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How Much does a Tattoo Hurt? Check Out our Detailed Tattoo Pain Chart

Saniderm’s Detailed Tattoo Pain Chart

The rumors are true… tattoos hurt. But how much do they hurt? When it comes to tattoo pain, no one-size-fits-all . But generally it may feel like a cat The rumors are true… tattoos hurt. But how much does a tattoo really hurt? Well, that varies pretty drastically depending on a few things. In this tattoo pain chart article, we will address all of them!

Typically, tattoo pain factors include your respective pain tolerance, where on your body you get the tattoo, the style of tattoo, as well as the artist doing the tattooing. Some people will argue that tattoos really don’t hurt as much as you’d think, and most people we speak with actually find that to be true — but that’s not always the case.

We’ve seen individuals sit through an 8-hour tattoo session without flinching. On the other end of the spectrum, however, we’ve seen people pass out during 15-minute simplistic script tattoos. So, the difference from one person to another can be rather large. Styles with bold lines and heavy shading/color saturation will inevitably cause more pain, as the skin will get worked more by the tattooing needles.

The largest discrepancy in pain level, however, occurs from one tattoo location to another. For instance, getting a foot or rib tattooed will just about always hurt more than getting your forearm or shoulder tattooed. 

One thing that can help ease your stress and mentally prepare for your next tattoo is looking at tattoo pain charts. This way, you can have some idea of what to expect. Tattoo pain charts are essentially just graphics that detail how painful specific areas of skin are to be tattooed relative to others.

After looking at many of these charts online, we felt that they weren’t quite as accurate and detailed as we would like. So, we decided to create our own! Below is our very own tattoo pain chart we’ve designed for your viewing pleasure. Additionally, we’ve included a small paragraph on each area documented in our pain chart, with more information on each of them.

Tattoo Pain Chart

AreaScore
Head9
Face7
Neck7
Shoulder/Outer Arm4
Inner Bicep6
Armpit9
Elbow Ditch/Outer Elbow Tattoo8
Forearm/Lower Arm3
Forearm/Lower Arm8
Upper/Middle/Lower Back5-8
General Back5
Chest7
Rib Cage9
Under Boob/Sternum7
Stomach5
Butt8
Thigh4-7
Knee Ditch/Knee10
Calves/Shins6
Feet/Ankles/Toes9

Detailed Tattoo Pain Area Descriptions

Head Tattoo Pain – 9 out of 10

Very painful. The head contains a huge number of nerves and little-to-no fat or muscle. The head is effectively the nerve capital of your body, home to the cranial nerves that connect the brain with the head and neck.

This creates the sensation that many have described as, “having your skull drilled on.” For this reason, and that head tattoos tend to be some of the least socially acceptable, this is an area that is certainly not for the faint of heart. Or, for those on the lower end of the pain threshold spectrum — earning it a top spot on our tattoo pain chart.

Face Tattoo Pain  – 7 out of 10

Not as painful as many might think, depending on the area of the face. If heavy detail and saturation were common on the face, this would sway our opinion heavily. However, most face tattoos are very simplistic, design-wise, and don’t have the depth and detail tattoos in other areas do.

Additionally, the pain of a face tattoo can vary heavily depending on the specific part of the face being tattooed. The forehead, chin, nose, and around the mouth and cheek bone are, relatively, less painful. The cheek and just under the eye lids, however, tend to be pretty painful. Especially because tattoo artists will typically stretch the skin to get the needle in deeper.

The Neck – 7 out of 10

Front of the neck, very painful. The back and sides of neck are actually not too bad.  The neck, in general, is not as “nervy” as many other places on the body. The skin is also quite tough compared to other areas of the body as well.

However, the front of the neck is another story altogether. The front of the neck has significantly less muscle mass than the back does, has thinner skin, and lots of nerve endings.

Furthermore, cartilage and bones are close to the surface of the skin on the front neck. Also, as with any high torsion area that gets brushed up against or rubbed a lot, healing a tattoo on the neck can be rather uncomfortable and more difficult than usual.

Shoulder/Outer Arm Tattoo Pain – 4 out of 10

Not too painful, relatively. This is a great spot for a first tattoo. Especially if your aim is to minimize the pain of getting a tattoo, and maximize the visibility of your tattoo. Fat and muscle are typically the best protectors against tattoo pain, making the shoulder and outer arm an ideal location for most people.

