Every tattoo artist and anyone with a tattoo has heard the inevitable question: Does it hurt? Well. yes. And no. Sometimes it hurts a little. Sometimes a lot. There is no definitive answer. Not to get too philosophical, but pain is a private, internal state with no context or comparison outside of one’s own experience. The point being that one person’s tickle may be another person’s pain.
The level of pain that you experience during tattooing depends on a number of factors including the method of tattooing, the amount of body fat, your pain threshold and the tattoo’s location on the body.
While a good tattoo studio and an experienced artist will be able to minimise the pain, tattooing is a physical process that will inevitably cause some pain. However, the experience will be different for each person.
It’s all about the body
Ultimately, the level of pain you experience will greatly depend on where you get the tattoo. Tattooing tends to be more painful on sensitive body parts with a larger number of nerve endings and places with little body fat where the bone is close to the skin.
While this is the general rule, each body is different. Differences in age, gender, skin sensitivity, body fat and weight distribution will all affect the level of discomfort experienced during tattooing.
Your pain tolerance will also impact how much pain you feel during tattooing. Research suggests that women have a higher pain tolerance than men; however, it will differ from person to person.
It’s worth bearing in mind that a lot of pain is psychological. If this is your first tattoo and you are particularly worried about the pain, you could be setting yourself up for a more painful experience. But if you already have several tattoos, you should have a good idea about the level of pain to expect. You may even be used to it.
Top 10 most painful places to get a tattoo
So, while the experience of pain will differ between people based on a variety of factors, the location of the tattoo will also play a part.
These are the 10 places that are widely believed to be the most painful for tattooing (and perhaps not the best place for your first tattoo).
Your head has almost no fat on it and lots of nerves under the skin. Some people have even said they’ve felt the vibration of the needle inside their skull when getting a head tattoo.
- Neck and spine
Like your head, there’s little fat on your neck and spine but lots of nerves.
- Nipples and breasts
While you might like the idea of getting a tattoo close to your heart, nipples and breasts are extremely sensitive. There’s lots of nerves just beneath the surface.
Your ribcage is said to be one of the most painful places to get a tattoo. The skin over your ribs is thin and you’re likely to have less fat here. Breathing also makes your ribcage expand and contract, which can make the process more painful.
If you’ve ever knocked your elbow, even lightly, you know it hurts a lot. Like your ribcage, the bone is lying quite close to the skin.
- Hands and fingers
The skin on your hands and fingers is thin and there’s lots of nerves in your hands. You might even find that your hands spasm during the tattooing process.
It might seem romantic to get a significant other’s name tattooed on your groin, but the process is anything but sweet. The pain can be extremely severe thanks to all those nerve endings.
- Inner thigh
You’d think your thigh would be a great place for a tattoo and you’re half right. The outer thigh definitely is, but the inner thigh is not. It’s extremely sensitive and is home to one of the largest nerves in the entire body (the femoral nerve).
Like your elbows, there’s not much here between the tattoo needle and your bone.
- Ankles and feet
Just like your hands and fingers, the skin is thin around your ankles and feet, and the bone and nerves are close to the surface.
Top 5 least painful places to get a tattoo
But it’s not all pain and anxiety. Here are the 5 least painful places to get a tattoo.
- Shoulder and outer upper arm
There aren’t many nerve endings in your shoulder and outer upper arm. There should be plenty of fat, muscle and thick skin between the needle and the bone too.
Like your upper arm, there’s a good amount of fat and fewer nerve endings in your forearm.
- Lower back
Women may find it less painful to have a lower back tattoo than men as they have higher fat distribution there. Just remember to steer clear of the spine.
- Outer thigh
As touched on above, the inner thigh is pretty painful to get tattooed but the outer isn’t. This is because there is a lot of fat and muscle here and few nerve endings. As with the lower back, it’s likely to be more painful for men than women due to typical fat distribution.
Your calves, like the outer thigh, have plenty of fat and muscle to keep the tattoo needle from ever coming close to bone. Just make sure you don’t go near the shins.
If pain is likely to be a concern for you, it’s worth discussing this with your tattoo artist. They will be able to recommend the least painful places on your body and even do some pain testing before the actual tattooing.
And when you’ve picked the perfect spot, why not check out these tattoo trends for 2020?