The number one question so many people with tattoos get is: “Did it hurt?” It’s easy to roll your eyes at this question, because of course getting tattooed isn’t a comfortable Sunday brunch – a needle repeatedly stabbing you is involved.
However, the question is actually a valid one. Because, tattoo pain factors in many things, not just the needle. Where you get your tattoo will have a big impact on the experience.
And, if you’re thinking about getting inked, you should know what you’re getting yourself into so that you can be prepared.
A little preparation and knowledge can be the difference between a semi-comfortable experience that results in a tattoo you love, and a painful prolonged experience in which you count down the seconds and a tattoo you regret.
One of the first steps to ensure a positive inking experience and a tattoo you love for years to come is to decide on the correct placement for you.
Yes, design is obviously important, but so is placement.
Why Is Tattoo Placement Important?
Where you get your tattoo will impact your aftercare regime, your ability to hide your ink, and how your tattoo will age in the years to come.
Placement And Aftercare
Aftercare is one of the most important things to pay attention to after getting a tattoo. If you look after your new ink badly during the healing process, you could get an infection and your tattoo can distort.
Anywhere the skin bends and moves consistently will make tattoo aftercare a bit of a nightmare. The moving of the skin can cause ink displacement, and lengthen the time it takes for the tattoo to heal completely. This doesn’t end when the tattoo heals, though, as Bustle explains,
“This movement can also cause a tattoo to warp once it’s fully healed, due to the stretching of the skin. Crease lines to avoid, if this is something you’re worried about, include your wrists, armpits, and other joints, such as your knees or elbows.”
In order for a tattoo to heal, you need to let it breathe. This is difficult to do if your new tattoo has to be covered most of the time.
For example, you may have to wear socks and closed shoes from Monday to Friday because of your job. This is going to have an impact on the healing quality and time of a foot tattoo.
Placement And Hiding Your Tattoo
The world is a lot more accepting when it comes to body art than it was a few decades ago. Now, many corporate organizations don’t bat an eye if an employee has a visible tattoo.
But, there are still some companies that require a level of professionalism that doesn’t include tattoos. Not only that, but some parents and family members might have a negative opinion about tattoos, so you may want to avoid any trouble by just not putting your ink on display.
If you’re in this kind of situation, you need to give your tattoo placement of choice some serious consideration.
You can cover up your tattoo simply with clothing, or makeup. If you’re determined to get a wrist tattoo, for example, you’ll need to invest in good quality cover makeup because sleeves ride up and you may want to wear short sleeves sometimes.
Placement And Tattoo Longevity
The placement you choose will have a big impact on how your tattoo looks in five, 10, and 20 years.
“Bodies can change with time and you have to remember that means your tattoo will also. Changes like weight loss or gain and pregnancy can distort that once geometric design,”Gate City Tattoo
One of the biggest causes of tattoo distortion and fading is the sun’s rays. UVA and UVB rays break down the ink particles in your skin, causing your body to get rid of the pigment faster than if your tattoo was covered.
So, if you’re someone who is in the sun a lot and your tattoo is on your forearm that’s always uncovered, your tattoo will lose its crispness much quicker than if your tattoo was placed on a part of your body that was covered.
Rubbing against clothing and other body parts is also something that fades a tattoo fast. Leo Palomino explained to Bustle,
“Any area of the body that commonly rubs against other body parts (in between fingers, thighs, armpits, and [the] inner biceps) will generally be likely to fade quicker. Similarly, areas where the tattoo is exposed to constant rubbing will possibly fade more quickly, such as […] the waistband of your pants, bras, and belts or other areas where your clothing fits tightly and rubs against your skin.”
Then, tattoo placement is also important because of pain.
What Causes Tattoo Pain?
The process of getting a tattoo involves a tiny needle being injected into the dermis layer of the skin in order to deposit ink. This is essentially receiving a wound, so burning and stinging sensations are common.
“Applying tattoo ink into the dermis layer damages the skin and causes blood clots to form, which creates bruising,”Medical News Today
The tattoo needle can also touch nerve endings which causes pain and feelings of discomfort.
These are millions of points located on the surface of the body and inside it; their job is to send messages to the brain when you feel sensations such as heat, cold, and pain. Nerve endings are more concentrated in some areas of the body than others.
The Most Painful Spots To Get Tattooed
These tend to be areas that don’t have a lot of fresh covering the bone, and areas with a lot of nerve endings.
The rib cage is one of the most painful places to get a tattoo because the skin here is extremely thin, and there is less fat here compared to other places of the body. Healthline adds,
“…every time you breathe, you move your rib cage and the skin above it, which can make the feeling of being tattooed here much more intense.”