Inner Bicep Tattoo Pain – 6 out of 10

Tattoo pain for the inner bicep is fairly painful. The inner bicep/elbow area is host to a couple of sensitive nerves that run down the underside of your arm. Combine this with the thin, sensitive skin of the inner bicep, and you’ve got a fairly tender tattooing area. This is a large culprit for why you see so many sleeve and quarter-sleeve tattoos without the inner arm filled in.

As far as healing goes, this area also tends to be one of the more difficult areas. This is due to the constant rubbing and friction of the inner arm and the body. However nowadays you can use a shear-reduction tattoo bandage, like Saniderm, which makes the healing much, much easier in an area like this.

Armpit Tattoo Pain – 9 out of 10

Very painful. Also, very difficult to heal. The high pain is primarily due to the skin of the armpit being incredibly sensitive. Skin in the armpit is incredibly sensitive because it’s directly above the Lymph nodes, which can begin to swell virtually immediately during the tattoo process, and cause healing to be extremely painful.

The armpit also contains an enormous amount of nerve endings, which causes tattooing the skin surrounding the armpit to be even more painful. The level of difficulty in healing this area is also a strong point of unpleasantness.

As with other high friction areas, using a breathable bandage that reduces shear and friction, like Saniderm, is extremely helpful when healing armpit tattoos. You also cannot wear deodorant, tight shirts, or shave a tattooed armpit for just over 2 weeks, which adds to the difficulty of having this area tattooed.

Elbow Ditch/Outer Elbow Tattoo Pain – 8 out of 10

Tattoo pain in this elbow region is a very painful area. Two of the three nerves in your arm run directly through the elbow ditch. Plus, the elbow ditch/elbow provides some of the least amount of padding between the tattooing needle and the two nerves.

When either nerve is pinched, which can happen while getting a tattoo here, it can cause numbness or pain down the rest of your arm. The outer elbow, while still high on the pain scale, avoids the nerve issues encountered in the elbow ditch. But you’ll have to deal with more needle on bone.

Forearm/Lower Arm Tattoo Pain – 3 out of 10

One of the less painful areas for a tattoo. Also, for the sake of your tattoo artist having an ideal canvas, the forearm is great for tattoo placement. Pain-wise, the outer forearm is less painful to have tattooed than the inner portion of the forearm due to the radial nerve that runs through the inner arm.

Hands/Fingers Tattoo Pain – 8 out of 10

Quite painful. The hands and fingers hurt. This is due to hands and fingers are very bony areas, plus every major nerve in your body ends in your extremities. Hand and finger tattoos also experience significant wear and tear. Because of this, hand and finger tattoos are arguably some of the hardest to heal.

Further, this area is prone to infection due to the constant contact with external contaminants (handshaking, door handles, etc). All of the activity and friction makes it so tattoos placed on the hands and fingers often require multiple sessions and touch-ups. Tattoos in this area also tend to fade rapidly.

Upper/Middle/Lower Back Tattoo Pain – 5-8 out of 10

Spine, very painful. Shoulder blades, fairly painful. Everywhere else on the back, not that bad. One additional factor to consider is that the back is a prime canvas for large pieces with heavy saturation and detail. And it doesn’t particularly matter where these types of tattoos are, they will always hurt more than others.

Furthermore, most people’s shoulder blades are pretty bony, so your pain level will jump when the tattoo needles hit the bone, itself. As for the spine, it is almost exclusively comprised of bones and nerves, and with the spinal cord so close to the skin, it’s a highly painful area to have tattooed.

If you’re concerned with pain, having your artist place designs off to either side of the spine makes getting tattooed on your back a much more comfortable process compared to having the spine, itself, tattooed.

General Back Tattoo Pain- 5 out of 10 

As mentioned above, the back is a prime canvas for large pieces with heavy saturation and detail. This could ultimately change the intensity of the pain you may experience during a back tattoo. But in general, you can expect low-moderate to moderate amounts of pain for an upper or lower back tattoo. This is because the skin on the back is thick with few nerve endings.

Chest Tattoo Pain – 7 out of 10

The chest is a different experience depending on if you’re a man or a woman. Women typically have more padding in this area. This makes the chest, relatively, a less painful spot to have tattooed for women. It’s noticeably worse for men, however, who don’t have the same amount of additional cushioning in the area.

There are still a decent number of nerve endings in the chest, as well as some bony areas like the collarbone, which can be quite unpleasant. Also, we should mention the nipples. Getting your nipples tattooed is very painful — arguably close to the top of the tattoo pain chart.

