A Comprehensive Guide on How to Minimize Tattoo Pain: A Journey from Apprehension to Artful Embodiment

There’s an age-old saying, “Beauty is pain.” But does it really have to be?

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you’re intrigued by the thought of getting a tattoo but are put off by the anticipated pain.

Well, friend, let me tell you, you’re in the right place.

This comprehensive guide to minimizing tattoo pain will not only explain the process but also arm you with effective strategies to manage and reduce any discomfort. It’s time to move past your fears and make your skin a canvas of your dreams.

Do Tattoos Hurt?

Let’s rip off the bandage straight away: Yes, tattoos do hurt.

However, the degree of pain varies greatly based on factors like the location of the tattoo, your individual pain threshold, and the tattoo artist’s technique.

But don’t let this deter you! There are myriad ways to manage and minimize the discomfort, which we’ll explore later in this article.

What Makes Tattoos Hurt?

Tattoo pain originates from the process of tattooing itself, which involves inserting ink into the skin’s dermal layer.

This is done using a tattoo machine that houses a set of needles, rapidly moving up and down to puncture the skin between 50 to 3,000 times per minute.

When the needle penetrates the skin, it causes a small wound that sends signals to the brain, leading to the perception of pain.

Moreover, the needles cause minor damage to the nerves in the skin, leading to further discomfort.

The level of pain experienced during a tattoo session can vary significantly based on several factors:

  1. Location of the Tattoo: Some body parts are more sensitive than others. Areas with thinner skin or closer to bones or nerve endings tend to be more painful.
  2. Tattoo Size and Complexity: Larger tattoos or those with a lot of shading or color might require longer sessions or more needlework, potentially increasing the pain.
  3. Individual Pain Threshold: Everyone has a unique tolerance to pain. Some people might find the process only mildly uncomfortable, while others may experience more intense discomfort.
  4. Artist’s Technique: The experience, skill, and technique of the tattoo artist can influence the level of pain. Skilled artists may cause less damage to the skin, reducing pain.
  5. Mental and Physical State: Your mental preparation and overall health and wellbeing at the time of getting a tattoo can also affect how much the process hurts. If you’re stressed, tired, or unwell, you may perceive more pain.

In general, getting a tattoo involves some level of discomfort or pain. However, many people find the end result – a beautiful piece of body art – to be worth the temporary discomfort.

What Does It Feel Like To Get A Tattoo?

Comparing getting a tattoo to other familiar sensations can help us understand the unique feeling. Imagine a cat’s claw gently scraping your skin, or the sensation of a thin needle drawing lines with swift, consistent pressure.

Not pleasant, but certainly not unbearable. The pain is often described as a hot, scratching feeling. You might be wondering why we willingly subject ourselves to this.

The answer is simple: the payoff of a beautiful, meaningful tattoo is worth every moment.

Less and More Painful Spots on Your Body to Get Tattooed

Choosing where to place your tattoo can play a significant role in your overall comfort. Some areas of the body have more padding, so to speak, which can reduce the sensation of the needle.

Body PartPain Level (On a Scale of 1-10)Additional Information
Skull/Head9Very sensitive due to proximity to the bone and nerve endings.
Face8Sensitivity varies, but areas near the eyes and lips can be particularly painful.
Neck9High concentration of nerves and proximity to the spine make this area sensitive.
Collarbone/Chest8The proximity to bone and heart can cause significant discomfort.
Ribs9Very sensitive due to lack of muscle/fat and close proximity to the bone.
Stomach7Can be quite painful, especially closer to the navel and sides.
Inner Arm/Armpit8High concentration of nerve endings makes these areas sensitive.
Forearm/Wrist6The outer forearm is typically less painful than the inner wrist area.
Hands/Fingers8Numerous nerve endings and thin skin can make these areas quite sensitive.
Back7The lower back can be quite sensitive, while the upper back is typically less so.
Hip8Close to the bone and sensitive skin, making it a painful spot for many.
Buttocks5More padding due to muscle and fat usually equates to less pain.
Thighs4One of the less painful areas due to more muscle and fat tissue.
Knees/Shins8Proximity to the bone with little fat or muscle padding can cause discomfort.
Calves5Less painful for most due to the muscle mass, but can vary.
Ankles/Feet9Thin skin and proximity to bone and nerves cause higher pain levels.

