Do Tattoos Hurt? Minimizing Tattoo Pain

Do Tattoos Hurt? Minimizing Tattoo Pain

Jul 8th 2022

Do tattoos hurt? Of course they hurt, it is only natural. It makes sense when you think about it. Needles are making tiny holes in your skin and depositing tattoo ink into your epidermis. Because this layer of skin is filled with nerve endings, there will be some pain involved. However, you can minimize the pain involved with a bit of planning, preparation, and a few tips. While your personal pain threshold will determine the amount of discomfort you will experience, following these tips can help decrease the pain of your next tattoo:

Be Prepared

“It is [a] common clinical experience that anxiety about pain can exacerbate the pain sensation” according to an article in the Journal of Neuroscience. This means that if you are anxious about the pain you may experience or the tattoo process itself, you may actually experience more pain!

Put your anxiety at ease by doing your research and knowing everything there is to know about the process! Make sure to research your tattoo artist carefully, including getting personal recommendations, viewing a portfolio of completed work in a style similar to the one you plan to get, and reading reviews. Visit their studio to make sure all needles and tubes are new, all non-disposable equipment is sterilized, and they use only the best black tattoo ink or color tattoo ink. Understanding what to expect, how to prepare for, and how to take care of a tattoo will help decrease your pain by decreasing your anxiety.

Choose the Right Part of Your Body

The part of your body that you choose for your tattoo will be a major factor in how much your tattoo will hurt. Although there are many aspects to consider, speaking generally, the more boney and the more nerve endings a location has, the higher the level of pain that will be involved. More fleshy areas will likely be less painful. If you have a low threshold for pain opt for an area like your outer thigh, forearm, calf, bicep, or shoulder. Stay away from parts of your body like your knees, elbows, hands, feet, or ribs because they are more boney. Highly sensitive areas like the groin or inner thighs will also be more painful locations for tattoos. Choosing the right placement can make all the difference when it comes to experiencing less pain when getting a tattoo.

Consider the Size

An equally important consideration is the size of your tattoo. Contemplate a tiny stand-alone piece or a small piece that can be expanded upon later because smaller tattoos take less time and heal faster. Therefore small tattoos minimize both the initial pain that you will experience as the tattoo is being done as well as the soreness that will last a few days as your tattoo heals. Keep the size in mind, especially if this is your first tattoo. A small tattoo will allow you to experience how the tattoo process feels for you and what your level of pain tolerance is.

Think About the Style and Colors

The style will also determine the type and intensity of pain you will experience. People with tattoos do not seem to be in agreement about whether the outline or shading portion is more painful. However, people do generally agree on the nature of the pain they experience with each. Lining and fine details are often described as a sharper deeper pain or a sting. On the other hand, people report shading to feel more like a shallower raw burning or scratching.

While the ingredients of colors for tattoo ink do not make a difference in how much a tattoo is going to hurt, how light or dark the colors are may play a part. An artist will have to go over the same area more times or use more ink to get lighter colors to pop because light colors sometimes take more passes or saturation to show up properly. For instance, the best black tattoo ink may be dark enough to show up well on the first pass whereas a light yellow tattoo ink or white tattoo ink may take several passes, thus prolonging the pain. Keep this in mind when deciding if you are going to get a black ink tattoo or a color ink tattoo.

Make Sure Your Tattoo Artist is Skilled

The skill level of the tattoo artist you choose is going to play a major role in how painful your tattoo is. A skilled tattoo artist will ensure that all disposable items (like needles) are new and that all their equipment is well maintained. This will eliminate any potential pain caused by dull needles or faulty equipment. An artist that is unskilled or overly heavy-handed may “overwork” the area. Overworking the area won’t just increase the pain as the tattoo is being completed, it can also lead to painful complications like scarring and infection. A skilled artist will give you the best possible chance of having great results when it comes to both how well your tattoo comes out and how much pain you will be in.

Other Considerations

Aside from the major points discussed above, there are other ways to minimize pain when getting a tattoo:

  • Ask your artist for breaks. A good artist will communicate with you and respect your need for breaks if you are feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable.
  • Hydrate and moisturize ahead of time.
  • Wear comfortable loose-fitting clothing.
  • Make sure you are well-rested and not hungry.
  • Bring your headphones and a playlist of music that helps you feel relaxed.
  • Consider asking your artist which topical numbing cream is ok to use.
  • Follow all aftercare instructions your artist provides and use a great aftercare product.


Making sure that you are prepared, carefully considering where and what to get tattooed, and following our other tips will help ensure that your tattoo experience is as pleasant as possible.

Be careful, with ways to minimize the pain of getting a tattoo, you may become addicted and want your next one right away!

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