How Bad Do Tattoos Hurt

girl getting painful tattoo

The pain that goes along with getting a tattoo is often a reason why some people decide to forego body art. However, pain levels differ for everyone, and tattoo placement, your genes and your overall health have a lot to do with how much it will hurt to get inked.

Personal Factors Involved In Tattoo Pain

Measuring the pain involved in getting tattoos is not an exact science. For one person, a lower back tattoo might be the most painful tattoo while for another person it may be the one that bothered them the least. Each person is different, and there are a few personal factors that can help you gauge how much getting a tattoo will hurt you. Before getting your first tattoo, make sure you carefully select an experienced tattoo artist with a hygienic facility. Then consider the following factors.

  • Bruising: Do you bruise easily? A tendency to bruise indicates a loss of fatty tissue. If so, tattoos in areas with thinner skin might affect you more than someone else.
  • Pain Tolerance: When you hurt yourself (stubbing your toe, for example), how would you rank the pain? If you would rank the pain low for most minor injuries, tattoos might not hurt as badly for you as for other people.
  • Placement Considerations: Are you getting a tattoo in a "fleshy" area? Many tattoo veterans will tell you that tattoos in areas with a lot of skin tend to hurt less than tattoos in areas with less padding.
  • Evaluate Sensitive Areas: Are there any parts of your body that are especially sensitive? If there are, you might not want to get a tattoo there.
  • Genetics: Are you a natural redhead? Studies have shown that redheads are more sensitive to pain due to a mutation in the gene that causes their hair color.

Guide to Tattoo Pain

Outside of personal factors, tattoo placement has the greatest effect on just how much pain you're likely to feel during the inking process.

Least Painful Places to Get Tattoos

Places likely to hurt the least are those with adequate "padding." These areas are generally fleshy areas with less tightly packed nerves than other areas of the body. The upper arm and outer or top part of the thigh are especially painless for many because they are large expanses of skin without a lot of dense nerve endings. Lower risk for pain places are:

  • Upper arm
  • Upper back
  • Outer and top area of the thigh

Places With Mixed Reviews

Tattoos hurt some people more than others. You may be a tender soul with heightened sensitivity - that's just luck-of-the-draw and means you will need a pain management strategy should you choose to get inked. One way to minimize discomfort is placement choice. Repeat needle injections in some areas of the body are no problem for people with high pain thresholds, not so great for others. It's personal. These places get mixed results.

  • Inner arm
  • Inner thigh
  • Lower back
  • Ankle
  • Ribs

In general, fleshy areas don't expose as many nerve endings to the needle as thin-skinned body parts. But the size of the tattoo is also important in these areas. A 40-minute tattoo session for a one-inch tattoo on your lower back is a breeze compared to getting a seven-hour backpiece. Some people notice that the outlining process of the tattoo is the worst, while the fill-in work is minimally painful. But YMMV, so evaluate your own sensitivity and reactions to pain. Then make an informed decision about what you can handle.

Getting rib tats can be painful.

More Painful Placements

There are some areas of the body that are likely to hurt more than others no matter how high your pain threshold is. Any section of skin with tightly packed nerves or a thin layer of flesh over bone is extra-sensitive. Any "connecting" area - such as a joint or the armpit - has a dense body of nerves crowded together, and is therefore more likely to transmit pain.

  • Top of the foot
  • Armpit area
  • Any joints (such as the kneecap or elbow)
  • Fingers (and hands)
  • Ribs, chest and sternum
  • Groin area

Ultimately, no matter where you end up placing your tattoo, there are methods for pain relief that range from over-the-counter medications to self-hypnosis that can help you control the pain.

Know Your Pain Tolerance

Know yourself. If you have a high pain threshold, getting inked may seem like a slight annoyance. However, the pain could be severe if you are more sensitive. Talk it out with your tattoo artist, who has experience with both placement and pain tolerance. Then give the whole decision some serious thought. If you're wavering, remember that the pain of getting a tattoo is only temporary - the pleasure you get from that tattoo will last far longer.

How Bad Do Tattoos Hurt