Tattoos have become an international sensation, and it isn’t uncommon to see a large amount of tattoos in your day-to-day life. It has been recorded that 59% of women worldwide and 41% of males worldwide have inked their body at least once in their life. The act of getting tattooed can still feel very daunting, even though a large amount of the population has one.
The entire tattoo process is seen as scary, painful and unpleased, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be true, as there are many different factors that come into play when talking about the most painful tattoo spots. By just taking a quick look at a tattoo pain chart, you’ll be able to see the massive difference between how placements might cause a lot of tattoo pain, while others seem harmless. So, if you want to learn more about pain and its relationship with tattoos, then you’ve come to the right place!
Table of Contents
Why does it hurt? – Process of getting a tattoo
The pain levels that are connected to tattoos can vary from person to person, but one thing that doesn’t vary, is the process of getting a tattoo. The act of getting a tattoo is done, by continuously inserting and reinserting a special needle(s) into the dermis, which is the inner layer of the skin. This reinsertion is performed 50 to 100 times a minute, with the intention of inserting specific coloured pigment into the skin, that eventually makes up the entire tattoo design, shape and colour.
This constant reinsertion of the needle(s), is the primarily source of the tattoo pain. The sensation of being tattooed has been explained in many different ways, some people find the experience to be similar to a cat scratching their skin continuously – While others experience a feeling of continues pulsing throughout the entire process. An almost universal feeling, when it comes to getting a tattoo, is the feeling of a pinch on the initial insertion of the needle(s), but this feeling will mostly fade over the course of the session.
Other sensations that have been descripted in connection to tattooing are: Sharp or stinging pain and a vibrating pain. Vibrating pain is mainly experienced when the needle(s) is placed close to a very bony area. The needle(s) will cause a high frequency vibration that the bones can pick up, which gives a very unusual vibrating sensation. This sensation isn’t severe, but can feel very uncomfortable, not exactly ticklish or painful, but somewhere in between.
What causes tattoo pain?
Although the pain might vary from person to person, the main factors that cause the pain don’t change. With that being said, there is a plethora of different things that cause the pain from tattooing to arise. We will be focusing on the following aspects in our blogpost:
Size & Time
The tattoo artist
Placement of the tattoo – Tattoo pain chart
Individual pain threshold
All of these subfactors are responsible for what you would normally call: the painful tattoo experience. Throughout this blogpost, we will try and give as informative answers as possible, to both why these aspect makes the tattoo experience more painful and how to best prepare and protect against any tattoo pain.
Size & Time
This is a pretty obvious reason for why some tattoos hurt more than others. The size of the tattoo, as well as the time it takes to create it, plays a huge role in how painful the entire experience feels. A tattoo the size of a thumb can be over in a couple of minutes and feel like a breeze, while a tattoo that is the size of your entire chest or back will most likely be a more painful, and time consuming experience.
Time is another aspect which determine how painful the experience will be. The reinsertion of the needle(s), will slowly start to impact the skin more and more, which makes a more time consuming tattoo more painful. The places to get a tattoo, that are less time consuming, should be your first chose.
The tattoo artist
Having a experienced professional tattoo artist perform your tattoo will always be a better idea than having getting the same work done by an amateur. This is not only in regards to the tattoo pain levels, as more experienced tattoo artist are known to more gentle and carful, but also in connection with getting a better result. Although, we do understand, that the more experienced tattoo artist will cost more money and can feel like an huge investment to pay upfront.
But we guarantee that the investment is worthwhile, as having a tattoo poorly made can feel like a massive burden. In addition, the process of having a tattoo removed is even more painful and annoying than getting the initial tattoo. If you are interested in learning more about tattoo removal, then we high recommend checking out our other blogpost, which goes in-depth about everything laser treatment related.
Placement of tattoo – Tattoo pain chart
A wildly popular search term on google is: “tattoo pain chart”, and that is very understandable, when you realize the massive difference that the placement of a tattoo can have on the overall pain level and experience. It is very common to be curious about where the most painful places to get tattoos are, which is why tattoo pain charts are so popular.
To better illustrate the various pain levels, that are found on the human body, we will be referring to a tattoo pain chart made by Healthline. This tattoo pain chart gives a better visual image of where the pain is most prevalent.
It might seem that these sensitive areas are unpredictable and random, but in reality, all these sensitive areas fall into one or more of the following categories. These categories are the main reason for why some areas cause extreme tattoo pain, while others are fairly harmless:
Thin layer of skin or fat
Lot of nerves
The least painful tattoo spots
Getting a tattoo on the buttocks is actually not a very painful experience. The buttocks is mostly a larger layer of fat, which makes it perfect for protecting against any pain that the needle(s) might cause. In addition, the amount of nerve endings in the buttocks is very low, which makes it hurt even less. But keep in mind that, the less fat around the buttocks, the more painful it will become .
