Perhaps you’ve been carefully considering where and when you should finally get that tattoo you’ve had in mind for ages. And aside from picking out your artist and setting funds aside for the perfect piece, there’s another question that may be on your mind — and that’s the pain level you may have to endure.
So, are tattoos really that painful? And does the area of the body matter that much when it comes to pain? Here’s what you should know.
Everyone’s pain threshold is different
This seems obvious, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re worried about the pain of a tattoo. What may hurt to someone else may not be as difficult for you to get through. AuthorityTattoo explains when you’re getting inked, between one and 20 needles will be stabbing you at once, so chances are you will feel some degree of pain no matter where your art is located. This also means that line work, which requires fewer needles, is less likely to cause as much pain as shading in the tattoo, which requires more needles at once.
As for what getting a tattoo feels like, many describe it as an intense scratching or bee sting-like pain. On areas of the body that are covered with thinner and/or tighter skin (think wrists and biceps here), the tattoo process may feel more like a sharp sting than a dull ache. Anka Lavriv, tattoo artist and co-owner of Black Iris Tattoo, tells Allure, “It’s definitely a very acute, in-the-moment kind of pain.” She also says she tells her clients “to imagine a cat continuously scratching them with hot claws.”
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the pain won’t last forever — and staying as still as possible makes the process much easier for your tattoo artist, too. You may instinctively want to move away from the discomfort, but make sure you do your best to remain still while getting inked.
Certain areas are notoriously more painful than others
If you’re concerned about the pain when you’re getting your first tattoo, Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells Allure that the arms, shoulders, and tops of the legs are less painful areas to get inked. This is because areas of the body that have slightly more muscle and flesh generally make for a more pleasant tattooing experience.
As for the more notoriously painful areas, parts of the body with less fat are more likely to hurt. Lavriv told Allure that the ribs, feet, elbows, and armpit area are tough to get through. And when it comes to the ribs, both clients and tattoo artists can have a hard time because they’re in constant motion from breathing.
Boney areas of the body can also be particularly bothersome because they create a different kind of painful feeling that clients are often uncomfortable with. If you’re a newbie to the tattoo world, the ribcage, wrists, ankles, and tops of feet can induce this. Additionally, your forehead and fingertips have plenty of pain-sensitive neurons — but we’re guessing the likelihood of you getting a tattoo here is slim.
The size of your tattoo should also be considered when it comes to pain. A 15-minute ankle tattoo may hurt less than a three-hour arm piece when all is said in done, even if the ankle is generally a more painful area to get inked.