How Much Does It Hurt to Get a Tattoo?

Two women holding hands in a park, one with a tattoo

Westend61 / Getty Images

Does it hurt to get a tattoo? Of course. But how much depends on the hand and skill of your artist, the tattoo location, and your individual tattoo pain tolerance. You can absolutely expect to feel more than a pinprick when you get a tattoo, but that doesn't mean you won't be able to handle the experience. So, how much does it hurt to get a tattoo? Here's what you need to know.

What It Feels Like to Get a Tattoo

A needle being inserted and reinserted into your skin over and over again is never going to be pleasant, but how painful the tattooing process is will depend on the individual. What does getting a tattoo feel like? Some people describe the sensation as burning, razor-sharp pain, while others may describe it as feeling like you've been cut.

Everyone Has Different Tattoo Pain Tolerance

Admittedly, some people are just better at dealing with pain. Imagine a tattoo pain tolerance chart. If you have a high pain tolerance, you'll likely sail through the tattoo process with an expected jump and cringe, but without any intense pain. If you have a low tolerance for pain, be advised that your first tattoo should be small and located in a relatively pain-free location. For some people, tattoo pain even becomes addictive. People will seek out a new tattoo as frequently as they can afford to continue the rush and experience.

Some Areas Hurt More Than Others

Due to their lack of fat or muscle separating bone from skin, the head, feet, ribs, and hips are supposedly the most painful spots to ink. Some people start with these locations for their first tattoo, while others build up their body art before venturing into these areas.

For those who want to ease into tattoo pain, your forearm, leg, or any other "meaty" part of your body are good options for your first tattoo. The more flesh, the less intense the sensation. Don't opt for bony areas immediately if you know you have a low pain tolerance. Not to mention, the larger the piece, the more pain you'll endure because the process will take longer. Some tattoos take a few visits to complete. 

Research Your Artist

If you've heard of any particular artists with a light hand, and you're particularly concerned about tattoo pain, seek them out first. Many experienced and highly skilled tattoo artists are very gentle with their machines, as they should be.

Keep Your Mind Busy

If you go into the tattoo process knowing to expect some pain, you'll be better prepared to deal with it. Mental focus is essential during the process, so practice meditation and relaxation techniques that will help you breathe and remain still when the pain becomes difficult to manage.

Consider bringing headphones so you can listen to music to zone out, or talk with the artist during the process. Discuss the steps as they occur and get involved in the actual technique, which will help you take your mind off of the pain. In the end, you'll have a much better tattoo if you can remain still and at ease for your artist.

Don't Be Under the Influence

You can't get a tattoo while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and keep in mind that you can't take any painkillers that thin the blood (such as NSAIDs like Advil and Aleve). This means you'll need to deal with the pain of a tattoo naturally or use a non-blood thinning pain killer like Tylenol.

Related Stories