On the Tattoo Pain Scale, want to know if YOUR ink will rate high or low?

Tattoo Pain FAQs: 5 Things You Need To Know

1. How Does Tattoo Pain Feel?

Image Source: Tattoed Martha
Image Source: Tattoed Martha
  • Burning pain – pain as if you’ve pressed a hot pan onto your skin and kept it there for a long time. This pain type appears in cases of large tattoos which require a lot of work by the tattoo artists. The skin becomes irritated from the needle piercing, especially when it is done for a long time in one place. The pain is low to medium, and it goes away quickly. However, it is rather irritating, which can be a problem for those with sensitive skin.
  • Scratching pain – this is the most common pain type when it comes to tattooing. It can feel very intense, and many describe it as if a ‘cat is dragging its claws across the skin’. The pain isn’t intense if the tattoo artist doesn’t focus on one area for a long time. But, in the majority of cases, the artist will focus on one area to make it perfect, so bear this in mind.
  • Dull pain – this is the type of pain that appears somewhere in the background and appears as a reaction to the actual excitement of getting a tattoo. Many tattoo artists describe this type of pain as ‘good’ since it helps you feel less pain due to the hormones producing adrenaline. Now, adrenaline numbs the tattooed area, making the pain appear dull or as appearing somewhere in the background. This type of pain can be easily ignored, so make sure to distract yourself while getting tattooed.
  • Vibrating pain – this type of pain appears when you’re being tattooed in a bony area, like the elbow, outer wrist, or ankles. The vibration from the needle transfers to the bone, causing a vibrating pain. This isn’t usually intense or severe pain, but for those with low pain tolerance, it can certainly feel rather intense.
  • Stinging pain – this is very intense pain. It resembles bee stinging, only repetitive, and felt a bit deeper in the skin. This type of pain appears during the detailing part of tattooing, as the artist needs to use one or fewer needles. The pain is most intense in body parts where the skin is thin or has a lot of nerve endings. However, you should bear in mind that stinging pain can also be a sign that the tattoo artist isn’t doing a good job, and they’re pushing the needle too deep into the skin.

2. What Factors Determine Pain Intensity?

  • Sex – studies suggest that pain is more intense for women than for men. This is usually explained by the biological and chemical differences between the sexes. However, no study or research provides actual indications that women experience higher pain levels, and some studies even indicate things to be completely contrary. Many suggest women can endure higher pain levels, compared to men. So, it is yet to be proven how exactly sex affects the pain levels one experiences during tattooing.
  • Weight – those with excess weight might experience higher pain levels due to damage and thinning of the skin. As one gains weight, the skin stretches and becomes thinner and more sensitive to tattoos. The same goes for skinny individuals; their skin is also very thin, which contributes to higher pain levels.
  • Age – as the skin ages, so does it become more sensitive and thin. Older skin is more prone to bruising, sensitivity, and pain during tattooing than younger skin.
  • Experience – now, if you’re someone who has already gone through a few tattoos, you’re more likely to have a higher endurance and pain tolerance compared to someone who has never had a tattoo. So, experience does play a big role when it comes to pain intensity.

3. How Long Does The Tattoo Appointment Last?

If you’re wondering for how long you’ll need to endure pain, we can say that on average the tattooing sessions tend to last between an hour and three hours. Some tattoo artists even take frequent breaks, especially if the tattooed area is highly sensitive and painful.

However, no tattoo artist will allow the session to go over three hours, since no one wants their clients in agony and traumatized. If the tattoo is larger and requires more work, the artists will divide the session into two or more sessions to avoid long periods of pain.

4. How Long Does The Pain Last, Post-Tattoo?

Post-tattoo pain can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the area that has been tattooed. If the area is highly sensitive and has a lot of nerve endings, chances are the pain will last longer.

However, if the pain prolongs for days and the area becomes red and swollen, you should seek medical attention immediately. Chances are there has been an infection of an allergic reaction in the tattooed area, which needs to be managed.

