in a few weeks, but I can tell you that even the small amount that is there now entailed quite a pain.
During one of the three sessions it took, we used topical lidocaine to numb my hand. The other two times were without any numbing agents. I can testify that even with the lidocaine, it still hurt like hell!
The good part is that work on the hands is usually very quick. So unless you're doing the tatt yourself, you'll probably be able to grit your teeth and take it. Just make sure not to ask for any famous portraits shrunk down to fit your knuckle. That could take a while....
Q: Why does it hurt to have a tatt done on your knuckles?
A: Because it's right on top of bones that are covered by very little fat or other cushioning tissues. Any area that has less tissue and goes on top of a bone will have nerve endings that are more easily disturbed by the needle.
Multiple sources of pain involved with getting new Tattoos
Most folks assume that when someone talks about the pain of a tattooed, they're only talking about the direct pain experienced while in the act of getting tattooed. Though that's not the only type of pain you're going to experience with new tattoos. There are several other types of pain to keep in mind before letting your tattoo artist start grinding, such as:
1. Healing Pain
There's no way around it, tattoos are an injury to the skin, which means they have to heal. That healing process can sometimes be even more painful than the actual needle time itself. This healing pain can be increased by the location of your tattoo as well. Consider for a moment, that if you get a tattoo on your armpit, you're going to have an especially difficult time not irritating that tattoo all day, unless of course you're able to do everything with your arm in the air for three to four weeks while your tattoo heals. Additionally, tattoos in areas like the armpit, are going to be harder to heal because it's a dark moist area that is constantly sweating and being touched by clothing, other people, and other debris. That makes it more difficult to keep your new tattoo dry and in the sunlight, both things you need to properly heal your tattoo. That can definitely increase your healing pain, and can also heighten your chances of getting a tattoo infection.
2. Pain of Infected Tattoos
An infected tattoo can be excruciatingly painful, depending on how badly infected that area of skin becomes. Thankfully, tattoo infections from something the tattoo artist does, as sanitation processes have improved a lot in our modern times. Though that doesn't mean you cannot get an infection after leaving your artist. Even when following all the right after-care steps to keep your tattoo clean and healthy, you're still dealing with an open wound that is susceptible to infection from multiple sources. The likelihood of getting infections can actually be increased or decreased by the location of your new tattoo. The above example with things like armpit tattoos is a great example of increased risks of infection from the location of your tattoo, though another consideration is how hard it might be to heal from that infection. Take for example, a tattoo on your foot. Unless you just so happen to have weeks of free time to sit around and keep your foot out of your nasty socks and shoes, and clean from other sources of irritation and infection, you're going to have a much harder time healing from the infection in general. There is no two ways about it, infections are painful enough on their own, though the longer the infection continues, the more pain you're likely to experience. This is significantly true if your infection ends up getting worse.
3. Adverse Reactions
If you already have skin that is prone to dermatological conditions, or for any reason your immune system isn't operating at 100%, you might experience another sort of pain: Adverse Reactions. Many of these are similar to the same sort of sensations and pain that would come along with infections, though often without any fever. Regardless of any fevers though, adverse reactions from tattoos can be brutal depending on how quickly you notice the reaction and how intensely you react. This is significantly true for tattoos in more sensitive areas. A very bad rash or hives on your outer arm would be a lot easier to deal with and heal up than an adverse reaction on your cheek, knuckles or inner thigh.
This is certainly not the end of all other forms of pain that can, though don't usually and hopefully won't this time, come along with getting a tattoo. In particular, when these complications occur in areas that are already more sensitive during the tattooing process itself, you're looking at double the pain should anything else happen afterward. This very much dulls the potential rewards vs the risks for many folks, which is particularly understandable. Most tattoos from reputable artists turn out just fine and stay that way for years to come. Though even when going to see the best of the best in terms of artists, or who follow a strict aftercare process, can unfortunately still get an infection, have slowed healing time and/or increased irritation, or whom might experience and unexpected adverse reaction.
It's wise to consider these possibilities before getting any tattoo, though it's especially recommended before getting tattoos in places that are already commonly more painful or more difficult to tattoo.
Which tattoo hurt most for YOU?
A World of Hurt
There are many places on the body that are more likely to increase the inherent pain that comes with getting tattooed in general. Keeping an awareness that everyone is different and will have different levels of pain that they associate with different areas of the body, you might also find an increased sensation of pain in these areas when getting tattooed:
- Collar Bone
The listed places above or this extra list below are by no means an exhaustive list of all the places that are likely to hurt worse than others when it comes to getting tattooed. Make sure to continue your research if this is your first tattoo, as the pain level of first tattoos often determines how likely a person is to get more tattoos. If you've really been dreaming of adorning your living canvas with multiple piece of tattoo art, take the time to plan it out and smoothly go into it, so that the experience is as enjoyable as the art itself.
Healing your new Tattoos
Healing and keeping your skin in good condition after getting tattoos is important regardless of where you get your tattoos or how much they hurt. Though when it comes to the more sensitive areas that you can get a tattoo, having a good self-care process can be even more important in terms of reducing pain and fading; especially in places like your knuckles.
My preference is for Hemp Eaze Tattoo Balms or Tattoo Goo. Both are incredibly gentle, rarely cause allergic reactions (but make sure to check the ingredients for any known allergies just to be safe!), yet they're both exceptionally great at healing your skin without messing with your new body art in the way many petroleum based products do. They're both also fantastic for general skin health and healing, and are fantastic to keep in the first aid kit too. Myself and several friends have used both to heal various areas from severe burns and abrasions. I've got both Hemp Eaze and Tattoo Goo in my car and my medicine cabinet. They're just that useful.