The upper thighs
Similar to the buttocks, the upper thigh is an area with a lot of fat and very few nerve endings. So if you are aiming for a good placement for your next, or first, tattoo then the upper thigh is a good choice.
The forearms are no different than the buttocks and the upper thigh, as it is protected by a semi-large fat layer, that makes the needle(s) have a less painful effect while being reinserted repeatedly.
A fatty, non-bony, non-tickles areas with few nerve endings, this is the perfect description for the outer shoulder. This combination of characteristics make the shoulders a perfect place to get a tattoo, while remaining one of the least painful spots to get a tattoo.
As shown on the tattoo pain chart, both the upper and lower back, have semi-low pain levels. This is mainly due to the fact that the upper and lower back contain a relatively low amount of nerve endings and a layer of fat that helps protect from the needle(s) – Keep in mind that the spine isn’t in the same category as the upper and lower back, as getting a tattoo on the spine is very painful.
The most painful tattoo spots
The head, neck and face
Head, neck and face tattoos are infamous for being extremely painful. These tattoos usually only have a thin layer of fat to protected them from the needle(s). In addition, some areas around the head, neck and face have an enormous amount of nerve endings, which makes getting a tattoo much more painful. This is also why almost every part of the tattoo pain chart is red around these areas.
The combination of a thin layer of fat, a lot of nerve endings and a ticklish sensation makes the armpits a living hell to tattoo, both for the tattoo artist and for the individual. Armpit tattoos have been reported as being one of the most painful tattoo spots. In addition, some tattoo artists actually fully advise against getting armpit tattoo, because of the extreme tattoo pain and discomfort.
The rib cage
Rib cage tattoos are a clear example of how a bony area can cause tattoo pain, as shown on the tattoo pain chart. The thin layer of fat, in combination with having the bone so close to the needle(s) is a sure-fire way to feel discomfort. Rib cage tattoos can often be quite large, which also makes the whole experience even more painful.
The ankles & shins
Getting a tattoo on one’s ankle or shin isn’t a stroll in the park. Conversely, ankle and shin tattoos are usually very painful as they have similar characteristics as the rib cage; only a small layer of fat and close to the bone. The one good thing about ankle and shin tattoos, is that they are usually very small, which means you won’t have to endure the pain for very long.
The fingers, hands, toes and feet
It is no secret that these areas are very popular tattoo places, but the experience of getting these tattoos aren’t as pleasant as you might think, which is why almost all these areas are fully covered in red on the tattoo pain chart.
You might have experienced being stung by a bee on your hand, and feeling your hand automatically closing into a fist. Now imagine that feeling being performed 50 – 100 times per minute, doesn’t seem very pleasant, does it?
The kneecap & elbow
The tattoo pain chart shows that these two body parts are very painful spots to get tattooed, and that is very much correct. Both the kneecaps, as well as the elbows, are as close to the bone as possible. The tattoo pain in connection with getting these parts tattooed is extreme, and we suggest staying clear of these parts, unless you have a very high pain threshold or use numbing cream.
Although the spine stretches throughout a long area, it is still a painful experience, no matter where you place your tattoo. This is largely because of the 31 pairs of nerve endings that run down the spinal cord. We won’t get too much into the technical side of these nerve endings, and how they might effect tattoo pain, but trust us, when we say it hurts like hell.
Going into detail here might be a little overboard – If you are ever thinking about getting a tattoo on the groin, prepare for some tattoo pain, and we mean a lot of tattoo pain…
Individual pain threshold
A persons individual pain threshold is unarguably one of the biggest factors that come into play while getting a tattoo. No matter the placement, size or time spend on the tattoo, one’s individual pain threshold will always be either a blessing or a curse. A high pain tolerance and pain threshold will be an huge help in going through the entire tattoo process with fewer problems.
Conversely, if you have a low pain tolerance and pain threshold, you won’t be able to withstand the extreme tattoo pain of some of the most painful tattoo spots. A low pain threshold also makes the process of getting tattoo more annoying and frustration, for both you and the artist, as the tattoo artist most likely have to deal with unpredictable movement and longer breaks.
Not everyone is aware of their individual pain tolerance and threshold. This can be very annoying when trying to research where to get one’s first tattoo. We would recommend choosing a rather small tattoo for your first session, as it would give you an idea of how much pain you are able to tolerate and where your pain threshold is. Afterwards you will be able to determine, if you wish to get a tattoo on some of the more painful spots.
