One of the most common questions asked before someone gets a tattoo is, “Is this going to hurt?” The short answer is yes, absolutely! The longer explanation is that you’re having an artist use a machine filled with sharp needles to prick into your skin and insert ink. It will hurt, yes, but it is the level of pain that is the real question.
Everyone has a different tolerance for pain. Some people may have difficulties with a small tattoo in an average pain area while others can easily handle the pain from a larger tattoo in a more sensitive area of the body. Having said that, there is a fairly standard chart to help explain the average pain levels for certain areas:
This is a very simplified way of explaining painful areas of the body due to nerve endings. In layman’s terms, nerves are the body’s way of sending information from the end of the nerve to the brain. In a tattooing situation, a nerve ending will be the communicator of pain from tattoo site to brain. So the more nerve endings a tattoo site has, the more likely the tattoo site will be painful.
Sensitive areas also revolve around how thin the tissue is—areas like the armpit, foot, ribcage, and behind the elbow and knee are all very thin-skinned and delicate. These areas will undoubtedly be more painful than thicker skinned and/or durable areas like the outer thigh or shoulder blade.
–Lessening the Pain–
You now know to expect pain, but is there anything you can do about it? Yes and No. You won’t be able to make the pain “go away” per se, but you can lessen the pain in a few ways.
First and foremost, do not attempt to take anything like aspirin or ingest any type of alcohol to try and make the pain decrease. These substances thin your blood which not only make tattooing more difficult for your artist, but actually adds to any pain you might feel.
Another myth that goes around suggests that a way to decrease pain is to bring someone or something to squeeze when it gets difficult. This is actually counterproductive because it keeps you focused immensely in the moment of pain. The absolute best way to decrease what you feel is to try and take yourself out of the moment—focus on a TV show, music through headphones, or simply calm your mind and drift away to another headspace.
When it all comes down to it, the first line is the worst (especially on your first tattoo). The unknown factor can cause your body to consciously or subconsciously prepare a fight or flight response. Once that first line is started (and you can get yourself into that headspace far away) the rest of the tattoo should be easier.