Tattoo Pain Chart: How Bad Do Tattoos Hurt?

From this article’s title, you can infer that tattoos really do hurt. Well, I’m not going to mince words here – yes, tattoos do hurt. There’s no question about it. Unless, of course, you’ve got a medical condition that makes you insensitive to pain, then you will have no choice but to feel the pain. 

That said, today, you’re going to learn just how bad tattoos hurt. I’ll be sharing a tattoo pain chart I found off the web to better illustrate the body parts you should avoid tattooing. Or, if you’re the pain-seeking kind, the areas you should be going for… 

Where do tattoos hurt the most?

There are plenty of body parts that hurts like hell if tattooed on (the pain will seriously make you question your life’s decisions). And I’ll be listing down the most painful spots in this article. But first, here’s a nice infographic from Mashable that breaks down the 10 most painful places to get a tattoo.

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Infographic credit: Mashable

Alright, so we’ll be discussing these 10 spots as well as a few more. If you’ll scan this page real quickly, you’ll notice there are FAR MORE painful spots than not-so-painful ones.

1. Head including the face, ears, and lips

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Photo by Thomas Biasetto 

Head tattoos are best left to people with prior tattooing experience and better pain tolerance. This is because the head is one of the most painful areas to get tattooed on. Sure, head tattoos look cool and super badass – that’s because it is! And only the toughest people can sit through a head tattooing session.

As you know, the skin on the head is quite thin. There’s not much fat between the skin and the skull, so getting tattooed there can be an extremely painful experience. You can’t get away from the sound and vibrations – you’ll feel and hear every hole poked by the tattoo machine!  

2. Neck

You’ll more likely see people sporting side and back neck tattoos than front ones, and there’s good reason for that. This is because the front part of the neck houses your throat and windpipe, so it’s going to be a lot more uncomfortable – and painful – than the side and back.  

3. Spine

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Photo by Carlos Leret 

Well, this one’s no surprise really. Tattoos going down your spine will be super painful. This is because the spine is one of the most sensitive parts of the body, thanks to a large number of sensory nerves in the area. You’ll probably feel every puncture the needles make on your skin!

4. Sternum and rib cage

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Photo by Elle Hughes

The closer the skin is to the bone, the more painful the tattooing experience. Now, obviously, the sternum and the rib cage are two such areas. It’s literally just skin on bone, so think twice before getting inked in these spots!

5. Armpits

If you’ve ever been tickled in the armpits before, then you know exactly how sensitive this area is. Your tattooist is going to have to tread carefully here. Otherwise, you may feel like giggling (from getting tickled) and crying (from the tattoo needles) at the same time!

6. Hands and fingers

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Photo by Lucas Lenzi

The palms may have thick skin, but it doesn’t make it a “tattoo-friendly” spot. Quite the opposite, in fact. Getting a palm tattoo is definitely not for the faint-hearted. And neither are your fingers.

The bad news is that hand and finger tattoos don’t exactly have a good longevity record. Ink in these areas are one of the first to go and fade because the skin here tends to get moved a lot. We literally use our hands (almost) every minute we’re awake!

7. Inner arm

Tattoos on the inner arm tend to be more painful than those in the outer part. This is because the skin is thinner on the inside. The area closer to the armpit is also generally more painful than the skin closer to the elbow.

8. Elbows

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Photo by Jan Kopřiva

Your elbow literally sits on a joint and is essential for making your arms and hands move. It’s also got nerve endings there, so a few might be indirectly hit by tattoo needles. Some say the spot directly over the bone is more painful than the one beside it (the flat part), while others experienced the exact opposite. Either way, it’s going to be a painful tattooing session!

9. Stomach

This may sound like a surprise because obviously the skin around the stomach is thicker than in other parts. But there’s no getting around the fact that stomach tattoos are also painful. Generally, those with loose stomach skin have a more painful tattooing experience than those with tighter skin.

 10. Nipples and breasts

Surprised? I should think not. These are sensitive spots, so expect to feel a lot of pain if you’re thinking of getting inked here!

 11. Hips

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Photo by Mary Pokatova

Hip tattoos look really nice, but if you’ve got a bony frame or you have less hip fat than others, then you may want to rethink getting one on the hips. Men find the experience more painful than women because, by nature, ladies have more fat deposits around the hips than us guys.

