Getting a tattoo is a big decision, and how much it’s going to hurt is a big part of making that decision. What kind of tattoo design hurts the least? Which body part will hurt less to get inked on? Read on to find out!
Why do tattoos hurt?
First and foremost, it’s important to understand what makes tattoos hurt. Getting a tattoo involves poking ink into the skin using anything between 1 and 20 needles that pierce the skin at approximately 10-15 needle drops per second, which means no tattoo is going to be fully painless.
Check out this really cool video from Smarter Every Day to see how tattooing works – in slow motion!
There are, however, some factors that affect pain levels and you can use these to decide the size, level of detail, and placement of your tattoo so it hurts less for you!
Factors that Affect Pain Levels
Size and Level of Detail
Larger, more detailed tattoos will hurt more because they take longer and require intricate work like shading, colouring, and other types of detailing, which usually requires switching between multiple types of needles for different parts of the tattoo. All these factors increase how much the tattoo will hurt.
The longer a session goes on for, the more pain you’ll experience as your ability to withstand pain tends to get lower the longer you’re exposed to it.
The general belief is that a tattoo over a bone will hurt more, while a tattoo on a fleshy body part will hurt less. This is usually due to the vibrating sensation you feel when the needle strikes closer to a bone. You’ll feel more pain, though, when getting inked over areas of your body with more nerve endings which make these spots more sensitive as they will send more pain signals to your brain. So a better rule is – if you’re more ticklish in one area, it will likely hurt more to get inked there.
Threshold for Pain
Each person experiences pain differently, so what hurts for one person might not hurt as much or at all for another. Listen to your own body when you decide where to get inked! Remember, there isn’t a fully ‘painless tattoo’, but you can minimize the pain by understanding your own threshold for it. So if you know which body parts hurt more or less for you, keep that in mind when selecting your tattoo spot. If you’re not sure, ask your artist to help you select a spot that won’t hurt as much.
Artist Skill and Experience
The more experienced an artist is, the more skilled they will be with a tattoo machine. An artist that is heavy-handed (too rough or causes the needle to go too deep) will be more painful to get inked from, while artists with years of experience know their way around a variety of equipment and will know how to minimize the discomfort a customer experiences when getting inked.
Using the right needles, for instance, can vastly shift the amount of pain a customer might experience, and it takes a skilled tattooist to know which needles to use when. In general, while your tattoo won’t be painless, you should not be in an excruciating amount of pain unless you’re getting an extremely detailed, large tattoo such as a tribal tattoo done using traditional tattoo tools. If you are in that much pain the tattoo artist giving you your tattoo might not be the best one to get inked from.
There’s a reason some artists are known for having the ‘gentlest hands’ – their skill makes getting inked from them as painless as getting inked can be!
How you prepare for your tattoo session and how you care for your tattoo after it is inked will affect the pain levels during and after your tattoo session (as well as how well it heals). Check out our tattoo care tips for more!
What else might affect how much my tattoo will hurt?
There are a few other factors that might affect your pain levels when getting inked.
Different body parts hurt differently for people of different genders. While this isn’t a guaranteed way of figuring out what placement will hurt less for you, it works well as a general guide, so keep it in mind when selecting the spot for your tattoo.
Younger skin is tighter and absorbs ink better, meaning it takes lesser pokes to tattoo a younger client. In other words, it would hurt a lot less. Keep that in mind when getting inked, and choose a less painful spot if necessary.
State of Mind
Your state of mind will also impact pain levels. When you are relaxed, your body won’t be as stressed and the tattooing process will hurt less.
If you have a history of anxiety, you might experience pain differently, so consider using calming strategies prior to your session. If you are feeling anxious or stressed, let your artist know beforehand so they can help you through your session.
And if you’re someone with a fear of needles or blood, here’s a bit of trivia for you – tattoo needles are quite small and do not go more than 1-2mm into your skin, while bleeding is usually not enough to cause concern – in fact what you’re seeing the artist wipe away is mostly ink! And if that isn’t enough, you can also be assured that you don’t need to watch your artist while they work – keep yourself distracted with a book or music. You’ll be out of the chair soon enough!
Read: Keep Calm and Get Inked: Questions and Concerns About Tattooing
Health and Injuries
Certain health conditions make people more sensitive to pain, while others impact how much you bleed as well as how you heal. If you’re not sure about how your health might affect your pain levels (and healing), check in with your artist during your initial consultation.
Come sober for your tattoo appointment! Besides it being quite difficult to stay still when you’re not sober, such substances impact how you bleed and heal, and will thus have some amount of influence in how much pain you feel while getting inked – as well as after it!
Some parts of the body are more likely to get infected, such as the hands or feet which are the body parts most exposed to bacteria. If you’re getting a tattoo on these parts, it will require your artist to maintain very high standards of hygiene as well as more aftercare to prevent your tattoo from getting infected while it heals.
While many presume tattooing the groin and surrounding areas might be unwise due to a risk of infection, these areas are covered and rather well-protected, and are no more or less harmful to tattoo than other parts of the skin. The most dangerous part to get tattooed is the eyeball due to the very high risk of infection (which could, in some cases, lead to blindness).
If you’re concerned about your tattoo getting infected, check in with your artist during your consultation and finalize a spot that won’t be risky for you.
The Jhaiho Tattoo Pain Guide
Before you make the final decision about what tattoo to get and where, take all these factors into account. If you have a low threshold for pain or this is your first tattoo and you’re a bit anxious, try selecting a placement that is likely to hurt the least. To help you make the decision, we’ve put together a general pain guide based on the type of tattoo design and body part being inked (including different pain zones for men and women).
