Tattoo Pain Chart – 10 Tips To Minimize Your Pain
Tattoos are a big part of our culture. From celebrities to everyday people, tattoos are everywhere. There’s no denying that they’re beautiful. However, there are downsides to getting one and a person suffering tattoo pain whilst receiving them is one such problem.
The Tattoo Pain Chart and the information here covers everything you need to know about tattoo pain and is your guide to keeping it to a minimum. With the right knowledge, you can make sure your next session is as pleasant as possible.
However, a few mistakes could mean you are begging for the session to be over as soon as it has started. Read on to discover what makes the difference in your tattoo pain experience.
What does tattoo pain feel like?
Tattoo pain is mostly described as feeling like a cat scratch. It can feel sharp and like a burning sensation across the skin. It is different for everyone depending on the location of the tattoo and pain tolerance. However, most tattoo pain is tolerable and not more than you can deal with.
Each different person feels pain differently. Pain levels are very individual. However, there are similarities for each person. There are different types of pain that you may feel whilst being tattooed.
They can be broken down into the following categories but you may feel more than one pain at a time.
Burning or hot pain
This kind of pain feels like someone pressing a hot piece of metal onto the skin. It can feel like the needle is heating up. It is generally not unbearable but can be irritating.
An area where you are quite likely to feel this kind of burning pain is the back of the neck. Tattooing over the spine where the skin is thin can give you a burning sensation.
Background dull aching pain
This is the easiest kind of tattoo pain to handle. After the first five minutes of being tattooed your body will release endorphins or natural pain killers.
This will push the pain down away from your immediate consciousness and into a kind of dull background irritation. You may occasionally experience a painful spasm but in general, this kind of pain is not hard to handle.
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You can cope with this kind of pain for many hours without too much trouble. Keeping in a relaxed and calm state will help you keep your pain at this background level.
Listening to relaxing music or a podcast or chatting to your artist to keep your mind off things will help.
The most common description of tattooing pain is that of a cat scratching its claw across your skin. You are most likely to feel this kind of pain whilst your tattooist is completing the shading.
It can get pretty intense if the artist is shading over the same area over and over again to pack colour or solid black. The scratchy pain will ebb and flow depending on what the artist is doing.
Stinging and sharp pain
This is the kind of pain you will feel whilst getting the outline of the tattoo. Lining generally involves using a pointed cluster of needles that can feel like they are cutting into the skin quite intensely. This kind of pain depends on what kind of design you are getting and the size and type of tattooing needle.
For example, a design with a thick traditional black outline is quite likely to feel pretty sharp as it is being lined. You may also experience this kind of pain if the tattoo needle goes over a major nerve.
Areas where the skin is thin, such as with a finger tattoo or foot tattoo can feel sharp too.
This one is kinda unpleasant. It’s most likely to happen in the torso area. As you are getting tattooed here, the entire vibration of the tattoo machine is transferred into your ribcage and feels like pain vibrating through your internal organs from the rib bone. Not great.
You can also get this with chest, stomach or back tattoos. Basically anywhere in the centre of the body can be pretty painful spots due to this vibration. You are more likely to get this pain if your tattooist uses a coil machine as they vibrate much more than rotary tattoo machines.
What’s the most painful place for a tattoo?
The most painful places for designs are the stomach, back of knees, the ribs, the inner thigh and the soft skin on the inside of the arm. If you get something inked on these parts of the body, then you will have to endure some intense pain. They are definitely not the place for your first tattoo.
There are some more obscure locations such as armpit tattoos or tattoos on the backs of the knees which are definitely up at the top of the tattoo pain scale.
Here’s a list of the top most painful places to get tattooed
- Around the ribcage area
- Head and scalp
- Inner thigh area
- The inner bicep
- Back of the knees
- Armpit area
- The feet
- The ankles
- Elbow ditch
- Hip bone
- Shin bone
- Palm of your hand
What’s the least painful place for a tattoo?
The least painful place for a tattoo are the back of the shoulder, outside bicep, the outer thigh and top side of the forearm. All these places are relatively low pain areas for getting a tattoo. They would be good placements for your first tattoo so you can get used to the pain.
Here’s a list of the top least painful places to get tattooed.
- Back of the shoulder
- Outer shoulder
- Top of forearm
- Outer bicep
- Outer thigh
Do numbing creams help with tattoo pain levels?