A similar level of pain is experienced when getting tattooed on the shin and ankle, as both of these areas, too, have thin skin close to the bone. The feet also have very little muscle and fat on them, and the nerves are exposed. So, if you’re set on a foot tattoo, you may feel the needle right down to the bone.
Areas that are extremely sensitive with many nerve endings include the breasts, nipples, groin, fingers and hands, and behind the knees (ditch tattoos). In the breast area is the sternum, another boney area – the vibrations caused by going over the bone can be on the upper end of the pain spectrum.
Another area on the upper end of the pain spectrum is the spine.
“A lot of people who tattoo their spine will experience extreme pain, due to sharp nerve endings and how close the spine is to the skin…A good way to avoid this pain is to get your back tattooed on either side of the spine,”Saved Tattoo
Head tattoos, including tiny tattoos behind the ear, can be a jarring experience. Because it’s close to the skull and close to the ear, it can feel like a drill to the brain.
The Least Painful Spots To Get Tattooed
Areas that have more padding with fat and with skin not too close to the bone and with fewer nerve endings tend to be less painful to get tattooed.
Did you know that you can get tattooed on your fingernails? This is a temporary tattoo, though, as the ink is only applied to the keratin of the nail. Your tattoo will grow out with your fingernail, so fingernail tattoos can be a great opportunity to try things out before skin tattoos.
Surprisingly (since this area can be boney) the shoulders don’t tend to be too painful to tattoo. Tattoo.com explains,
“Those who have sat through a shoulder tattoo often describe them as an uncomfortable sensation of dull, background pain. This is due to the shoulders having a lesser amount of nerve endings compared to other parts of the body, meaning the session should be a breeze for the majority of ink enthusiasts.”
If you’re thinking about a shin tattoo but are worried about the pain, why don’t you move the design to the other side? Calf tattoos are on the lower end of the pain spectrum, as this area has fewer nerve endings and more cushioning.
Moving up the leg, the outer thigh and glutes are great places for a tattoo as these areas tend to have a lot more fat and muscle compared to other parts of the body.
While the spine is a painful area to get a tattoo, the upper back is way less painful.
“The upper back is the perfect canvas for a large tattoo because it’s not nearly as sensitive as the rest of the body. As long as you avoid the spine, an upper back tattoo will go smoothly,”Iron Ink Tattoo
Want a wrist tattoo, but worried about the pain? Move it up to the forearm – this is a great spot for a first time tattooee. The skin of the forearm is quite thick and doesn’t have many nerve endings.
How To Make Getting A Tattoo Less Painful
No matter where you decide to get tattooed, follow these tips to make the experience more comfortable for you and your tattoo artist:
Don’t Drink Alcohol Or Over Consume Caffeine Leading Up To Your Appointment
You may think a sneaky drink or two the night before or a few hours prior to your tattoo session will help you relax. Not the case.
Alcohol thins your blood, so during your appointment you’ll bleed more profusely. This will make things a lot more difficult for your artist and can lead to a lengthier appointment.
You may also want to decline that third cup of coffee.
“Don’t drink a bunch of caffeine or energy drinks before coming in. It will thin your blood and make you less likely to sit still,”Watermelon Tattoo
Replace your wine at dinner and your multiple cups of coffee with water. Hydration is key for life, but especially leading up to getting a tattoo. Hydrated skin is the best tattoo canvas.
Distract Yourself During Your Appointment
Bring headphones to your appointment and instead of being hyper aware of the tattoo needle, focus on a podcast or be distracted by music.
“In the end, you’ll have a much better tattoo if you can remain still and at ease during the process,”Byrdie
You could also bring a friend for moral support. However, don’t make your tattoo session an open invitation – too many people can be a distraction for your tattoo artist, and while you don’t want to focus on the needle, they do.
Sleep And Eat
A good night’s rest and a nutrient dense meal are essential for a positive tattoo experience. If you’re over tired and/or hungry during your appointment, you’re more likely to feel the pain of the tattoo machine more acutely.
Remember, your body is going through trauma when it’s getting tattooed, so it’s more able to handle the experience well if it’s rested and well fed. Getting a tattoo on an empty stomach can also cause nausea – not something you or your tattoo artist wants.
“…before you visit the tattoo studio, cook a meal that’s protein-rich with plenty of eggs, fish or red meat. Protein helps with recovery, so it’s a great way to prepare for the procedure ahead,”Celebrity Ink
Also, bring a snack to your appointment, especially if it’s going to be lengthy. Keep any hunger pangs at bay with nuts and fruit, and, of course, bring a bottle of water, too.
Tattoo pain is just one aspect of getting a tattoo, and it shouldn’t stop you from getting the tattoo you’ve been dreaming about. Do your research, find a tattoo artist you love, and prepare yourself to ensure a positive tattoo experience.