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Tattoos are among the most common body decorations globally. According to a 2010 study, a whopping 38 percent of people 18 to 29 years old have been inked at least once in their lives.

A natural question to ask is, “Does getting a tattoo hurt?”

While most people will say yes, in reality this is a complex question to answer.

Tattooing involves repeatedly piercing your skin’s top layer with a sharp needle covered with pigment. So getting a tattoo is generally always painful, though people may experience different levels of pain.

People who are biologically male tend to experience and cope with pain differently from those who are biologically female. In addition, the various parts of the body experience different levels of pain when tattooed.

While there is no scientific evidence that says which areas of the body will feel the most and least pain when getting inked, we gathered anecdotal information from sites run by people in the tattoo industry.

Here’s the general consensus: The least painful places to get tattooed are those with the most fat, fewest nerve endings, and thickest skin. The most painful places to get tattooed are those with the least fat, most nerve endings, and thinnest skin. Bony areas usually hurt a lot.

Read on to find out which spots are likely to be most and least painful.

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Pain chart for people who are biologically female
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Pain chart for people who are biologically male

Everyone experiences pain in different ways. The placement of your tattoo, as well as what your sex is, can affect the pain. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the most and least painful places to get tattooed.

Most painful

It’s likely most painful to get a tattoo on a part of your body with many nerve endings, close to bones without much fat, or where your skin is very thin. Pain in these areas may be high to severe.

Armpit

The armpit is among the most painful places, if not the most painful place, to get tattooed. The pain you’ll experience getting tattooed here is very severe. In fact, most tattoo artists advise against people getting armpit tattoos.

Rib cage

The rib cage is probably the second most painful place for most people to get tattooed. Pain here can be severe. The skin around your ribs is extremely thin, and there’s less fat here than on most other parts of your body.

Also, every time you breathe, you move your rib cage and the skin above it, which can make the feeling of being tattooed here much more intense.

Ankles and shins

Your ankle bones and shinbones lie just beneath thin layers of skin, making it very painful to be tattooed in these areas. Ankle and shin tattoos usually cause severe pain. It’s about the same level of pain caused by tattooing over your rib cage.

Nipples and breasts

Nipples and breasts are extremely sensitive areas, so being tattooed here can cause severe pain.

Groin

Your groin is filled with nerve endings that can be irritated by tattoo needles. Pain here can be high to severe.

Elbows or kneecap

Your elbows and kneecaps are areas where your bones lie just beneath your skin. Vibrations caused by tattooing over bone can cause high to severe pain.

Behind the knees

This is another part of the body where you may experience severe pain when being tattooed. The area behind your knees has loose, stretchy skin with many nerve endings. These characteristics make this area very sensitive to tattoo needles.

Hips

Because your hip bones lie just below your skin, getting hip tattoos can cause severe pain. This is especially true if you are very thin and have less fat around your hips to cushion your hip bones.

Neck and spine

Neck and spine tattoos are known to be among the most painful tattoos because the neck and spine are very sensitive areas.

Head, face, and ears

Like the neck, your head, face, and ears contain many nerve endings that can be irritated during a tattoo and may cause severe pain. There’s not a lot of fat on your head, face, and ears, so you don’t have much of a cushion for the tattoo needle here.

Lips

The skin on and around your lips is generally loose with lots of nerve endings. A tattoo on your lips will almost certainly cause severe pain, and could lead to bleeding, swelling, and bruising.

Hands, fingers, feet, and toes

The tops and insides of the hands and feet, as well as fingers and toes, are popular places to be tattooed. Being tattooed anywhere on your hands and feet can cause severe pain. The skin here very thin, and it contains numerous nerve endings that can trigger pain when hit by a tattoo needle.

What’s more, when nerves in your hands and feet are disturbed by a tattoo needle, they may undergo painful spasms that make the tattooing experience very unpleasant.

Stomach

Stomach tattoos may cause pain that ranges from high to severe.

The level of pain you experience depends on what kind of shape you’re in. People with higher body weights tend to have looser skin on their stomachs than people with lower body weights.

A person with tighter skin over their stomach is likely to experience less pain than a person with looser skin in this area.

Inner bicep

While the muscle inside your inner bicep can reduce the amount of pain of getting tattooed in this area, the skin here tends to be soft and loose. Getting tattooed on your inner bicep can cause a high amount of pain, but doesn’t usually cause severe pain.

Tattoos here generally take longer than other parts of the body to heal.

Least painful

Areas that likely cause the least amount of pain when tattooed tend to be padded with some fat, have tight skin, have few nerve endings, and aren’t close to bones. Pain in these areas will be low to moderate.

Some of the least painful spots include:

Upper outer thigh

This part of the body is well padded with fat and has few nerve endings. The upper outer thigh is one of the least painful places to get a tattoo, with pain low to low-moderate in most people.

Forearm

There’s a lot of muscle and thick skin on your forearms, without many nerve endings. Tattoos on the forearms usually cause a low to low-moderate amount of pain.

Outer shoulders

The outer part of your shoulders has thick skin with few nerve endings, making it one of the least painful places to get tattooed. The pain of being tattooed here is usually low to low-moderate.

Outer bicep

The outer bicep has a lot of muscle without a lot of nerve endings, making it a good place for a tattoo that won’t cause a lot of pain. Outer bicep tattoos usually cause low to low-moderate levels of pain.

Calves

There is a significant amount of fat and muscle on the calves, and few nerve endings, so calf tattoos usually aren’t too painful. You can expect to feel low to low-moderate levels of pain here.

Upper and lower back

Getting a tattoo on your upper or lower back usually causes low-moderate to moderate amounts of pain because skin here is thick with few nerve endings. The further away you tattoo from the bones and nerve endings in your spine and hips, the less pain you’ll feel.