How Long Does The Pain Last?

Typically, the acute pain lasts only for the duration of the tattooing process. However, a mild discomfort may persist for a few days during the healing process.

It’s akin to a sunburn – tender to touch and slightly swollen.

Ways to Minimize the Tattoo Pain

How to Minimize Tattoo Pain

Let’s now move on to the meat of the matter: how to ease tattoo pain. Here are some tried and true strategies.

Talk to an Expert About Your Tattoo to Ease Your Mind

Often, the fear of the unknown can cause more anxiety than the process itself. If you’re feeling anxious about getting a tattoo, it’s an excellent idea to talk to an expert about it.

A professional tattoo artist or a friend who has already had a tattoo can give you insights into the process, what it feels like, the aftercare, and how to manage the pain.

They can also answer any questions you might have about the procedure, which can help to alleviate your worries.

Don’t Get a Tattoo When You’re Sick

Your body needs to be in optimal condition when you get a tattoo. If you’re sick, your immune system is already working hard to fight off whatever is ailing you.

Adding the stress of getting a tattoo can make you feel worse and can prolong the healing process of the tattoo. Additionally, feeling unwell can lower your pain threshold, making the tattooing process more uncomfortable.

Get Enough Sleep

A good night’s sleep can do wonders for your pain tolerance. When you’re well-rested, your body can better cope with the stress and discomfort of getting a tattoo.

Try to get a full 8 hours of sleep the night before your appointment. Avoid caffeine or anything else that might disrupt your sleep.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is essential for maintaining healthy skin. When your skin is hydrated, it’s more resilient and can handle the tattoo needle better. Plus, being well-hydrated can also help with the healing process of your tattoo.

So, make sure you’re drinking enough water in the days leading up to your appointment, and bring a bottle of water with you on the day.

Eat a Meal

Never head to a tattoo session on an empty stomach. Your body needs fuel to cope with the stress and pain of the process. When your blood sugar levels dip too low, there’s an increased risk of feeling faint or dizzy.

So, before you go for your appointment, ensure you’ve eaten a well-balanced meal. Choose foods that are high in protein and complex carbs to give your body sustained energy.

It’s also wise to bring a light snack and a glucose-rich drink with you, especially for longer sessions.

Remember, you want your body in the best possible condition to handle the tattooing process comfortably.

Stay Positive

A positive mindset can significantly impact your tattooing experience. Remember why you decided to get the tattoo in the first place, visualize the beautiful design that will soon be a part of you, and trust in your artist’s skills.

Fear and stress can heighten the perception of pain, so maintaining a positive and calm demeanor can make the process more comfortable.

Avoid Alcohol

While it might seem like a good idea to calm your nerves, alcohol can be a detriment when getting a tattoo.

It thins your blood, which can lead to excessive bleeding during the tattoo process. This not only makes the artist’s job more challenging but also affects the clarity of your tattoo.

Save the celebratory drinks for after the tattoo session!

Wear Loose Clothing

Loose clothing is recommended on the day of your tattoo session for a few reasons.

Firstly, it allows easy access to the body part getting tattooed.

Secondly, tight clothing might cause friction and discomfort on a fresh tattoo during the healing process.

So, ensure you wear something that won’t restrict or rub against your new piece of art.

Arrange for Someone to Come with You

The presence of a friend or loved one can be a comforting distraction during the tattooing process. Having someone to chat with, share your excitement or nerves, or simply hold your hand can make the experience less daunting.

However, ensure your companion respects the rules of the tattoo parlor and doesn’t interfere with the artist’s work.

Choose a Licensed Tattoo Artist

The skill and experience of your tattoo artist play a significant role in your tattooing experience. A licensed artist knows the right techniques to minimize pain and ensure a safe and hygienic process.

They can guide you through the process, adjust their techniques based on your comfort levels, and provide expert aftercare advice.

So, do your research, check out their previous work, and ensure they are licensed before making your decision.

