for tattooed people, and those who want to be

Ow. Ow. Ow.


Yes, it hurts. 🙂

But of course there’s more to the story than that. While there’s no getting away from the fact that having your skin pierced with multiple needles a bazillion times a minute isn’t going to be pain free, there are many factors that influence how much it’s going to hurt.

In general, the closer the skin is to the bone at the tattoo site seems to make a big difference. (All this should be prefaced with “in general” because everyone’s response is different, of course.) The bonier areas of the body (ankles, wrists, base of the spine, back of the neck, etc) hurt more to tattoo. Men and women also seem to react a bit differently to ink placement. If this is your first tattoo, it might be worth considering having it done on a somewhat less painful area so you can ease into the “multicolored” experience.

The outline will likely hurt the most. The artist has to make those black lines solid and clear and long-lasting. I found it helpful to know that if I could get through the outline OK, the rest wouldn’t be nearly as bad. Actually, in my own experience with my first tattoo, the outline didn’t hurt as much as did the little multicolored “swoosh” dots the artist put in to surround the seven stars.

Do your best to relax. It’s natural to be nervous or downright scared, facing the needles for the first time. See if you can find something calming to listen to–New Age music, maybe–and put it on your music player of choice. You might want to consider wearing headphones that block out all or part of the buzzing sound of the needle as well. Tattoo needles are kind of like dentist’s drills. The sound is sometimes worse than the feeling.

If it hurts too much for too long, don’t hesitate to ask the artist if you can take a break. Being tensed up and flinching from the needle isn’t good for you or for the success of your design. After a while, the endorphin rush will start and you should be able to stand the pain a bit better. But don’t think you have to be like one of those cowboys biting bullets and carrying on no matter what.

After the inking is done, you should feel surprisingly good. But don’t be in too much of a hurry to get up and get going. You might want to just sit in the chair for a minute or two and regroup. If you feel at all lightheaded or unwell, don’t just head out the door and hop into your car–sit in a chair in the waiting area for as long as it takes to be sure you’re going to be OK.

Next up, why you shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to admire your new ink, either.

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Author: infmom

I got my first tattoo when I was 46. I hope the people who read this blog don't have to wait that long. I love talking about body art.


  1. I think the pain is important part of the tattoo experience. Tattoos are not easy, you have to earn them, and endure something to have one. If it was like buying a tee shirt, I wouldn’t want one. It is more meaningful to me that I went through the pain to get my tattoos. It doesn’t mean that you have to LIKE pain. I don’t think a marathon runner likes the pain and burn of the last mile of a marathon, but when they are finished, the fact that they overcame the pain and finished, makes the achievement more meaningful than driving the 26 miles in a car.

  2. I wish I’d found your site before I got tattooed (last Saturday), it would have reassured me a lot. Good work! Just a word on bits that hurt more than others: My tattoo artist seemed to think that the thinner the skin on a particular body part was, the sorer it would be because the nerves were nearer the surface. Though this would usually correspond to where the bones are too of course. Just thought you might be interested. My tattoo is over my spine and it was much sorer nearer the middle than on slightly fleshier bits.

    • I’m glad you found me. 🙂

      I have also found that the thinner the skin, the more it hurts. I thought I was going to fall off the table when I got my first ankle tat done.

      I hope you’re enjoying your new status as a multicolored person!

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