 11. Groin

Fancy getting tattooed in the genital area? Well, that’s your decision to make. But don’t say we didn’t warn you – it’s going to be a very painful session! Obviously, the area is naturally sensitive, so expect the pain to be on the extreme end.

 12. Buttocks

This one’s a bit of a coin toss. Some people say bum tattoos are very painful, while others say they didn’t mind as much. Now, this may be due to a lot of factors. After all, not all bums are the same – some have more cushion than others. Suffice it to say, if you’re gifted with a big enough bum, then the pain may not be so bad.

13. Inner thigh

Just like the inner arm, inner thigh tattoos can also hurt a lot. This area may have a lot of fat stores, but don’t let it discount the fact that the skin can also be thin and sensitive. Also, the closer you are to the genital area, the more painful it’s going to get.

 14. Knees

Knee tattoos are pretty high up on the tattoo pain chart
Photo by Matheus Ferrero

The kneecaps and the back of the knees are especially sensitive. In fact, if the needles hit just the right spot, you could be getting an involuntary spasm, a.k.a. knee-jerk reaction.  

 15. Ankles

Ankle tattoos look quite delicate, especially on slim ankles. However, don’t let that fool you from the fact that getting inked right on top of the ankle bone is not a fun experience for most people!

 16. Feet and toes

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Photo by John Tuesday

Just like hands and fingers, getting inked on the feet and toes is also a similar experience in terms of pain (ouch!), healing time (longer than usual), and tattoo longevity (tends to fade faster).

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Where tattoos hurt the least

Whew, so that was quite a list, wasn’t it? But not all is lost yet. That said, this list is going to be a lot shorter than the first one. So, if you’re wondering which spots would be good for a first-timer, here it is:

1. Upper outer thigh

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Photo by Veronika Tarakanova

The thigh area (minus the inner part, of course) is a pretty good spot for someone wanting to try out and experience a tattoo. It’s muscular and there’s not a ton of nerves in this part, so it’s certainly a good area to get a tattoo on.

2. Forearm and outer biceps

The forearm and outer biceps areas are pretty common spots to get a tattoo – this is why full sleeve tattoos are common. And it’s for good reason – it’s not insanely painful. Actually, some people say the pain was mostly negligible after the first few minutes.

3. Outer shoulders

This is another popular inking spot for tattoo virgins. And it’s not surprising why, really. The skin here is thick, and there’s not a lot of nerves, which makes it a great spot for those with relatively low pain thresholds.

4. Calves

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Photo by Samuel Foster 

Getting tattoos on the calves isn’t so bad. It’s far enough from leg bones and it’s muscular, so there’s a nice cushion for those needles. There’s also not a lot of nerve endings in this area.

5. Upper and lower back

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Photo by Gaberali

This is another muscular part of the body. Our back (both upper and lower parts) mostly has thick skin with few nerve endings, so it’s very popular area for tattoos.

Factors that affect tattooing pain

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all chart for tattoo pain – we all have different pain thresholds. In fact, there are some people who don’t experience physical pain at all! That said, your tolerance for tattoo pain will depend on many factors, these include:

  • Your general health

The healthier you are, the better your chances to withstand pain – and your tattoo to heal quickly. Also, tattoos are technically a minor medical procedure, so you need to be in tip-top shape before you go under the needle.

  • Your frame of mind at the time

Pain can be psychological. If your fear of getting inked is all you can think about, then your experience will be painful as well. It’s therefore best to try and reframe your mind before heading over to the tattooist. Calm yourself down. Also, pick a body part that won’t be as painful, so you won’t feel as bad during the session.

  • Your gender

According to this article, women feel pain more intensely than men. So, if you belong to the fairer sex, you may need to gather all your strength to withstand the pain! Of course, I’m sure plenty of women are stronger than men…

  • Your tattooing experience

Once you’ve had your first taste, you’re bound to get more. It’s rare to see people with just one tattoo who actually stick to a single-tattoo plan. More often than not, there’s two, three or more pieces of art on people’s skin! Many tattooed people return again and again to their favourite tattooists for more ink!