Rib Cage Tattoo Pain – 9 out of 10

Notoriously painful area. And for good reason, as the rib cage is highly agreed upon to be one of the most painful areas on the tattoo pain scale. The heightened sense of pain here is attributed to two things, primarily. First, the ribs are covered in a soft, thin layer of skin containing almost no fat or muscle, typically.

Furthermore, there is very little separating the tattooing needle and your rib bones. And to top it off, pain also seems to linger in this area after being tattooed longer than in others. Similarly to the inner bicep, this is likely due to having softer, thinner skin covering the area.

Under boob/Sternum Tattoo Pain – 7 out of 10

Quite a painful area, with an uncomfortable healing process. The sternum is also covered in the soft, thin skin type that covers the ribs, with very little muscle or fat to cushion the area. And, similarly to the ribs, there is very little separating the tattoo needle and the sternum bone. Very often, sternum tattoos will also extend onto the ribs, which is well-known to be a painful area.

Furthermore, if you’re a woman receiving a sternum tattoo, you won’t be able to wear a bra for at least the first 24 hours after receiving it. It’s recommended you stay braless for up to a week while healing your sternum tattoo.

Healing sternum tattoos can be especially difficult if you’re a stomach sleeper as well, as the rubbing and friction during sleep can cause unwanted issues during healing. Using a shear-reduction tattoo bandage like Saniderm here is highly recommended.

Stomach Tattoo Pain – 5 out of 10

Relatively not bad compared to other areas. Most everyone has extra padding to some extent on their stomach. Plus, there are no bones or cartilage to worry about. It’s also a fairly easy surface for tattoo artists to work on. This makes the area a good choice for larger tattoos for those with a mid-to-low pain tolerance. However, like the sternum and ribs, if you’re a stomach sleeper this area can be tough during healing.

Groin Area Tattoo Pain – 8 out of 10

Very painful area. Also very difficult to heal. This ought to be obvious to most, as the genitals are arguably the most sensitive organs of the body. Even though it may seem like the groin area surrounding the actual genitals is meatier, make no mistake, it’s still pretty terrible.

This is because the massive amount of nerves in your genitals run out into the immediate groin area, and then spread from there. Additionally, the groin is located directly in the vicinity of lymph nodes, which adds to the pain level and healing difficulty.

The healing process for groin tattoos can be very tedious and unpleasant. Any underwear or pants you’re wearing are going to rub against the area constantly. Plan on going commando for a few days post-tattoo and wearing super-soft cotton or sweatpants for a couple weeks if you intend to brave a tattoo here.

Butt Tattoo Pain – 8 out of 10 (AMENDED)

UPDATE: Since writing this article, the author has had his own butt tattooed. Note from the author about updated pain rating:

“When researching for this article originally, I only had a few parts of my body tattooed, so I had to rely on a lot of various information to complete it. After having my own butt tattooed, I can absolutely say that my original pain rating of 3 out of 10 was MUCH TOO LOW!

The experience of having my butt tattooed was 1) extremely painful, but 2) also a very difficult area to tattoo due to the strong tendency of the butt muscles to flinch/clench during the process. This required immense concentration on behalf of both myself and the artist to make sure ink went in where it was supposed to go.”

Thigh Tattoo Pain – 4-7 out of 10

Thigh tattoo pain depends on the area of the thigh. Tattoos here can be relatively mild or quite painful. There are some major nerves that make their way through the thigh. This can make it an uncomfortable place to have tattooed, with the inner thigh being the most sensitive.

The least painful areas to have tattooed in this region are the top of the thigh and over the quadriceps. The hips would likely be somewhere in between on the pain scale, depending on how bony your hips are. If you have a low pain tolerance, avoid the inner thigh and the back of the thigh.

How long does a thigh tattoo take?

A tattoo can take any length of time, from one hour upwards. An upper thigh black and white tattoo could take 3-4 hours to outline and additional hours to fill depending on how large it is and the complexity. 

What to wear when getting a thigh tattoo?

In general, you don’t want to wear anything tight or restrictive (like jeans). Whatever you choose to wear, be prepared to remove the article of clothing blocking the artist from the spot where they will be tattooing. You may also want to consider wearing black or other clothing where you don’t care if any ink gets on it.

