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The area behind the ear — and any nearby real estate for that matter — is sensitive enough to be considered an erogenous zone. So it’s not surprising that behind the ear tattoos are considered particularly painful.

Before putting a kibosh on your tat plans, let’s see why some people find behind the ear tattoos more painful than others and what you can do to make the experience a bit less painful.

Based on anecdotal evidence from experts, the pain is a 5+ on a 10-point scale. But it’s not the most painful body part to get inked.

This aligns with the results of a 2014 study in which the single study participant, who also happened to be the author, subjected himself to bee stings in 25 different locations in order to rate the pain.

He rated the postauricular area (that’s medical jargon for “behind the ear”) a 5.3 on the pain scale.

All that said, most people describe the pain as annoying and irritating more than truly painful.

The vibration from the tattoo machine is what does it for most people.

The vibrating pain results from the tattoo needles going over the mastoid bone that sits behind the ear. Minimal flesh makes the sensation especially noticeable.

The sound of the tattoo machine buzzing right near the ear and the abundance of sensory nerves in and around the ears also lend to the less-than-pleasant experience.

Other factors, such as a person’s emotional state, can also make behind the ear tattoos — or any tattoos for that matter — more painful.

There’s evidence that negative emotions, including stress, fear, and depression increase a person’s pain perception.

The worst of it will be over as soon as your tattoo is finished.

After that, some soreness is to be expected for the first week or so, along with a bit of swelling, redness, and crusting. The pain and other symptoms should be pretty mild and improve gradually.

Pain that gets worse or lingers longer could be a sign of an infection or other complications.

There are a few things you can do to help mitigate some pain during and after your behind the ear tat.

Here are some tips that can help:

  • Choose an experienced tattoo artist. The more skilled and experienced the artist, the less time in the chair — and therefore less pain.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol before a tattoo heightens pain sensitivity, increases bleeding, and can possibly lead to dehydration.
  • Try relaxation techniques. If negative emotions, like stress, can increase pain sensitivity, using relaxation techniques before and during your appointment is a good idea. Try deep breathing, meditating, or listening to music.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration may be linked to increased pain perception. And not drinking enough can make you feel lousy overall. Be sure to drink plenty of water before your appointment and have some on hand to sip during the process.
  • Get something in your belly. Having a light snack before getting inked can help with pain sensitivity and prevent nervous stomach feelings and dizziness.
  • Take breaks as needed. Ask your tattoo artist for short breaks if the pain gets too intense. A true professional won’t have a problem with it.
  • Follow aftercare instructions. Proper aftercare is crucial for healing and lowering the risk for complications.

Behind the ear tattoo pain is common during and after your appointment, but it should be manageable and begin to improve in the days after.

If it doesn’t, this could indicate a problem, like an infection or an allergic reaction.

See a healthcare professional if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • severe or worsening pain, redness, or swelling
  • itchy, painful rash or blisters over the tattoo
  • skin that feels hot to the touch
  • smelly discharge or pus from the tattoo
  • open sores
  • fever
  • muscle aches

Behind the ear tattoo pain isn’t as bad as that of, say, a groin tattoo. It might feel different from other places, though, because of the lack of flesh back there.

Getting your tattoo done by an experienced tattoo artist can definitely help.

To find a reputable studio and artist:

  • Ask friends or family for referrals or follow popular local shops on social media.
  • Read shop reviews online.
  • Visit the studio in person to check for cleanliness and to confirm they have the license to operate.
  • Book a consultation with the artist to ask questions and check out their portfolio.

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.