Yes, it hurts to get a tattoo, but different people have different thresholds of pain. It won’t feel the same for everyone.
The level of pain also varies depending on:
- the tattoo’s placement on your body
- the size and style of the tattoo
- the artist’s technique
- your physical health
- how you prepare
Let’s look at what you can expect from the tattooing process, along with ways to minimize the pain.
During tattooing, one or more needles insert ink into the dermis, the second layer of your skin.
The needles are attached to a handheld device that works like a sewing machine. As the needles move up and down, they repeatedly pierce your skin.
This might feel like:
The type of pain depends on what the artist is doing. For example, you may feel stinging when your artist adds outlines or fine details.
The length of your session will also determine what you feel. Longer sessions, which are required for large and intricate pieces, are more painful.
In this case, your artist may divide your session into two- or three-hour sittings. The number of sittings depends on your tattoo design and the artist’s experience.
It’s also more painful to get tattooed on certain parts of the body. If you’re concerned about pain, think carefully about where you’ll get tattooed.
Different parts of the body have different levels of sensitivity to pain.
The least sensitive areas are fleshy parts with more muscle and skin. Areas with few nerve endings are also less sensitive. Bony areas with little fat and many nerve endings are the most sensitive.
Here are the less and more painful spots on your body to get tattooed:
|Less painful||More painful|
|outer upper arm||forehead/face|
|front and rear shoulder||ear|
|upper and lower back||neck/throat|
|outer/front thigh||inner upper arm|
|calf||inner and outer elbow|
|inner and outer knee|
|top of foot|
Your tattoo will be somewhat painful after your appointment.
Here’s what you can expect:
- Days 1 to 6. Your tattoo will be sore and swollen. It might feel like a moderate-to-severe bruise or sunburn.
- Days 7 to 14. You’ll feel less soreness and more itchiness. Your tattoo may feel like it’s burning, which is irritating but normal.
- Days 15 to 30. Your tattoo will be significantly less painful and itchy.
After your session, your tattoo might keep oozing blood for up to two days. It’s best to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) during this time. NSAIDs can thin your blood, which may increase bleeding and slow healing.
Typically, the outer layer of your skin will heal in two to three weeks. The deeper layers can take up to six months.
The total healing time will depend on the size and placement of your tattoo.
To reduce tattoo pain, follow these tips before and during your appointment:
- Choose a licensed tattoo artist. Experienced artists usually take less time to finish tattoos. Before your appointment, meet the artist to get a feel for their personality and the shop’s hygiene.
- Pick a less sensitive body part. Talk to your artist about placement. (See the table above.)
- Get enough sleep. Your body can handle pain better after a good night’s rest.
- Avoid pain relievers. Don’t take aspirin or ibuprofen for 24 hours before your session. These medications can thin your blood, which may prolong the tattooing process.
- Don’t get a tattoo when you’re sick. Sickness heightens your sensitivity to pain. If your immune system is struggling, your tattoo will take longer to heal.
- Stay hydrated. Getting tattooed on dry skin hurts. Before your session, keep your skin hydrated by drinking enough water.
- Eat a meal. Low blood sugar increases pain sensitivity. Eat beforehand to prevent dizziness from nerves or hunger.
- Avoid alcohol. Don’t drink alcohol for at least 24 hours before your appointment. Alcohol heightens pain sensitivity, dehydrates your body, and thins your blood.
- Wear loose clothing. Dress in comfortable clothes, especially over the area you’re getting tattooed.
- Breathe deeply. Stay relaxed by practicing steady breathing.
- Distract yourself. Bring your headphones and listen to music. If your artist is open to conversation, or if you’re allowed to bring a friend, talk to them to distract yourself.
- Ask about skin-numbing cream. Your artist can recommend a numbing cream for getting tattooed.
- Communicate with your artist. If the pain is too much, let your artist know. A good artist will let you take breaks.
After your session, follow your artist’s aftercare instructions. Good tattoo aftercare will promote proper healing and reduce the risk of infection.
Tattoo removal hurts, but the level of pain depends on the tattoo’s location on your body.
Here are some methods for getting a tattoo removed.
Laser therapy is the most common tattoo removal method. For this treatment, your skin is numbed with local anesthesia. Strong pulses of light break up the tattoo ink, and your white blood cells remove the ink particles over time.
Some people say this treatment feels like a rubber band snapping on the skin.
You may have:
The wound should heal within five days.
Typically, 6 to 10 sessions are required to lighten a tattoo. The sessions are done six to eight weeks apart, which gives your white blood cells time to get rid of the pigment.
Laser therapy can lighten a tattoo, but it may not completely remove the ink.
Its effectiveness depends on:
- ink type and color
- the depth of the ink in your skin
- your immune system
- the type of laser used
Laser treatment can also cause side effects like discoloration, textured skin, and scarring.
Surgical excision is effective for removing small tattoos. It involves cutting out the tattoo with a scalpel and stitching up the wound, which creates a surgical scar.
A doctor will use local anesthesia to numb your skin, so you won’t feel the tattoo being cut out.
After the procedure, the wound may feel like a sunburn. Your doctor may recommend cold packs, lotions, or medication to help you manage the pain.
The wound will heal in about seven days.
Dermabrasion uses a rotating wheel or brush to “sand” the top layers of tattooed skin. This creates a wound that allows new skin to grow.
Since dermabrasion is painful, you’ll receive local or general anesthesia.
You might have:
Your wound will heal within 10 to 14 days, but swelling may last for weeks or months.
As with laser therapy, multiple sessions of dermabrasion are necessary to lighten a tattoo. Dermabrasion is most effective for smaller pieces.
Getting a tattoo will hurt, but people have different pain thresholds, so it’s hard to predict exactly how painful your tattoo will be.
Generally, fleshy areas like the outer thigh are less sensitive to pain. Bony parts of the body, like the ribs, are more sensitive.
If you want to get a tattoo, think carefully about where to place it. Take the time to research your artist and design. Tattoos are a big commitment, so it’s important to prepare and plan.
Discuss any concerns you have with your tattoo artist. A good artist can suggest ways to minimize your pain and discomfort.