5. How Can I Manage The Pain During The Session?

Ask the tattoo artist to take frequent breaks, especially if the tattooed area is sensitive and painful. Go for a tattoo artist that is experienced. A professional artist will have a certification, properly cleaned/sterilized equipment, and clean gloves while tattooing. Avoid drinking or taking painkillers before the session. Both can thin your blood and cause bleeding during the tattooing process. Moreover, you’ll experience heavy bruising after the session as well. Try using on the area where the tattoo will be before the session. This will reduce the amount of pain during the session. Stay hydrated and focus on getting enough sleep before the session. Hydration and resting will help you endure the pain easier. Take care of the tattooed area after the session. Follow the artist’s instructions regarding the aftercare, which will include washing and moisturizing the area, as well as wearing loose clothes.


Most painful places to get a tattoo: Inside of wrist

Same goes here. “Like the feet and ankles, there is little fat there,” explains Fredrik. And as well as that, “there are a surprising amount of nerve endings on the inside of the wrist” which can only add to the pain.

Which spots can be classified as the most sensitive ones?

Certain parts of the body contain clusters of nerves or nerve endings; these parts can be considered the most sensitive areas of pain. Also, the bonier areas are likely to be affected more by the needle than other areas. The throat, nipples, genitals, solar plexus, face, and hands can be classified as the parts with clusters of nerves.

The wrists, ankles, feet, collarbone, spine, ribs, elbows, kneecaps and feet are some of the bonier areas that are prone to increased pain reception.

where is the most painless place to get a tattoo

2. Genitals –

  	  The Hidden Meaning of Ruby Rose Tattoos You will be surprised to know that genital tattoos have a dedicated fan following. Many people have got their penis or vagina tattooed. If you are thinking the same then sit back and think about your decision. Why would you needle your most sensitive part? I don’t even have to tell you how painful it would be? Just the thought of it gives me chills.

1. Eyes –

Do people get their eyeballs tattooed? Just search for scleral tattoos and you would surprise to see the number of people who have tried it. Tattooing near the sclera (white part of the eye) is even avoided by tattoo artists but still many people have tried it. The pain is indescribable but it’s not just about pain. A model named Catt Gallinger goes blind after trying a purple scleral tattoo. She even commented that she cried purple tears for straight two days after getting the tattoo. Getting a tattoo on eye would simply mean that you hate yourself and your body.

So these are the universally accepted most painful places to get a tattoo? But does the list stops right there? No.

You must keep in mind that getting a tattoo is a painful process irrespective of the body part you chose. The pain may be less or more depending on various factors but consider it as a part of the process.

There are several options that you can follow to minimize the pain. Numbing creams like Benzocaine and Derma numb is often used by good tattoo artists to numb the skin that is about to be tattooed.

If you feel an unbearable pain, then feel free to ask the tattoo artist to stop right there. Do not think that getting tattooed shows how tough you are. It is an art form. Many people pass out when they try relatively large tattoos on sensitive body parts.

If you are a beginner then start with a small tattoo on body parts like back, chest or stomach. Most people withstand the pain on these body parts. A small tattoo will also give you an idea of how tolerant you are to the tattoo pain.

most painful tattoo spots female

8. Rib Cage –

  	  The rib cage is close to our nervous system. It neither has muscle, nor fat and not even much skin. This makes it one of the most painful body parts to get a tattoo. You feel a lot of scratching when you get tattooed on the rib cage. This is not the only problem. As rib is close to the nervous system to whenever you breathe you will even more pain. The healing process is painful as well.

7. Inside of Knees –

Sweaty areas should not be considered for tattoos. Inside of Knees is one such area. The knees along with the elbows are one of the boniest parts on our body. While getting tattooed on the inner knee you will feel like as if the tattoo gun is penetrating right inside your knee bone. The pain is beyond words to describe. It is common for the client to pass out during the process.

Least Painful Tattoo Spots

The following body parts tend to be the seven least painful places to get a tattoo. Many of these body parts have many more “padding” than bonier areas like the ankles and feet. 

Remember, exact pain level varies based on a number of factors like age and the skill of the artist. The results shown here are based on the scores from our tattoo pain level survey conducted among artists and enthusiasts.

