While the fear of a painful tattoo session shouldn't keep you from expressing your individuality with some gorgeous body art, it's always good to have realistic expectations. Once you set your mind to it and prepare yourself for the tattooing process, you'll likely find that you have the ability to withstand the pain.
However, if you're already anticipating the pain of the tattoo needle, you may want to think twice before opting for a tattoo design on one of the notoriously painful areas. Yes, the placement may be cool, but you'll pay a little more by way of pain. Some find managing the pain from tattoos easy and even cathartic. Others consider a little suffering worth it for a lifetime of body art. But you may want to consider how much pain you're willing to endure.
Celebrity tattoo artist Dillon Forte says, "There are certain areas of the body that are going to hurt much more than say, the back of the leg or exterior parts of your arms."
Keep scrolling to discover the most painful spots to get a tattoo, according to the experts.
The rib cage offers up a beautiful spread of canvas perfect for cherry blossom tattoos, birds, and other sprawling designs, but it comes at a price. The thin skin on top of the ribs can cause quite a bit of a challenge in pain resistance for those being tattooed. You may find that starting small, then gradually adding to a side rib cage design is the best way to test the waters before jumping in feet-first.
Behind the Ear
Thanks to the thin and delicate skin around the ear, this area is a more sensitive choice. However, don't let that stop you from inking down an easy-to-conceal design. Whether it be a single feather, an insect, or a moon, your tattoo artist can help numb the potential pain with a specialized cream—just keep in mind that it won't numb everything.
Dr. Rachel Nazarian, a board-certified dermatologist, attests that "getting a tattoo in a sensitive location such as the ribs, feet, or around the ears can be more painful, often due to the amount and quality of nerves distributed in these areas."
"Having an experienced tattoo artist can help in managing pain in these sensitive areas by maximizing less traumatizing techniques, but also ensuring proper aftercare to minimize complications," she continues.
Top of the Foot
Ignoring the fact that many tattoo artists will not even work on the top of the foot due to uneven and poor healing results, the pain of this placement should be noted. The foot has a small distribution of body fat, so, like the other spots listed here, you'll feel much more of the process. But that doesn't mean vintage-looking cameos and rosaries won't always look gorgeous, so have at it if you so desire.
"This is the area all your friends warned you about. The top of the foot has thinner skin than the bottom and is close to bone, so you will feel that needle pressure without a doubt," Forte explains.
Chest tattoos are a popular choice. But depending on your pain tolerance, your tattoo artist's schedule, and your patience, they can take years to complete—or they can be artfully inked within a single session. Either way, most chest pieces are going to be painful unless you have lots of body fat or muscle in the area. If you don't, be prepared to endure a little more.
Be it a small and concealable anklet or a piece that travels all the way up the leg, ankle tattoos can be painful, since there's really nothing there but skin on bone. Delicate as they may seem, ankles pull their weight as one of the most sensitive spots to ink, regardless of their size.
Whether it is small or it covers your entire elbow, an elbow tattoo will directly hit bone, so there's no getting around experiencing some pain during the process. Elbow designs can include cool lotus flowers stemming from the center of the elbow outwards to full and half sleeve designs that just so happen to cross over the painful area.
"The inside of the elbow area has two of the three main nerves, so you'll feel it beyond just the needle hitting the skin," explains Forte. "This is one of the more painful areas to get tattooed for sure." He's firm on the fact that elbow tattoos tend to take longer to heal because of the constant movement.
If you want a place where you'll get to enjoy your body art day in and day out, your hands are a great option—you'll just have to withstand the tattooing process first and potentially more touch ups, too. This placement may not last quite as long as other tattooed areas.
"Hand tattoos can look incredible, but they do tend to fade quicker than others." Forte adds, "Hands move more than most body parts so it tends to do a number on the tattoo over time (especially on the palm)."
Healing time is also something to take into consideration when thinking about tattooing your hands because you're always washing this body part, working with it, and utilizing it for everyday tasks. Giving your skin time to heal post-ink can come with extra challenges.
Wrists are a very common spot to get tattoos because they're a small enough area to do something not so noticeable, but also visible enough to be seen if you want it to be. Wrists are a common go-to for first-time tattoos because of the delicate placement and ability to easily show off your new art, but they will come with a little pain.
Your neck is already a very sensitive spot and being an area with thinner skin and a lot of movement means it's the perfect storm for a painful tattoo session and healing. But for many, it's worth it. Just don't forget to include your neck in your skincare routine. It deserves some love, too, especially with new ink.
Forte, a neck tattoo lover, comments that "there are a ton of nerve endings and muscles in the neck region, which increases the sensitivity. If you haven't had a tattoo before or have a hard time tolerating pain, you may be in for a ride if you get a neck tattoo."
Tattoos on the arms are generally a pretty safe bet as a lot of the arm real estate has some fat to it making for a bit less pain. The shoulders are a different story. Since our shoulders are almost all bone, they can be a bit more susceptible to pain.
Cosmetic Facial Tattoos
Cosmetic tattoos, otherwise known as "permanent makeup," are becoming increasingly common. You can get your eyebrows microbladed, your lips lined or filled in (known as lip blushing), and your eyes lined with permanent eyeliner. You can also get scar camouflage, some new freckle tattoos, or a permanent blush.
These tattoos can be uncomfortable since you're getting tattooed on the very sensitive skin of your face, but cosmetic tattoo artist Shaughnessy Otsuji has some tips for how to make this process more comfortable and an all-around better experience.
"Although cosmetic tattoos [actually] tend to be more gentle and painless than most body tattoos," she says, "some may still feel discomfort and sensitivity. Lips and eyeliner can be much more sensitive areas to get tattooed due to them being part of the mucous membrane."
Overall, many clients find microblading to be quite tolerable, "but if the skin is thin, scarred, or delicate, special care must be taken to ensure the area is not overworked," she adds.
Thankfully, there are ways to help minimize the pain you feel during this process. According to Otsuji, "Nowadays there are products that can help keep you numb and relaxed during any tattoo session." She especially likes Zensa ($54), which is a topical anesthetic that can be used anywhere on the body.
Where is the least painful place to get a tattoo?
"Wherever the most fat and [fewest] nerves are, the less pain you will feel," says Forte. As such, "meaty" parts of the body—like your legs and forearms—will generally be the least painful places to get inked.
Do tattoo artists use numbing cream?
Some, but not all, tattoo artists do make use of numbing creams. "Numbing cream is typically considered safe to apply before tattoo treatments, especially in areas that are particularly sensitive," Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, told us. "However, the numbing cream may or may not be effective depending on the type of ingredients used. Furthermore, numbing cream starts to wear off as soon as it's wiped away, so it may not last the entire treatment duration."
If you're interested in making use of numbing cream during your tattoo appointment, be sure to ask the artist beforehand if they use it, if so, which creams.
How do I prepare for tattoo pain?
Along with choosing a less painful spot (a skilled tattoo artist can help you pick the best location based on your personal anatomy), Marie Hayag, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, suggests being well hydrated before getting a tattoo and asking for breaks to help deal with the pain.