The state of mind
A persons state of mind doesn’t necessarily change the objective tattoo pain that the needle(s) will cause. Although, it might actually change your individual perspective and perception of how painful the whole experience is.
Having extreme anxiety or stress before coming to a tattoo session, could activate your fight-or-flight responds. A variety of consequences could arise from this excessive amount of anxiety. In-and-of-itself, the adrenalin rush is harmless and even slightly positive, as it helps increase heart rate and assists oxygen flow throughout the body. But the consequences can be very negative after the initial adrenalin rush, as the tattoo pain will most likely increase and cause extreme discomfort.
We recommend having plenty of distractions near you, if you have anxiety towards the tattoo needle(s). It is also highly recommended to bring a friend along, to have some sort of company, while being another distraction from the needle(s) itself. Having a talk about the whole process and techniques that the tattoo artist use, could help with understanding what is about to happen, and help calm you down. To learn more about the medical side of fight-or-flight: click here.
Pain during aftercare
Now you might be thinking, what about the aftercare process? It is just as painful as the actual tattoo session? Although most of the pain occurs during the tattoo session, it is still a very good question, as the aftercare process comes with its own obstacles.
We were actually so fascinated about the aftercare process of tattoos, that we wrote an entire blogpost about everything aftercare related It contains all the information, you might need to know about the aftercare of tattoos, as well as how to properly deal with the whole aftercare process. So if you haven’t already, we highly recommend reading that blogpost
Best way to relieve the pain
There is no better solution to relieving pain in relation to tattooing than using some form of numbing cream. You won’t be able to feel a thing! It is almost like magic. Numbing cream is your savior when it comes to overcoming any tattoo pain.
The benefits of using numbing cream for your tattoo sessions are massive. Numbing cream doesn’t just relieve the pain, it helps with keeping you calm and comfortable throughout the session. You will be able to conquer any tattoo, regardless of size, placement or individual pain threshold.
In addition, it will make life much easier for the tattoo artist, as they won’t have to worry about unpredictable twitching or jerking. This will help the tattoo artist keep all of his or hers focus on making the best possible tattoo. Numbing cream is a win-win for everyone. So if you haven’t already considered purchasing numbing creamfor your next session, then we would highly recommend it.
Staying up-to-date with everything tattoo related, has never hurt anyone. Understanding and educating yourself before going to your tattoo session, is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. A great place to learn more about tattooing is throughout our other blogposts.
Eat well and bring water
Remember to get a good and healthy meal before going to your tattoo session. We would also recommend bringing some water alongside you, especially if you have a long session ahead of you. Otherwise just sit back and relax, while the tattoo artist does their magic
Keep yourself distracted
Trying to lift one’s focus away from the needle(s) and onto something else, will always be a great technique, while undergoing your tattoo session. There are plenty of ways to keep yourself distracted from the needle(s), so here is a short list of some of the easiest and most reliable methods to keep your mind distracted:
Listen to music / podcast
Watch a show
Talk with a friend
Bring a friend
It is always a great idea to bring a friend alongside you. A friend is both great company, and a perfect way to keep yourself distracted from the pain. They can be your helping hand, if you start to get nervous or have second thoughts about the tattoo process. Having the ability to talk to someone you know also helps with lowering one’s anxiety level.
Don’t take it too seriously
It is important not to take the tattoo process too seriously, even though you have just read an entire article about pain and how tattoos can be very painful. Going into a tattoo session with as little anxiety as possible, is the best thing you can try to do. In addition, trying to transform the anxiety into excitement is a strategy that could drastically change the whole experience. Instead of thinking about how much it will hurt, think about how cool the tattoo will look afterwards. Keep your focus on the positive
Minimize jerking or unpredictable movement
Every tattoo artist has they own favorite type of customer – some might like the talkative kind, other might find the quiet customer more appealing. But one type of customer that everyone dislikes, are the customers that twist, jerk and move unpredictable, while getting their tattoo. Try your best to minimize weird movements, Especially for when getting tattooed on areas that red on the tattoo pain chart. If you think that’ll be impossible for you, then consider using numbing cream.
Use pain relieving numbing cream
The use of pain relieving numbing cream is nothing short of a cheat code to lessening the pain. With the use of numbing cream, you’ll be able to stay calm and relaxed, while enjoying the entire tattoo process without any pain whatsoever. So what are you waiting for? Make NoPain your life long companion on a journey to no pain tattoos
Thank you very much for reading through this entire blogpost, and accompanying us in learning more about what pain is in relation to tattoos. Having read this blogpost, we hope you have found all your answers to questions, such as; what causes tattoos to be painful? What are the most painful tattoo spots? And properly the most useful of them all; How do I lessen the pain when getting a tattoo?