Numbing cream can help with tattoo pain for a small and quick tattoo. However, they fade after about two hours and the pain comes back worse so they aren’t good for bigger tattoos. Leaving on too long can make the skin impossible to tattoo. They also can have a health risk if you use too much.
It’s super important that you talk to your tattoo artist before you rock up wearing numbing cream. Some artists won’t tattoo you if you have used it. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Too much Numbing cream can make the skin hard to tattoo
Using numbing cream for too long can result in the skin going pale and jelly-like as the nerve network is affected. This is because the blood has been pulled away from the surface leaving the skin without sufficient blood supply. The cream gives the skin a jelly texture.
It’s incredibly difficult to tattoo into this jelly skin and you won’t get a good result. For this reason, the artist may refuse to work on you.
Using numbing cream wrongly can actually result in more pain.
This seems counterintuitive but it’s true. Numbing cream will last for a couple of hours and then it wears off.
After this, the sensation in your skin has a kind of rebound effect. The feeling of pain comes back with a vengeance and will be much more sensitive than if you never used the cream in the first place.
Getting tattooed will then be unbearable. For this reason numbing cream only really works for small designs or if the artist applies it to different areas in succession.
Overuse of numbing cream may result in the tattoo not healing well.
If you overuse numbing cream it means that the blood supply is diverted from the surface of the skin. Starving the skin of blood isn’t healthy for it and some tattooists have found that using numbing cream has a negative effect on the healing process.
This is why it’s super important to talk to your artist about using numbing cream to find out how they feel about it and if you are ok to use it.
You also need to bear in mind that it can affect the heart. If you have any heart problems it’s best to check with your doctor before using it.
Numbing cream works well for smaller tattoos
Having said all this, numbing cream does have its place and can be very helpful with lowering pain, especially for a smaller tattoo. It’s great if you are nervous about the pain of your first tattoo. Check it out here, but just speak to your artist first before you use it so you can work together to do it right.
What factors could influence how much tattoo pain you feel
Many factors influence just how painful your experience is gonna be. You can use this knowledge about levels of pain to reduce your pain or prepare yourself properly.
Tattoo placement and location.
This is probably the biggest influencing factor. Some places just hurt much more. Check out the visual tattoo pain chart above and choose a lower pain placement if you are worried. Some areas such as the armpit have lots of nerve endings. If you avoid an area away from a major nerve ending this will help.
Avoiding a painful tattoo spot can make a huge difference. This can be a good idea for your first tattoo so you get the hang of handling it. The outer bicep is a good place for a first tattoo as it is one of the lower pain locations.
Areas with softer skin [ie inner thigh] tend to be more painful. Areas with tighter skin [ie the outer bicep] tend to be less painful.
Duration of tattoo
Your natural painkillers or endorphins tend to start to run out after about 2.5 to 3 hours. After this time the pain level may increase. Longer sessions for larger tattoos do tend to be more painful as time goes on.
The experience and skill of your tattoo artist
An inexperienced tattooist can find it harder to get the ink in the skin. This can mean they go over and over the same area which can be sore. They may also take longer to do the tattoo or go in too hard. It’s definitely best to go to someone with experience under their belt.
The style of tattoo
Some tattoo styles hurt more than others. Heavy black tribal style takes time to get the black packed in well and can be sore. Detailed tattoos will take longer so mean more time under the needle and more pain. Dotwork is fairly light on the skin and is one of the least painful styles.
Your individual pain threshold
Some people just feel pain more than others. Some people just have more sensitive skin. You will probably already have an idea of how you handle it and your own pain tolerance. If pain is something you struggle with, try going for a lower pain area of the body and take a painkiller before your session.
Mindset has a huge impact on how much pain you feel during a session.
If you go into the session feeling panicky and tense, chances are you will struggle with the pain. You need to be able to keep a calm mind and keep your body from tensing up which increases the pain.
I truly recommend practising deep slow breathing exercises and meditation before you go. This way you can control your mind and keep yourself in a relaxed zone.
Your physical build.
Tattooing tends to be more painful when over a bony area. The less flesh protecting the bones the more painful it is. If you have a larger physical build with more muscle and thicker skin protecting your bones you may feel less pain. If your bones are highly visible with little protection it may be more painful for you.
If you have very little excess fat this may mean there is less buffer zone over the nerve meaning a more painful session.
It’s important to say this isn’t set in stone though so don’t worry about this too much.
