Getting a tattoo is an unpleasant process because you have to go through some sensations and pain during the procedure.

However, the tattoo pain varies from person to person and the type and location of the tattoo.

Fatty and muscular areas (like the upper arm or thigh) are more likely to hurt less than bonny or sensitive areas like the rib cage and hips.

Let’s read on to know what a tattoo feels like and what sensations and pain you can expect during and after the session. We’ll also learn about tattoo pain levels on various body parts, how to make a tattoo hurt less, and when you should see a doctor for safe healing.

What Does a Tattoo Feel Like?

What Does a Tattoo Feel Like? Pain Level & Tips to Hurt Less
Image: Canva

The tattoo safety mostly depends on your artist. When choosing an artist, make sure that they use pure ink, which shouldn’t be diluted with low-quality ingredients or contaminated with bacteria.

It’s also wise to check that your artist should be certified and uses sterile equipment and high-quality industry-standard bandages. These things can play a huge role in your long-term safety and health.

After you visit a reputable tattoo artist and decide what and where you want to get the tattoo, here’re the general procedure for getting a tattoo:

  • Your tattoo artist will start by cleaning with rubbing alcohol or oil-based soap and shaving if any hair is present on the tattoo spot.
  • You should ensure that your tattoo artist thoroughly cleans your skin before tattooing. Any of these steps shouldn’t be painful.
  • Now, the artist will place a stencil onto your skin using water or moisture so you can see the preview and decide whether you like the art and placement. In this step, you might feel a little sensation (like an itchy or tickle), but it shouldn’t be painful.
  • And once you approve the placement and design of the stencil, the artist will begin the linework of your tattoo using the stencil as a guide. Many people report this step is painful, but your personal experience may vary.
  • Then depending on your art, your artist will start shading and coloring the tattoo. However, this step isn’t required for every tattoo. It’s a less painful step than drawing the outer line.
  • Once your tattoo is completed, the artist will layer ointment over it and bandage it.
  • Your artist will tell you the aftercare routine and what to expect during the healing process in the next few weeks.
  • This whole tattooing process may take as short as an hour or may need multiple visits to complete if the tattoo is large and extremely complex.

In the first couple of days after getting a tattoo, you may feel itchy, redness, scabby, and a bit like a sunburn. 

What Does Tattoo Pain Feel Like?

Getting a tattoo often hurts, but the pain level may vary from person to person, the ability to tolerate pain, the size and location of your tattoo, and your tattoo artist as well.

What does tattoo pain feel like?

A tattoo pain typically feels like someone continually scratching a hot needle across your skin or a cat constantly scratching — as a needle is inserted into your skin repeatedly during the procedure.

While others say it feels like bee stings or a pricking sensation as the artist will hold your skin tightly in place and needles pierce your skin.

Tattoo pain will usually be a bit intense initially, but after a few minutes, your adrenaline will start kicking in and help to minimize the pain.

However, suppose your tattoo is relatively large and complex. In that case, you may feel the pain become more intense toward the end of the session because the endorphin hormones (responsible for pain and stress) may begin to fade after some time.

What is the Most (and Least) Painful Place to Get a Tattoo?

Tattoo Pain Chart (For Male and Female)

Besides the tattoo’s size, the location of your tattoo is one of the main factors that influence how much pain you will feel. Let’s check out the most and least painful spots to get tattooed.

Most Painful

Generally, if you’re tattooing close to bony areas that don’t contain a good amount of fat and/or have a high level of nerve endings, you’ll feel more pain than the flashier areas.

You can expect the following spots as the most painful places to get a tattoo:

  • Rib cage
  • Armpit
  • Ankles and shins
  • Hips
  • Nipples and breasts
  • Hands, fingers, feet, and toes
  • Neck and spine
  • Back the knees
  • Inner elbows
  • Nipples and breasts
  • Head, face, and ears
  • Lips
  • Hands, fingers, feet, and toes
  • Stomach
  • Inner biceps

So, anywhere on your body that’s bony, sensitive, doesn’t contain a good amount of fat, and has a high level of nerve endings will hurt most to get tattooed.

Tattoos with a larger and more complex design tend to be more painful since they require much more needle piercing of your skin and a long session to execute.

Least Painful

Are you a starter? And want to get your first tattoo with a less painful spot?

Here’re the least painful places to get tattooed:

  • Outer thighs
  • Forearm
  • Outer bicep
  • Outer shoulders
  • Calves
  • Upper and lower back

Areas where the skin is a bit thicker, meaning there is a healthy amount of fat and muscle present below the skin, which can help you handle the pressure of the needle more efficiently, leading to less pain during the session.

These spots are good options for getting your first tattoo and testing your pain tolerance level. 