  • Your pain tolerance

Some people are just more resistant to pain. Whether they were born into it or they’ve somehow learned to overcome pain, those with higher tolerance can withstand tattoo pain better.

  • The location of your tattoo

As you’ve learned earlier, some body parts are more painful than others. Areas that are closer to bone and nerve endings are more sensitive to tattoo needles. So, if you’ve got low pain tolerance, make sure you choose the right “tattoo-friendly” spot!

  • The size of your tattoo

The bigger the tattoo, the more likely it is to be painful. You’ll be sitting for a much longer time under the needle, and you may need to take a breather every now and then. Don’t be afraid to let the tattooist know if you need a quick break to recharge for a bit.

  • The tattooist’s touch

Some tattoo artists are more heavy-handed than others, especially newer artists. As they gain more skill and experience, they’ll be able to adjust their touch and reduce the chances of tattoo blowouts from happening.

Related article: Tattoo Etiquette: The 12 Do’s and Don’ts of Getting a Tattoo

What tattoo pain feels like (according to real people)

Tattoo pain is all over the spectrum. Some say tattoo pain feels like getting stabbed over and over again. Others say it’s more like a teensy-weensy ant bite. Still, others say they didn’t feel anything at all. Here are real-life examples:

Oldhagonthewestcoast said the tattoo on the top of her foot was a little painful, but it didn’t last long. More like a stinging or getting-scratched sensation. User ‘Eaglebauer’ from the same forum said he almost fell asleep whilst getting his shoulder tattoo! 

According to Jerryatrophe, his hand tattoo felt like liquid fire especially on the ‘webbing’ between the thumb and index finger!

Rhodes said tattoos on his sternum, rib cage and nipples hurt the most. On the other hand, according to Meredith, tattoo pain was nothing compared to her ordeal giving birth! 

How to minimise tattoo pain: ways to reduce tattoo pain

Tattoo pain may be unavoidable for many, but it doesn’t mean you’re just going to sit helpless in the tattooist’s chair. Here are a few techniques you can try out to minimise and reduce tattoo pain:

  • Use a tattoo numbing cream

This cream is safe to use on tattoos and body piercings. With 5% lidocaine, this will numb your skin by blocking nerve signals in the body. So, if you’re thinking of getting inked on thin skin and/or bony area, then you definitely need to buy this product. People who’ve used this product say the cream worked so well they didn’t feel a thing during their tattooing session!

  • Choose an experienced artist

Inexperienced artists can be a bit heavy-handed. And this may add to the pain depending on the area being worked on and the tattoo size. Imagine someone putting considerably more pressure on your skin and that very same skin is getting punctured a few hundred times a minute! 

  • Hydrate and drink lots of water

Water is one of the keys to healthy, supple skin. Healthy skin makes the tattooist’s job far easier than working on dry skin. For best results, increase your water intake a few weeks before your appointment.

  • Moisturise your skin

In addition to drinking water, start (or continue) applying lotion on your skin. You’ll have a much smoother and less painful tattooing experience with supple skin!

  • Get enough sleep the night before

The lack of sleep is not going to do you any favours. You’ll be irritable and your mind may not be able to overcome the perception of pain. So, try to get a full night’s sleep before your appointment.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol at least 48 hours before session

Alcohol thins the blood, which means clotting will be slow. For tattooing, you need the clotting mechanism to work normally. Otherwise, it will affect your tattooist’s work (difficult to see through a pool of blood, you know).

  • Bring non-messy snacks to keep your blood sugar up

This advice is especially useful for longer tattoo sessions. Fruits and/or fruit juice is the ideal snack for multi-hour sessions.

  • Ask to take a break

When the pain becomes unbearable, don’t be afraid to tell the tattooist you need a break. In most cases, your tattooist will be aware of how much pain you’re in, but don’t wait for them to stop. Speak up (so you can unclench your abs and your bum) and take a break from the pain.  

Final thoughts

This article on tattoo pain chart is but a guide to the most – and least – painful spots to get tattooed on. But this is in no way a definitive guide. Again, some people are more receptive to pain and others not so much. Good for you if you can handle pain, but if not, the tips I’ve shared to minimise it should help you out.

To conclude, don’t let the pain scare you from getting a tattoo. The pain will pass, and you’ll be left with a beautiful work of art on your skin.  

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