Saniderm’s Detailed Tattoo Pain Chart
The rumors are true… tattoos hurt. But how much do they 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 a 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.
Detailed Tattoo Area Descriptions
The Head – 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 capitol 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 tolerance spectrum — earning it a top spot on our tattoo pain chart.
The Face – 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 – 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 the typically the best protectors against tattoo pain, making the shoulder and outer arm an ideal location for most people.
Inner Bicep – 6 out of 10
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 – 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 – 8 out of 10
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 – 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 a 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 – 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 – 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.
The Chest – 7 out of 10
The chest is a different experiencing 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 place 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.
The Rib Cage – 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 – 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.
The Stomach – 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 – 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 – 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 raiting: “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.
Thighs – 4-7 out of 10
Depending 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.
Knee Ditch/Knee – 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 – 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 – 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.
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.