Pain Level: 2

Because the upper outer thigh has few nerve endings and a lot of padding in the form of fat, it tends to be the least painful place to get a tattoo, as our tattoo pain chart shows.

“I have a neotraditional woman wearing a native american war bonnet which baisically takes up my whole thigh. I sat through my entire session with Joseph Haefs in one session.” – Jorie, Knoxville, TN 

Pain Level: 4

Aside from the spinal area itself, the back tends to be less sensitive to pain due to the presence of fewer nerve endings and fairly thick skin.

“When I tattooed the logo of a company I no longer work at onto my lower back, it was surprisingly painful. However, it was nothing compared to my ribs.” – Phil, Houston, TX 

Pain Level: 8

As our tattoo pain chart shows, respondents in our survey found the sternum to be one of the less painful spots to get a tattoo. However, some people do find the sternum to be a sensitive area.

“My sturnum tattoo HURT I have a chandelier style mandala that runs down my sternum and under my chest onto my ribs” the ribs hurt worse than the sternum portion of the tattoo. It was still painfull though…” – Chelsea, Boston, MA

Pain Level: 5

The shoulder area tends to have more cushioning and fewer nerve endings, making the pain less severe during the tattooing process.

“The scream mask that I got tattooed onto my shoulder is a coverup. Realism requires a ton of saturation so the artist worked the area pretty hard. Otherwise the tattoo wasn’t that bad.”  Sarah Atlanta, GA

Pain Level: 6

The stomach tends to have a lot more cushioning in the form of fat or muscle than many other body parts. And, of course, there are no bones to worry about, which also makes the stomach a less painful place to get a tattoo. People with tighter skin in the stomach area tend to experience less sensitivity while being tattooed here. 

“I had a mommy makeover tattoo that I got done after my last daughter and the pain was nothing compared to childbirth!” Kennedy Richmond, VA 

Pain Level: 6.5

This area has a fair amount of cushioning over the bone, so it’s less sensitive than certain other parts of the arm, like the elbow, as our tattoo pain chart shows.

“When I was stationed in Yuma, AZ I got a globe and an eagle tattooed onto my arm. SEMPER FI!” – August San Diego, CA 

Pain Level: 7

A forearm tattoo can be surprisingly painful because of the radial nerve that runs through it, making the forearm one of the more sensitive spots on our tattoo pain chart.

“The pain that I felt was tolerable, and I have a traditional black cracken tattoo spanning the length of my forearm. It was vastly different from that of my chest tattoo which had me writhing,”  -David Salt Lake City, UT

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Men’s Tattoo Pain Scale ~ TOP TEN ~

Men's Anatomical Tattoo Pain ChartMen’s Anatomical Tattoo Pain Chart
  1. Genital/Anal regions
  2. Head and Neck
  3. Underarm
  4. Eyes (in and around)
  5. Behind the Ear
  6. Knee (both sides)
  7. Spine
  8. Ribcage
  9. Elbows (both sides)
  10. Shoulder (bony part)

Although you may see some guys “John Wayning it” much of the time, the process of getting a tattoo is not a pleasant, feel good experience (okay…maybe some guys say they dug the whole pain thing. Their story and I guess they’ll stick to it). 

The process feels like?

Getting inked is a completely different experience across different parts of the body. Some parts are quite easier and less painful to get a tattoo on than others. This experience also depends on the “cushion” that a specific placement has. Cushion refers to the amount of skin and muscle that is present on a particular surface.

The areas closer to the rib cage do not have much cushion whereas areas such as the thighs are meatier and have more muscle and fat. Moreover, the parts where the major nerves run can also be relatively more painful than others.

For a thicker area such as the thigh, you will feel like a needle is being dragged across your skin. This sensation is pretty superficial as the tattoo needle does not dig far into the skin as an injection would. This can be compared to a scratch from an animal’s claw or a sting from a bee. You will feel the sharpness of the fine needle prodding through your skin.