Several things may affect how you feel pain:

Sex

Research suggests that people who are biologically women experience sensations of pain more intensely than men. This may be due to physical and chemical differences between women’s and men’s bodies.

On the other hand, scientists have also found that women are more accepting of pain than men.

However, there’s no specific research suggesting women experience more pain while getting tattoos than men or vice versa.

Experience

Research suggests that people who have had tattoos may have a higher pressure pain threshold compared to those who have never had a tattoo.

Age and weight

While not supported by research, it’s possible that age and weight may make tattoos more painful.

Older skin may be more likely to bruise or feel pain than younger skin.

Heavier people may have looser skin, which could also be more sensitive to tattoos. Conversely, people with very low body fat might also feel more pain.

The way you experience pain and the placement of your tattoo can greatly affect how it feels to get inked.

Again, this hasn’t been proven scientifically, but certain types of pain are well-known in the tattoo community.

There are a few general sensations commonly felt when getting a tattoo. Being familiar with these sensations before getting tattooed can give you an idea of what you can expect to feel and how to tell when your pain isn’t normal.

Common types of tattoo pain include:

Burning pain

Burning pain feels like having something very hot pressed against your skin for an extended period.

It’s most commonly felt in areas a tattoo artist has worked on for a long time, caused by a combination of your skin’s rawness and the repeated trauma resulting from a tattoo needle piercing your skin in the same place. It’s also common in areas with more fat beneath the skin.

Burning pain isn’t usually intense, but it can be very irritating.

Dull or background pain

Tattoo artists say this is the best kind of pain you could feel while getting tattooed.

When the needle revs up with its loud buzz and the needle’s sharp prick first hits your skin, your body’s reaction is to start producing stress hormones like adrenaline. These hormones actually work to numb the pain into feeling like a dull ache in the background.

During your tattoo session, you may feel this dull pain change or intensify at times. You’re more likely to stay in the dull pain phase if you’re distracted by another activity while being tattooed, such as talking to your artist, listening to music, or watching TV.

Scratching pain

Scratching pain is the most common sensation experienced when you’re getting a tattoo. This kind of pain can feel like an intense scratch moving across the tattooed area, as if a cat were dragging its claws across your skin.

While this pain isn’t usually intense, it can hurt a lot if your tattoo artist works on the same area for a long time. It also tends to hurt more when multiple needles are used at the same time, rather than a single needle. This is the case when your artist adds shading to your tattoo.

Sharp or stinging pain

Sharp or stinging pain can be described as many tiny bee stings. This kind of pain is usually quite intense, and it feels like the needle is poking deep into your skin. It’s sometimes enough to make you want to move away from the tattoo needle!

This kind of pain is most commonly felt when a tattoo artist is using fewer needles, or just one needle, to add very fine detail or make the outline of your tattoo. Body parts with thinner or tighter skin are more likely to feel sharp or stinging pain, like the wrists and biceps.

While experienced tattoo artists know what they’re doing, it’s possible for newbies to mess up a new tattoo. Sharp or stinging pain that’s very intense might actually mean your tattoo artist is pushing their needles too deeply into your skin.

This can cause a tattoo deformity called a tattoo blowout, which leads to a tattoo’s ink dispersing below just the very top layers of skin that should be tattooed. The end result is a very painful and blurry tattoo.

You can prevent tattoo blowout by using a highly experienced tattoo artist and avoiding tattooing on very thin skin.

Vibrating pain

You may experience vibrating pain when you’re getting tattooed in a very bony place, such as these areas:

  • outer wrist
  • elbows
  • ribs
  • ankles

When a tattoo needle pierces skin above bone, nerves in your bones may pick up the vibrating sensation, especially if the needle is moving at a very high speed. This causes vibrating pain.

Vibrating pain isn’t usually intense, but it doesn’t exactly tickle either. You’re more likely to experience vibrating pain if you’re thinner and have less skin and fat over your bones.

Here are a few tips to minimize tattoo pain:

  • Ask your tattoo artist to take breaks when you’re having trouble dealing with the pain.
  • Choose a very experienced tattoo artist. Insist on seeing their certification and checking out their equipment beforehand. Your tattoo artist should always wear clean gloves and use sterilized equipment.
  • Don’t eat before you get your tattoo if you’re getting your stomach tattooed.
  • Follow tattoo aftercare instructions such as washing your tattoo, wearing loose clothing over your tattoo, and applying ointment and moisturizer to reduce pain and the risks of complications after your tattoo is finished.
  • Make sure you’ve gotten enough sleep before your tattoo. Having had sufficient sleep before a tattoo will make it easier for you to endure the pain.
  • Stay sober for your tattoo. Alcohol thins your blood and can cause bleeding and bruising. This can bring on a lot of pain and even ruin your tattoo.
  • Stay hydrated to keep your skin supple and tight to reduce the pain of a tattoo.
  • Try a numbing product on your skin before getting your tattoo to reduce the amount of pain you experience. Browse numbing products for tattoos online.

Tattoos may take minutes to hours to add to your body, but they last a lifetime. Pain should be only one consideration of getting a tattoo. Removing a tattoo is a much more time-consuming and painful process, and has mixed results.

Before getting a tattoo, consider:

  • risks of infection, allergic reactions to dyes, scarring, and blood-borne diseases
  • whether you’ll regret the design of your tattoo
  • whether the appearance of your tattoo might change if you gain weight or become pregnant
  • the placement of your tattoo, and whether you want the option of hiding it under clothing

Getting a tattoo is a painful experience for everyone. But there are factors affecting how much pain you as an individual experience while getting inked. Things like sex, skin condition, and tattoo placement can affect how much it hurts to get a tattoo.

Make sure you’re aware of the pain, complications, and risks of tattoo regret before you head to the tattoo parlor.