Other Factors That Can Influence Pain Level

Besides the location of your tattoo, some other factors can influence how much or type of pain you’ll experience when getting a tattoo, including:

Skin Sensitivity

People with sensitive skin are likely to hurt more when tattooing than normal people.

Type of Tattoo

A tattoo with multiple colors, heavy shading, and detailed design requires a lot more needling onto your skin and can be more painful.

Pain Tolerance

If you’ve done a tattoo before and want to get another one, you may feel less pain since you have built a higher pain threshold. (1)

Artist’s Skill

How much pain you get will also depend on how skilled and experienced your tattoo artist is. A professional artist knows when to be gentle, when to take breaks, and how to make the procedure less painful.

Stress and Anxiety

study on men found that people who suffer from stress and anxiety and get tattooing has less ability to modulate pain, leading to a more painful tattoo session than it would be with less stress.

You can take deep breaths during the process and ask your artist to take breaks when the pain becomes more intense or not tolerable. 

How to Reduce Tattoo Pain?

How to Reduce Tattoo Pain?

The night before or a few hours before the tattoo session is crucial to take care of your body (i.e., as you do before an exam or any competition) so your body can better cope with tattoo pain.

Here’re the thirteen tips to better deal with (and minimize) tattoo pain:

  1. Get enough sleep
  2. Drink lots of water
  3. Eat full breakfast
  4. Don’t drink alcohol
  5. Choose a licensed tattoo artist
  6. Schedule a morning session
  7. Wear loose clothes
  8. Pick a less sensitive body part
  9. Take deep breaths during the procedure
  10. Ask for breaks
  11. Diverse your mind with music, book, talking to friends or having snacks
  12. Ask your artist about skin-numbing cream
  13. If the pain is too intense, let your artist know.

After the tattoo is done, follow your artist’s aftercare instructions which help you reduce the risk of infection and promote healing.

Can You Use Numbing Cream Before Tattoo?

You shouldn’t use or rely on numbing creams if you’re getting your first tattoo. You should first experience what it feels like.

A numbing cream can (and should!) only be a backup plan.

However, some tattoo artists don’t like how it makes the skin feel, and they also think that pain is part of the process and that a client should tolerate it.

A numbing cream basically numbs the skin, gives a cooling sensation, and gets the nerves relaxed. You may still feel pressure, but the sting will be minimized.

It can be effective, especially if you’re tattooing on the flashier parts of the body. However, the sensations (like pressure and vibrations) will still present on the boney area as the needle prods around the bone.

If you have sensitive skin or tattooing in a sensitive part of the body, you can use a numbing cream 30-60 minutes before your tattoo session.

But before applying any creams, you should ask your artist to do that. Otherwise, your tattoo session might be cancelled or postponed.

Remember, you should use a fragrance-free healing ointment after getting the tattoo.

How does a Tattoo Feel after the Procedure?

After getting a new tattoo, it’s usually an open wound, and it’s normal for the tattoo to be red, inflamed, and painful after the session.

The redness, itching, and minor pain will still be noticeable for a few days, but nothing to worry about. These are typical signs of the tattoo healing process.

But if you experience the pain or itching continues to worsen day by day, your tattoo is highly likely to get infected. In this situation, you should consult a doctor right away.

Small tattoos usually don’t feel much and heal quicker than larger and more detailed ones.

After the session, you should ask your artist about product recommendations and aftercare routine, which generally includes cleaning the tattoo with mild soap and lukewarm water, maintaining airflow, and moisturizing regularly.

Make sure you shouldn’t swim or work out with a new tattoo for at least the first couple of weeks. 

When to See a Doctor

Although, feeling a burning sensation, itchiness, or pain is normal for a week or two after getting a tattoo.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, your tattoo might get infected, or it may be an allergic reaction to the tattoo ink.

  • The pain is worsening
  • Severe itchiness
  • Fever
  • Rash around the tattoo
  • Oozing or draining from the tattoo
  • Prolonged redness
  • Swelling and puffiness

If you experience any of these signs after a week or so, you should consult a doctor ASAP. 


You can’t bypass the pain while getting a tattoo. Still, the pain level will vary on several factors, including the location and type of tattoo, skin sensitivity, and pain tolerance.

Getting tattooed hurts, but it is totally worth it to deal with the temporary pain and discomfort for something that lasts forever.

And after tolerating such a painful session, properly taking care of your tattoo is essential to heal and make the art shine.

So… There we have it: what does a tattoo feel like.”

Now, I’m curious to know, are you able to overcome the fear of tattoo pain?

Or, if you’ve any questions about getting your first tattoo, let me know in the comment section below. I will definitely help you out!