It’s the truth that women do seem to have a slightly easier time of it than men. Women naturally have slightly more subcutaneous body fat protecting their bones which can mean slightly lower pain whilst getting inked.
Top 10 tips to reduce tattoo pain during your tattoo session.
So now you know the factors that affect the amount of pain you will feel during a tattoo. But what can you do to reduce your discomfort during your session and avoid having a painful experience?
Surprisingly there are a lot of tips that make a difference. Here are the top 10 tips to reduce tattoo pain.
1 – Don’t drink the day before a tattoo
Honestly, the worst thing EVER is getting a tattoo if you are hungover. You will feel every little thing and literally wish you were dead.
Alcohol in the blood also means you bleed much more which can affect how your design heals.
Just don’t do it. Don’t drink the night before and have an early bedtime.
2 – Get a good nights Sleep
Leading on from above, make sure you get a good nights sleep before your tattoo session. Being fully rested and feeling good will help to minimise the pain.
3 – Book a morning session
Your natural painkilling endorphins are higher in the morning. Take advantage of this by booking tattoo appointments in the morning if possible.
4 – Take a painkiller
It’s ok to take an over the counter painkiller like Paracetamol or Tylenol for your session. It will take the edge off the pain a little bit.
5 – Make sure you are hydrated.
Many people find that the adrenalin surge of being tattooed causes them to dehydrate. You will probably have a dry mouth and need to pee a lot. This dehydration affects the body and can make you more sensitive to pain. Take a bottle of water with you to the session.
6 – Listen to music, podcasts or meditation recordings
Having headphones and something to listen to can help you get into the correct and focused mindset and distract your mind from the pain. Guided meditations are great for keeping you in a relaxed but focused zone.
7 – Avoid the time around your period
Many women find themselves more sensitive to pain during their period. If you can, book your session for another time of the month.
8 – Eat some food before you go.
If your blood sugar is low your body will be more sensitive. You can even find yourself throwing up or fainting. It’s incredibly important that you have a decent breakfast or snack before you head to the tattooists. This will put your body in optimum condition for dealing with the pain.
9 – Breath slowly and deeply to minimise pain
Studies have shown that deep and slow relaxed breathing has a big impact on how much you feel pain.
Breathe slowly and deeply from your stomach with your eyes closed. Avoid shallow panicky breathing from your chest. This will amazingly helpful to reduce the sensation of pain.
10 – Choose an experienced tattooist.
The tattooists skills can make a huge difference. An experienced and skilled tattooist will complete the design in the least amount of time with the smallest amount of trauma to the skin. Always go to an experienced and professional tattoo artist.
Can I tolerate tattoo pain?
Don’t worry. You WILL be able to tolerate the tattoo pain. Remember, millions of people go back for repeat sessions. They would not do that if the pain levels were unbearable. You will handle it and come out feeling proud of how well you did and with a fabulous new tattoo to show off.
Why doesn’t the tattoo industry do more to reduce tattoo pain?
People sometimes ask why more isn’t done to reduce tattoo pain. Why can there not be a painless tattoo?
The reason is that a tattoo parlor is not a medical establishment. Tattooists don’t have access to things like local anaesthetic as these can only be used by qualified medical staff.
Tattooists do what they can with numbing cream and similar products which are available to the public.
However, there is a lot that can be done by the use of psychological methods. Some tattooists are even starting to experiment with hypnosis for pain relief.
Tattooing has a ritual element to it. For thousands of years, pain has been part of the ritual tattooing process. When you have gone through sensations of pain, but handled it well and received your tattoo, you will feel a great sense of achievement.
Conclusion – The Tattoo Pain Chart and minimising your tattoo pain.
I hope this post and the tattoo pain chart has answered your questions about tattoo pain and given you information about ways to handle it. Remember that tattoo pain is generally not severe pain and there is so much that you can do to minimise it.
If you are really worried about the pain levels, talk to your artist. They will be able to give you information about the potential level of pain and advise and reassure you to make sure you have a positive tattooing experience.
Ultimately, a tattoo is for life but the pain of getting it only lasts a few hours. It will soon be over and then you will have a wonderful tattoo to be proud of. Don’t let fear of a painful tattoo put you off your dream design or placement. Good luck.
More Tattoo Pain Guides
- 40 Different Tattoo Styles – Which one is right for you? - August 31, 2022
- Tattoo Design - August 30, 2022
- What is the best thing to practice tattooing on? 6 Ways you haven’t thought of. - August 25, 2022