get inked

So, How Much Does A Tattoo Really Hurt? Let's Discuss

Spoiler alert: Tattoos hurt a lot, especially in certain places on your body.

Originally Published: 
Tattoo Pain Chart
Iuliia Isaieva/Getty Images

Inking your body is one of the most beautiful ways to express yourself. Not only can you tell stories through tattoos, but you can catalog memories that will last a lifetime, all right there on your skin. But as appealing as tattoos are, they can be prohibitive for a couple of reasons. For one, tattoos are understandably expensive. Not only are you paying an artist to create literal art for you, but then you’re paying for them to put it on your body. Tattoos are something you don’t want to skimp on price with, either, because the quality of the work and the cleanliness of the tattoo studio are paramount. The other literal pain point of tattooing is how much it will hurt to get done. Have you ever seen a tattoo pain chart? Depending on where on your body your tattoo is, your pain level will differ — but you can expect pretty much anywhere to hurt at least a little.

Of course, different people have different pain thresholds. Still, while everyone’s experience with tattooing will be unique, there are certain areas of the body that you can count on to be more painful than others. Check out this helpful tattoo pain chart, as well as everything else you need to know about managing tattoo pain.

What does a tattoo pain chart look like?

This tattoo body pain chart will give you a visual example of where you can generally expect to experience more or less pain while getting tattooed.

What is the most painful tattoo spot?

Generally speaking, there are a few areas of the body that are typically more painful than others. Anywhere you’re tattooing right on a bone tends to be pretty uncomfortable. This includes the spine, knees, ribs, chest, and feet. Because there isn’t much fat between the skin and the bone, the needlework feels more intense.

Places on the body where the skin is generally thin or sensitive can also be painful — places like breasts, inner elbows, and the butt. The skin in these areas isn’t toughened up, which makes a tattoo more painful. However, keep in mind that everyone experiences pain at different levels. So, someone might rate a foot tattoo at an incredibly high pain level, and someone else might find it only mildly uncomfortable.

What is the least painful place to get a tattoo?

Your back and arms are usually the easiest places to get tattoos when it comes to pain. In these areas, the skin is a bit thicker, meaning there is fat and muscle below the skin to cushion the pressure of the needle. Certain areas of your legs are also far less painful, like your thighs. Some places are hit or miss, though. Wrists can be dreadful for some people since a wrist is so bony, but smaller tattoos may not be so bad.

What does tattoo pain feel like?

Even though needles produce tattoos, it doesn’t feel like you’re getting stabbed. It’s nothing like getting a shot, either. The artist is actually drawing on your skin, so it feels like that — but more burn-y. You’ll feel pressure from the artist holding your skin in place and from the needles pressing down, too. For tattoos on skin that’s right on top of a bone, it may feel like the needles are scraping your bones. (We know, it sounds awful, but it’s honestly not so bad.)

The size and scope of a tattoo make a big difference in how painful it is. Tattoos with a lot of line work or shading are more painful than a small tattoo with just an outline. Larger tattoos may also take multiple sessions, and coming back when the first round has just barely healed may make the second session more painful than the first.

The pain also depends on your artist and their skills. Someone who isn’t quite as proficient may not be as gentle on your skin. This is why researching your artist and studio beforehand is a no-brainer. But just remember — the pain doesn’t last. Once the appointment is over, you may have some discomfort for a few days while your skin starts to heal. As long as the tattoo was done properly, the pain won’t last much longer than that.

How do I prepare for tattoo pain?

Though you might feel inclined to take a painkiller before a tattoo appointment, you really shouldn’t. Some painkillers — like aspirin — are blood thinners, which can be dangerous while you have needles going in and out of your skin. Instead, try the following tips.

  • Make sure you’re well-rested before your appointment and have had enough to eat and drink. Depending on how long you’ll be in the chair, you may also want to bring water with you to sip on while you’re getting the work done.
  • You also want to just talk to your artist. Feeling comfortable with the person doing the work will help you stay more relaxed during your session. And don’t be afraid to say something if it at any point hurts beyond what you can tolerate. Your artist doesn’t want to hurt you, so keep those lines of communication open for maximum tattoo pain relief.
  • To help minimize soreness once your tattoo is complete, make sure you wear loose-fitting clothing. For example, if you know you’re getting a tattoo on your thigh, avoid a pencil skirt or jeans and wear a flowy skirt instead.
  • If you’re thinking about numbing the pain by going to your appointment drunk, it’s actually a really lousy idea. One, most tattoo artists refuse to work on drunk people, and two, alcohol thins your blood, which causes you to bleed even more during the process.
  • Do not take any blood-thinning pills like aspirin or ibuprofen for up to two days before getting your tattoo. This will make you bleed more during the session and make it harder for your tattoo artist to see what they’re doing.
  • Stay away from dairy or sugar a few days before your session. Sugar and dairy can make the healing process take longer. These kinds of treats may also make your stomach bloat a bit, which can mess up a tummy tatt — it may come out differently on bloated skin compared to your regular stomach.

What should you not do after a tattoo?

Once you’ve gotten a tattoo, there are also a few things to avoid so that your new ink stays clean, visible, and uninfected. You should:

  • Come to your tattoo appointments in loose clothing and continue to wear baggy clothes until it’s fully healed.
  • Avoid direct exposure to the sun. But if you need to spend time outside, make sure to put on sunblock.
  • Avoid going swimming or submerging in the bath tub.
  • Do not scratch or pick at your tattoo as it could lead to infection or mess up your tattoo.

This article was originally published on