You will also feel a burning sensation as during the process the metal needle is constantly moving forwards and backward creating a design. This causes friction which leads to heat emission, thus the burning sensation. This also depends on how elaborate your tattoo is and how much detail goes into that specific design.

For bonier areas, you may feel more pain. The sensation can be compared to a dull metal object trying to cut into your skin. As you come closer to the areas that contain major nerves, you will experience the discomfort and pain rising.

Ways to Deal with Tattoo Pain

In the previous section, you got to know the areas

In the previous section, you got to know the areas that hurt the least when you want to have a tattoo. That was the tattoo pain chart that should be helpful whenever you want some piece done on your body.

Depending on how much pain you can take, I’m sure you have made a decision where to have your next piece. For me, I had one at the least painful area and that is what I will live with. So now that you know pain is a must, how do you deal with such a reality?

You need to learn on the ways to alleviate most of the agony.

There is no debate that even the simplest piece wi

There is no debate that even the simplest piece will come with its own kind of discomfort so the best thing is to be prepared. When we talk about getting inked, you now know that it is not going to be easy. However, knowledge is so powerful and you can use it to your advantage.

There are tricks that will help you overcome the hurting and you will find out that it is easy to get it done rather than live fearing for it. Here is all that you need to ensure that you are in control of the pain no matter which part of the body you choose to have your piece:

Before getting your tattoo

You should not only worry about the hurting at the time you walk into the expert’s place; rather it should start at the time you make the decision. What you do before the actual act will count to how much discomfort you have to deal with. Here are things you should know and do beforehand:

  • Talk to some expert on pain:

The way I would handle physical agony is not the same way you would. We handle pain in different ways and that is why you need to understand yourself better. An expert will tell about the theory behind feeling pain as well as direct you on the way to control it.

It is easy to be on top of things if you are relaxed.

  • Get to know where it hurts most:

We have already handled this part on where you will get more discomfort and that knowledge should help you make an informed decision. To emphasize on this, areas with more muscles and fat tend to be the least painful. On the other hand, areas with lots of bones and scarce skin cover will be more hurting.

  • Know the kind of tattoos that hurt the most:

It is true that not every piece you get will be equally hurting as the one your friend has. Smaller pieces will hurt the least since they will not be spread over a large portion of the skin. Also, one color pieces are way better in terms of pain than their larger counterparts.

  • Take someone you love with you:

As you take on the needles, there is the need to have someone with you. He/she might be your friend but it will help you overcome the discomfort.

  • For your information, there will be some blood and needles:

There is no way you are going to have your skin sign without spilling some blood. That will involve the use of needles. It is better to be prepared for what you expect and you will find it much easier to undergo the process.

When getting your tattoo

When getting your tattoo

  • Be calm:

Fear is one of the things that will make you feel more agony than there really is. Being calm will lessen the flow of blood and it will be easier on you at least as far as pain is concerned. Take a few deep breaths and you will find yourself relaxed and ready to take on the needles.

  • Have something to chew or squeeze:

If you can take away all the concentration from your body and have it elsewhere then this will help you a great deal. Chewing or squeezing something as you are getting worked on is a good way to take away the concentration.

  • If it hurts more, take breaks:

If you feel that you are taking more than your fair share, be free to ask for a break. Do not be afraid to ask for it as you will relieve the continuous pain and you can face more of it.

  • Only move when it is necessary:

The less movements you make, the less pain you will get. Sit still and only do all that you are told to.

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Insider’s takeaway

It’s natural to feel nervous about pain when getting tattooed, but there are steps you can take to prepare yourself and make the process a more pleasant experience. 

“Make sure you eat an hour before you go, drink plenty of water, and wear comfortable clothes,” Charest says, and always be communicative and honest with your artist if you need to take a break while getting tattooed. 

If you’re really worried about pain, you might opt to use a numbing cream. Remember to avoid NSAIDS or drink alcohol prior to being tattooed as they can thin your blood and cause excess bleeding, making it harder for the tattoo artist to do their job. 

Lia Tabackman Lia Tabackman is a freelance journalist covering health and science topics for Insider.com. She can be found on Twitter @LiaTabackman. Read more Read less


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