Everyone expects at least some pain or discomfort when getting a tattoo. The amount of pain you feel will depend on several factors, including your individual pain tolerance and the location of the tattoo.

Pain is subjective, but you can get a feel for how much a tattoo will hurt using a tattoo pain chart.

Fatty areas like the upper arms will likely hurt less than bonier parts of the body, like the hands, rib cage, or any joints. You’ll likely feel other sensations besides pain, such as tingling, itching, and pressure.

This article will cover what getting a tattoo feels like, and when to see a doctor if your pain doesn’t subside following the procedure.

After you’ve chosen a reputable tattoo artist, chosen where and what you want your tattoo to look like, and filled out consent forms, it’s time to get your tattoo. Generally, the procedure is as follows:

  1. The tattoo artist will clean the area with rubbing alcohol and shave any hair that may be present. This step shouldn’t be painful.
  2. The tattoo artist will transfer the stencil of your tattoo onto your skin using water or a moisture stick so you can approve its placement on your body. You’ll feel sensation during this point. It may itch or tickle but shouldn’t feel painful.
  3. They will begin line work on the tattoo. This is when you’ll start to feel burning, stinging, or a pricking sensation. Take deep breaths and try to hold still.
  4. Depending on the type of tattoo you’re getting, once line work is complete, the artist will shade and color the tattoo next. Not every tattoo will require this step. Many people report less pain in shading than with the outline, but your personal experience may vary.
  5. Once your tattoo is complete, the artist will put a layer of ointment over it and apply a bandage.
  6. Your tattoo artist will tell you how to take care of your new tattoo and what to expect in the next few weeks.
  7. For about a week after getting your tattoo, it may feel a bit like a sunburn.

It’s no surprise that getting a tattoo often hurts. Getting one involves receiving many microwounds over a concentrated area of your body.

But there are different sensations of pain. Just think of the difference in sensation between a bruise and a cut.

Tattoo pain will usually be most severe during the first few minutes, after which your body should begin to adjust.

If your tattoo is particularly large or detailed, the pain can become intense again toward the end, when pain- and stress-dulling hormones called endorphins may begin to fade.

Some people describe the pain as a pricking sensation. Others say it feels like bee stings or being scratched.

A thin needle is piercing your skin, so you can expect at least a little pricking sensation. As the needle moves closer to the bone, it may feel like a painful vibration.

If you have more than one tattoo on different areas of your body, then you likely already know that where you get your tattoo has a lot to do with how much it hurts.

Areas that are close to bone, like the ankles or ribs, will hurt more than fleshier areas.

The armpits or the forehead are sometimes thought to be the most painful places to get a tattoo.

Ankles, shins, and rib cage

The ankles, shins and rib cage have thinner layers of skin covering bone. These areas are known to cause intense pain when getting tattooed because there’s not a lot of flesh to cushion the needle.


Depending on how much flesh you have covering your hip bones, a tattoo on the hip may be very painful.

Hands, fingers, feet, and toes

Many people like the look of tattoos on their hands or feet, but because the skin is thinner and these parts contain many nerve endings, tattoos here can be quite painful.

Some people report having spasms on the hands during the procedure, which can also cause pain.

Outer shoulders, biceps, and outer thighs

The shoulders, biceps, and thighs are three places that rank relatively low on the tattoo pain scale. There’s more space between needle and bone and few nerve endings.

Upper and lower back

The back seems like it may be painful to tattoo, but the skin here is actually pretty thick and has few nerve endings. The pain level on the back is expected to be low to moderate.

Forearms and calves

The forearms and calves have more fat on them, and both areas have few nerve endings. You can expect to experience low to moderate pain when getting either of these body parts tattooed.

In addition to where the tattoo is located on your body, there are several other factors that can influence how much pain and the type of pain you’ll feel.

Type of tattoo

Many people report that outlining is the most painful part of the tattoo process, so a tattoo with a larger outline may hurt more than a smaller tattoo done on the same part of your body.

Additionally, for color tattoos, to get rich color, an artist may have to go over one area with the needle several times.


If you already have one tattoo, you may have a higher pain threshold, making each subsequent tattoo hurt less. You may also be more prepared for the pain.

Artist technique

A very skilled artist will know when to be gentle and when to take breaks.

Skin sensitivity

Some people have more sensitive skin than others. People with sensitive skin may feel that tattoos hurt more.

Stress or anxiety

A study done on men found that stress and anxiety, which you may feel while getting a tattoo, can lower the body’s ability to modulate pain. This can make the tattoo feel worse than it would if you were less stressed.

Try to take deep breaths during the procedure, and ask the artist to take breaks if you feel like the pain is overwhelming.


The research goes both ways on how biological sex affects pain. One study found that women report greater pain after invasive procedures than men, but another study done specifically on chronic pain found women to be more accepting of pain than men.

Your tattoo will likely hurt for at least a few days after the procedure. It may be extremely itchy, which is a sign of healing. It may feel like a sting or a sunburn.

It’s normal for you to feel a burning sensation or soreness for a week or so after getting a tattoo.

However, if you begin to feel feverish, or your tattoo begins to swell or ooze pus, see your doctor. It could be a sign that you have a tattoo infection.

It’s possible to be allergic to tattoo ink, too. See your doctor if:

  • your pain is worsening
  • you get a rash
  • fluid starts to ooze from the tattoo site

Getting a tattoo is likely to hurt to at least some degree. The amount and type of pain will vary depending on several factors, including the location of the tattoo, the type of tattoo, your skin sensitivity, and your general pain tolerance.

While a tattoo may burn or sting even a week after the procedure, see your doctor if the pain is getting worse, or if your tattoo is oozing pus.