Knee Ditch/Knee Tattoo Pain – 10 out of 10

Arguably the most painful. Expect to see some stars, especially in the knee ditch. The sciatic nerve is one of the largest individual nerves in the body. And, it just so happens to run straight down the back of your leg, through the knee ditch. Not only that, but the layer of skin separating your sciatic nerve from the tattoo needle is extremely thin. The knee area is also incredibly difficult to heal due to flexion and rubbing. For this reason, the knee ditch/knee area earns the top spot on our tattoo pain chart.

Calves/Shins Tattoo Pain – 6 out of 10

Not the worst, until you venture onto the shin bone. If you’re lower on the pain tolerance spectrum, the side of your calf above the ankle and under the knee make for a pretty decent place to get a tattoo.

However, the back of your calf, especially the closer you get to the back of your knee, can be a rather painful experience. The shins, on the other hand, are home to a sizable nerve, and are obviously very bony. Coupling the number of nerve endings in the shins with close-to-the-surface bone makes the shins a very tender area.

Feet/Ankles/Toes Tattoo Pain – 9 out of 10

Very painful — one of the most delicate areas to have tattooed. Also, hard to heal due to constant rubbing from socks and shoes. Nerves in the feet, toes, and ankles are unique compared to others in the body. Primarily focused on motion and balance, nerves in the feet are tactile and particularly sensitive. Not to mention, there’s absolutely no fat or muscle padding in this area.

This means the nerves in the area are exposed to a tattoo needle. Furthermore, your Achilles’ tendon, towards the arch of your foot, brings even more nerve endings into play, making the ankles especially unpleasant. When healing foot tattoos, a shear-reducing bandage like Saniderm is strongly recommended.

Factors That Affect Tattoo Pain Tolerance

There are several things that may affect how you will experience and tolerate any pain from a tattoo. 

Factors that may influence tattoo pain tolerance include:

Experience:

When the body experiences pain during a tattoo, adrenaline and endorphins are released to help relieve the pain. This chemical cocktail could help explain why the pain of a tattoo feels pleasurable (this also explains the “runners high” for experienced runners). These natural pain relievers produced by your body tend to start wearing off after 3-4 hours of being tattooed, however, so prepare accordingly for longer sessions. Perhaps knowing what to expect makes your tolerance higher—if so, arming yourself with knowledge by reading resources like this could help! 

Gender: 

Whether it’s physical, chemical, or just psychological, some research indicates that people who are biologically female can experience pain more intensely than those that are biologically male. Although each person is different, gender does seem to play a role in pain experience and tolerance. 

Mood and Mental Health:

Doctors and medical researchers are learning more every day about the way our mental health affects our physiological wellbeing. Research tells us that people who are feeling stressed, sad, or depressed often have a lower pain threshold than their peers. 

Lifestyle Factors:

Research suggests that smokers often have a lower pain tolerance while athletes who are very physically fit report a higher pain tolerance

What Does Tattoo Pain Feel Like?

What does getting tattooed feel like?

As we mentioned above, there are several factors that may influence the severity of your pain when you choose to get a tattoo. In addition to personal factors like gender, age, weight, and experience, the placement and location of your tattoo can also affect the nature and level of your pain.

If you’re considering getting your first tattoo, you may want to know just exactly how the experience will feel. Although everyone is different and each tattoo experience is unique, tattoo artists do know that there are a few consistent ways that people often describe the pain. Familiarizing yourself with these sensations can help you know what to expect when you go in for your new ink, and help you know if anything is unusual or out of the ordinary.

Common types of tattoo pain include:

Dull tattoo pain

Also referred to as background pain, dull pain is one of the most manageable tattoo pains. 

The sights and sounds of the tattoo experience can cause stress and anxiety—especially for first-time customers. When your body starts producing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, the hormones work to numb the pain, forcing it to recede into a dull ache in the background. 

The quality of your pain may change during the duration of your tattoo session, but distracting yourself with a conversation, a tv show, or music can help you keep the pain in the dull/background state.

Burning tattoo pain

As the name suggests, burning pain feels like something very hot is pressing against your skin for an extended period of time. When your skin gets raw and the tattoo needle repeatedly pierces skin in the same area over a long period of time, burning pain can result. That’s why large tattoos with dense designs can cause more burning pain. Anecdotal evidence tells us that excess fat stores under the skin can also cause more burning pain. 