How do we estimate pain levels?
Our pain guide estimates pain based on 3 levels, ranging from mild irritation to extreme, unbearable pain.
Mild irritation to light pain: This is a manageable level of pain. You will feel the initial needle pricks but soon get used to the sensation, after which you’ll experience more of a dull background pain. This is what a painless tattoo will most likely feel like.
Moderate discomfort to intense pain: This level of pain is a bit harder to get used to, and you might have difficulty shifting your focus or distracting yourself. If you come relaxed and sober, and bring something to keep you occupied, you’ll get through this a lot more easily!
The pain will be beyond manageable levels, and you will have difficulty staying focused. At the absolute extreme end of this level, the pain might cause you to lose consciousness. This is rare for most tattoos, and will occur if you are getting a larger, more detailed piece, especially on the most painful spots using traditional tattooing methods. For example, the traditional tribal tattoos done in Polynesia will usually be this painful.
Below is a detailed breakdown of pain levels. Keep in mind that this is meant to be a guide, and does not guarantee what you will experience when you get inked!
The Jhaiho Tattoo Pain Guide
|PAIN LEVEL||DESCRIPTION||TYPE OF TATTOO||BODY PART|
|1||Very mild||Barely noticeable pain, similar to mosquito bite, pin prick, or a moderate to intense scratch||Small tattoos with no detailing or shading||Shoulder (not on shoulder blades)
Neck (back lower part/nape)
Arms (outer biceps and outer forearms)
Breasts & buttocks (upper)
Men: Arms (outer), bicep (outer), shoulder (not on shoulder blades), thigh (outer)
Women: Arms (outer), breasts, thigh (outer), neck (nape), buttocks (upper)
|2||Discomforting||Minor pain, similar to skin being pinched using fingernails||Small tattoos with minimal detailing, no shading|
|3||Tolerable||Noticeable pain, similar to minor cuts or an injection||Small to medium tattoos with minimal detailing, some shading||Elbows (outer)
Thighs (mid fleshier regions)
Calves (outer, back)
Men: Thigh (mid fleshier regions), calves (outer and back), back (lower), wrist (outer)
Women: Elbow (outer), thigh (mid fleshier regions), palms (outer), buttocks (lower)
|4||Distressing||Significant discomfort, similar to a toothache or bee sting||Medium tattoos with moderate amount of detailing|
|5||Very distressing||Strong pain, similar to deep cuts or a moderate burn (such as from a cigarette)||Medium tattoos with moderate amount of detailing||Neck (back upper part & side/outer) & throat
Chest & ribs (between the bones)
Biceps (inner), hands, & fingers
Thighs (upper, back)
Ankles (side & front)
Men: Neck (back upper part & side/outer), shoulder blades, chest, bicep (inner), thigh (upper, back), kneecaps, ankles (side & front)
Women: Chest, ribs (between the bones), thigh (upper, back), kneecaps, ankles (side & front)
|6||Intense||Piercing pain, similar to a headache or bad back pain||Medium to large tattoos with large amount of detailing|
|7||Very intense/ Disabling||Piercing pain, similar to an average headache or moderate burns (such as from hot water)||Large tattoos with large amount of detailing||Head & face (including ears, lips)
Arms (inner bicep, inner forearm), armpits, & elbows (inner)
Ribcage (over the bone)
Stomach, waist, & hips
Ankles (back), feet, & toes
Men: Head, neck (front), face, ribcage, hips (upper), elbow (inner), wrist (inner), groin, knee (back), feet
Women: Face (lower), neck (front), collar bones, nipples, groin, thigh (inner), knee (back), shin, ankle (back), toes
|8||Horrible/ Excruciating||Intense pain, similar to a very bad headache (such as an extreme migraine)||Large, extensive tattoos with large amounts of detailing (such as large Blackwork or Realistic tattoos)|
|9||Unbearable||Intense pain, similar to physical injury/trauma||Large, extensive tattoos with massive amounts of detailing (such as traditional tribal tattoos, full-body tattoos, etc.), using traditional tattoo tools and methods|
|10||Extreme||Intense pain that can cause unconsciousness|
* * *
We hope this guide makes it easier for you to choose the placement of your tattoo. Remember to factor in your own threshold for pain. If you’re not too sure how much pain you can handle opt for a smaller tattoo on a less painful spot so you can understand what it feels like before you go in to get more extensive work done.
Also, consider going for a tattoo with less shading and detailing, and if you’re getting an extensive tattoo consider getting a part of it, such as the outline, done in your first session and finish the rest of the tattoo in a later session.
And remember – artists understand your pain! So if you need a break or need to split your tattoo into multiple sessions, there’s no shame or harm in mentioning it to your artist. Forcing yourself to sit through the pain when it goes beyond what you can handle is going to ruin the experience for you, and might result in a messed up tattoo if you end up squirming in your seat too much!
Trust your artist and be vocal about what you need while you’re in that tattoo chair.
* * *
Liked this post? Check out our other ones!
- A Story of Ink: Where the Art of Tattooing Began
- The Jhaiho Tattoo Care Guide
- Tattooing 101: What’s in my Ink?
- Going Green: Eco-Friendly Tattoo Studios and Vegan Inks
- The Jhaiho Tattoo Sizing Guide
* * *
Ready to get inked? Head on over to jhaiho.com and book your appointment with some of Bangalore’s top tattoo artists today! Not sure who to pick? Check out our roundup of the Top Artists in Bangalore!
Be sure to drop by and say hello! We love hearing from you!