Pick a Less Sensitive Body Part

If you’re particularly worried about the pain, consider getting your tattoo on a less sensitive part of your body.

Body parts that have more fat or muscle, like thighs, upper arms, or buttocks, tend to be less painful as they have more padding against the needle.

In contrast, areas directly over bones like the ribs, ankles, or collarbones can be more sensitive.

Learn Which Tattoos Hurt the Most

Larger, more intricate designs that require more time and shading can be more painful than smaller, simpler tattoos.

Similarly, certain techniques like dotwork or color packing can be more painful than others. So, it’s worth discussing your design with your artist beforehand and understanding the expected pain levels.

Listen to Your Artist

Your tattoo artist is the expert here. Listen to their advice on what to expect during the process and follow their aftercare instructions carefully.

If they suggest a slight modification in design or placement for a better and less painful result, it may be worth considering.

Control Your Breathing

Proper breathing techniques can significantly help manage pain. During the tattooing process, try to breathe deeply and rhythmically.

By focusing on your breath, you not only supply your body with calming oxygen, but you also give your mind something else to concentrate on besides the pain.

Distract Yourself

Distraction is a fantastic way to cope with tattoo pain. Listening to music, watching videos, reading, or engaging in conversation can help you take your mind off the process.

Bring headphones or a book to your session, or chat with your artist or a friend who’s come along for support.

Squeeze or Chew Something to Relieve Pain

Much like a stress ball during a tense situation, having something to squeeze can help deal with discomfort during your tattoo session.

Alternatively, chewing gum or keeping a snack handy could also help distract you from the pain.

Consider Numbing Treatments

Topical numbing creams are available and can be applied before the tattooing process begins. However, it’s crucial to discuss this with your tattoo artist before using them.

They can guide you on safe products and how to use them properly without affecting the quality of your tattoo.

Move as Little as Possible

Unintentional movement can cause the needle to puncture deeper than intended, causing unnecessary pain and possible mistakes in the design.

Try to keep as still as possible during your session. If you need to move or adjust, let your tattoo artist know so they can pause.

Take Breaks if Needed

While you might be eager to get it all over with, it’s perfectly acceptable to take short breaks if needed. Tattooing isn’t a race, and it’s important to make the process as comfortable for you as possible.

A brief respite can give your body a moment to adjust to the sensation.

Communicate with Your Artist

Never hesitate to communicate with your artist about your pain tolerance. If you’re feeling unwell or the pain is more than you anticipated, let them know.

They can adjust their techniques or offer a short break. Open communication with your artist can greatly enhance your tattooing experience.

And there we have it! A comprehensive list of ways to minimize tattoo pain.


Can I use a numbing cream before getting a tattoo?

Yes, you can use a numbing cream, but always consult with your artist beforehand. Some artists might not approve of its use due to potential effects on skin elasticity.

What should I do if the pain is unbearable?

Communicate with your tattoo artist. They might be able to adjust their technique or give you a break.

How long will my skin be sore after getting a tattoo?

Typically, you can expect mild soreness and redness for one to two weeks.

Can I take painkillers before getting a tattoo?

Over-the-counter pain relievers can thin your blood, leading to more bleeding during the tattoo process. It’s advisable to avoid them unless recommended by your artist.

Does a color tattoo hurt more than a black and grey one?

Color tattoos can sometimes cause more discomfort as they often require more passes with the needle to get a vibrant result.


Embarking on your tattoo journey can be as exciting as it is nerve-wracking. But remember, the pain is temporary, while the art is permanent.

With the right preparation, mindset, and care, the process can be a memorable part of your self-expression journey.

Now that you’re armed with these strategies to minimize tattoo pain, hopefully, the path to your dream tattoo seems a little less daunting. After all, the story etched on your skin awaits you. Don’t let the fear of pain keep you from narrating it.

About the author

I’m S.R Bhuiyan, a proud Tattoo artist. I will share the body art journey with you here in PrettyJust. I have 10+ years of experience in the field of tattoo, piercing, nail art, and skincare. Check out my bio which has my tattoo studio/cat/travel pics!

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