“No pain, no gain.” It sounds pervasive, but there is a common belief among tattoo fanatics that pain is essential to tattooing. Many people feel pain is part of the commitment and experience of getting a tattoo.
Of course, not everyone embraces pain as essential to tattooing. But, no matter how you feel about it, pain is part of the tattoo process.
How much do tattoos hurt?
Tattoos hurt. You’re getting pierced repeatedly with a needle. How much they hurt varies from person to person. It shouldn’t be torture, but it isn’t like picking daisies either. There are a few factors which affect your tattoo pain tolerance:
- Skin Sensitivity
Skin Sensitivity & Tattoo Pain
No surprises here. The more sensitive your skin, the more a tattoo hurts. Some people with sensitive skin prefer to get the tattoo over with in as few sessions as possible. Others will break it up into multiple, shorter, sessions so the pain never becomes too extreme. This comes down to personal choice.
Remember, committing to a longer session doesn’t lock you into it. If you reach your pain threshold you can take a break, or even end the session to come back another day.
Endorphins: Pain for Pleasure
You often hear about getting a rush from tattoos. It is common for bodies to release endorphins in response to tattoo pain. If your body releases a lot of endorphins pain becomes less noticeable. Endorphins can make getting a tattoo a pleasant experience.
The location of your tattoo plays a big role in how much it hurts. Nerves, glands, arteries, and veins are more painful to tattoo over. As well, joints or anywhere where the bone is closer to the skin is more painful. There is less give, and some people find the tapping sensation over the bones to be unpleasant.
Areas with a bit more fat, muscle, and/or tighter skin are generally less painful. These factors give more space between the needle and the bones and put less concentration on nerves. Below, we take a look at the most and least painful tattoo locations.
Which Tattoos Are The Most Painful
Are you looking to avoid pain, or show that you’re the toughest person on the block? Either way, you want to know the most painful places to get tattoos.
Ankle and foot tattoos are common. They are easy to conceal tattoos for work. However, they can be painful locations because the bone is right up against the skin. Tiny tattoos are popular for ankle and foot tattoos. Smaller tattoos are generally faster, as there is less time required under the needle.
Tattoos on the inside of the wrist can also be painful. There is very little muscle or fat to protect the bones. As well veins and arteries are sensitive to tattooing, and they are exposed on the inner wrist. This is another location where small tattoos are popular, in part due to limited space.
Chest & Rib Tattoos
Tattoos on the chest and ribs look great. And their cool appearance definitely feels earned. These are painful areas for tattoos and are often used for large pieces. The ribs are right against the skin, and the nerves here are also close to the skin. The chest and ribs also move while you breathe, this movement makes tattooing more painful. A more muscular chest can reduce the pain for chest tattoos. It provides an extra layer between the skin and the bones.
Finger & Hand Tattoos
The skin on your fingers and hands is especially sensitive. As well, the bones are right up against the skin. The Tattoo ink does not stay on hand and finger skin as easily as on the rest of the body. As a result, tattoo artists may have to go over the same area multiple times.
The fingertips are one of the most pain-sensitive locations on the body. Fortunately, they are not common locations for tattoos.
Inside of Elbow & Armpit Tattoos
The inside of joints are particularly sensitive places to get tattoos. Your body is built to naturally protect these areas, so they do not get as much exposure as most of your skin. As a result, they are more sensitive.
The inside of the elbow has a reputation as the most painful place to get a tattoo. The inside of the elbow contains two of the three main nerves. When these nerves are struck, you feel it in your whole arm.
The armpit is no less painful but is not as common of a location for tattoos. So it doesn’t have as strong of a reputation. The armpit is home to the axillary nerve, as well as glands.
The head, specifically the forehead, is perhaps the most painful place to get a tattoo. The forehead is the only place on the body that is as sensitive to pain as the fingertips. The skull is close to the skin all over the head.
Not to forget, the noise and vibration from the tattoo gun can be more extreme for head tattoos. Most people find these sensations to be unpleasant. Many tattoo shops in Toronto & Vancouver do not perform head tattoos.
Which Tattoos Are The Least Painful
There is no 100% pain-free tattoo. But, certain locations are less painful than others. Areas with fat, muscle, and/or tight skin tend to be less painful. As well tattoos on the outer side of arms and legs are more painful than the inner side.
Outer locations are more exposed so the skin is tougher and less sensitive. As well, your body is designed to protect sensitive areas like nerves, arteries, and veins. So they are mostly found on the inner side of your body.
Back of The Ear Tattoo
I know we just closed out the most painful tattoos with head tattoos. But the back of the ear is the exception. This area has no nerve endings, making it perhaps the least painful place to get a tattoo. This combined with the ease of hiding this tattoo has made it very popular. Wear your hair down and it’s hidden, wear your hair up and it’s on display.
Upper Back Tattoo
Want a large tattoo, but have concerns about pain? The upper back is a big canvas which is less sensitive than most of the body. The exception, of course, is the spine. The spine has greater nerve ending density as well as bone pushing right up against the skin.
Outside of The Arm Tattoo
The outside of the arm, especially the upper arm and outer shoulder, requires less pain tolerance for tattoos. They are large, meaty areas with low sensitivity.
Full arm sleeve tattoos are common for arms. Those trying to minimize pain often opt for fine line tattoos. The more surface area a tattoo covers, they more time under the needle you spend and the more painful the tattoo will be. Fine line tattoos cover less surface area while still creating breathtaking designs.
The thigh is a big meaty area with tight skin. For reducing pain, it is one the best areas to get a tattoo. For this purpose, the inner thigh, however, is not a great option. The inner thighs are often covered and rub against each other often. This can make the tattoo healing process more painful.
The stomach is among the least painful tattoo locations. There are no bones in the stomach area, and (for most of us) there is an extra fatty layer of protection.
Tattoo Pain Management & Relief
Completely preventing tattoo pain isn’t possible, but managing it is. One of the most effective things you can do is to find one of the best tattoo artists in Toronto & Vancouver. Top tattoo artists will avoid unnecessary pain during the tattooing process and will properly prep you for parts that are unavoidable.
A less experienced artist may scrape too deep while tattooing. This causes more pain during the tattooing and can even last between sessions. If you suspect your artist is going to deep, check for signs. The easiest symptom of this to see is if the ink is bleeding over the lines.
Some people will use over the counter pain medication. Use these medications with caution, as many of them thin the blood and result in excessive bleeding. Aspirin, for example, will make you bleed more easily – which is not ideal for tattooing. Ibuprofen makes it harder for blood to clot, so any bleeding will take longer to stop. Ask your tattoo artist for recommendations here.
Alcohol and recreational drugs should be avoided prior to and soon after getting a tattoo. They usually make tattoos more painful and are one of the biggest causes of infection. Most Toronto & Vancouver tattoo artists (including all those who work at Chronic Ink) will turn away clients who are clearly inebriated and have them return when they are sober.