Scratching tattoo pain

Often when you get a tattoo you will feel a sensation like a sharp needle or claw being scratched across the area. This scratching pain is the type of tattoo pain people most often experience. Typically more irritating than intense, scratching pain can be worse if multiple needles are used or the tattoo artist stays on the same area for a long time. Adding shading to a tattoo can cause this type of pain to intensify.  

Stinging tattoo pain

Stinging pain has also been described as “sharp” or “pricking” pain. This type of pain can be more intense, as the sensation seems to penetrate deeper into the skin. If you are getting a tattoo with an outline or very fine detail, or if your skin is thin or tight, you are more likely to feel this type of stinging pain. 

Some stinging pain is normal, but if you feel a sharp pain that goes on for too long, or feels too intense, speak up. It’s possible that your tattoo artist is pushing the needle too deep. Penetrating too deep with the tattoo needle can cause an adverse result called a tattoo blowout, where the ink disperses below the skin and causes pain and blurry details for your tattoo design. 

Vibrating tattoo pain

Vibrating pain may occur when you get a tattoo in a bony area such as your elbow, ribs, ankle, or wrist. A high speed needle vibrating above the bone may cause nerves in the bone to transmit the vibrating sensation. Very thin people with less fat covering their bones are more likely to experience this type of tattoo pain.

Other factors that could affect tattoo pain

  • Sex
  • Tattoo Experience 
  • Age
  • Weight

Preparing For Your Tattoo and Pain Reduction Advice

There are absolutely steps you can take to have a more enjoyable experience in the tattoo chair. Increase your water intake a couple weeks prior to getting a tattoo. This will hydrate the skin and create a better canvas for the artist. Hydrated skin takes ink better and is more receptive to the artist’s movements than when the body is dehydrated, thus minimizing pain as it limits the amount of passes an artist has to take to saturate a piece.

It’s also critically important to eat a proper meal 1-2 hours before getting your tattoo. Additionally, bring a snack high in glucose to munch on during the session. Apples, other fruits, and fruit juice work the best for this. Keeping your sugar levels up, especially during long tattoo sessions, will help tremendously in dealing with pain, avoiding cold chills, and shock.

Also, don’t take painkillers or drink alcohol before your tattoo. Ultimately, neither of these things will help a whole lot with tattoo pain, and both will thin your blood, making your artist’s job harder and increasing the likelihood for complications.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your tattoo artist openly about your pain tolerance. This will help them make good suggestions when placing the tattoo design. Plus, it makes it significantly more difficult for an artist to tattoo in a location that’s highly painful for you, because you’ll likely be moving and wiggling a lot during the tattoo.

This can make their job as an artist a lot more difficult, and ultimately, affect the quality of the tattoo.

Tattoo Pain FAQ

Is Shading As Painful As Outlining Tattoo?

Although every person and every tattoo experience is different, many people report that outlining is slightly more painful than shading. 

What Is The Most Painful Place To Get Tattooed?

Bony areas such as ribs, spine, fingers, and shins are some of the most painful places to get tattoos.

What Should I Do After Getting A Tattoo?

The most important thing to do after getting a tattoo is to follow the aftercare instructions. This includes keeping the area clean with gentle soap and water and applying an antibacterial ointment daily. 

What is the Least Painful Area To Get a Tattoo?

Areas with thick skin and few nerve endings are great areas to get a pain-free (or low pain)  tattoo. This includes places like the outer shoulders, outer thighs, and forearm.

When Will The Tattoo Stop Hurting?

Typically, any intense tattoo pain you may experience during the session will start to wane as soon as the tattoo artist finishes. You may feel a dull pain and soreness in the area for 3-7 days after you receive your tattoo.  

Can You Get Sick After Getting A Tattoo?

Proper aftercare is important to prevent skin infection and ensure proper recovery, as the tattoo process causes injury to both your upper and middle layers of skin. Risk factors for skin infection after a tattoo can include using non-sterile water to prepare ink or wash skin, unsanitary conditions during the tattoo session, and poor aftercare. If you get a skin infection, symptoms can include redness, itchiness, swelling, and discharge. In extreme cases where the infection grows unchecked, you may develop a fever. 

If you develop redness, severe itching, or hives after getting a tattoo, you may be experiencing an allergic reaction to the ink. Inks that contain plastic are the most common culprit when an ink allergy is present.

Thank you for reading! If you have any other questions that weren’t covered here, make sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook and reach out to us there.

Updated on October 4, 2022

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