The bad news: all tattoos hurt! The good news: some placements are less painful than others.
Are you looking to book your first tattoo or add a new one to your collection? The questions you’re sure to be asking are: how painful is a tattoo? And will the place I’ve chosen to get tattooed make it more or less painful?
Firstly, tattoos hurt. Most heavily tattooed people (myself included) aren’t 100% sure why we keep getting tattoos when they can hurt so much. If your friend, mum, brother (whoever) who has said tattoos aren’t painful, they’re lying - sorry!
A tattoo needle penetrates five layers of your skin so, yeah, it’s going to hurt. But some places, you’ll be glad to know, are less painful than others. Read on to find out where these are.
Where is the least painful place to get a tattoo?
The general rule around the least painful places to get a tattoo is a part of the body where the skin is thicker, there are less nerve endings and you have fat under the skin. This makes sense considering the opposite - the most painful places to get tattooed, tend to be boney areas with thin skin or a lot of nerve endings. So places like your feet, ribs and spine.
I asked my tattooed pals and the Stories & Ink team where the least painful place to get a tattoo was and our list includes:
- Forearms (this is the number 1 least painful spot)
- Outside of upper arms
- Outside of shoulders
- Outside upper thigh
- Lower back
If you’re getting your first tattoo, you may want to choose one of these spots to ease yourself into the tattoo experience. However, pain is totally subjective and some people said their shins, scalp, fingers and chest weren’t very painful! But forearms were voted the number 1 least painful spot.
Forearms are considered the least painful place to get a tattoo among the S&I team. Tattoos on @barbaradzerve.
If you’re unsure if the place you’re getting tattooed will be painful, Stories & Ink’s Creative Director Mikkel Elkjaer shares this trick.
"I always pinch myself where I'm getting tattooed, in that way I have an idea how painful it's gonna be," he says.
Outside of the upper arms are also considered one of the least painful places to get a tattoo.
What influences tattoo pain?
Everyone’s pain threshold is different and the pain you experience when getting a tattoo can depend on a number of things, including your age, your biological sex, tattoo technique, the time being tattooed, your tattooer and your own expectations.
Some studies suggest that pain sensitivity decreases as you age. So potentially older people feel less pain when getting tattooed. Speaking to my tattooed friends I’ve not found this to be the case.
A lot of us find it harder to sit for tattoos and longer tattoo sessions, but everyone is different. If you’ve got a tattooed grandparent ask them how painful sitting for a tattoo is and let us know!
Your biological sex
There is some evidence to suggest that people who are biologically female "experience greater pain intensity, lower thresholds, and lower tolerance to experimentally induced pain." But studies are limited and the whole area needs a lot more research before we can say for sure that biological women feel more pain.
Menstruating people may find that their periods can affect their pain tolerance as changing hormones during your cycle can change how you perceive pain.
The tattoo technique
The tattoo style you choose can also affect how painful a tattoo is perceived to be. If you choose a traditional bold lined colour tattoo you might find this more painful than a fineline piece. Hand poke tattoos are anecdotally known to be gentler, I personally find them less painful and relaxing but others find them to be more painful than a tattoo machine.
Time being tattooed
Small tattoos tend to be a lot less painful than larger pieces mainly because they take less time. The longer your tattoo session the more trauma and irritation your skin experiences. You may also find that the position you’re sitting or lying in becomes uncomfortable after a while, which can also affect how painful your tattoo feels.
You won’t always know what kind of tattooer you’ve got until you sit down to have your tattoo. Unless you know someone who has been tattooed by them before! Some tattooers can be "heavy handed" or they seem to dry wipe your tattoo over and over again.
How painful you think the tattoo session will be may change how painful you find it. Writer and tattoo collector Alice Snape (@alicecsnape) shared her experience:
"I didn't hate [getting] my bum [tattooed]. I'd heard it was the most painful place ever, so maybe I was just pleasantly surprised it didn't live up to those expectations."
If you go into a tattoo session thinking it’s going to be really painful it probably is or if someone has told you how painful an area is and you’re prepared for that you may find it less painful. But again it’s all subjective.
How you’re feeling on the day
If you’ve not eaten, rushed to get to your appointment and feel generally stressed you can expect your tattoo to feel more intense, and perhaps more painful.
Artist and tattoo collector Hannah Kay (@ohkay_dohkay), agrees.
"If I haven't had enough sleep or I can't manage a good breakfast before a tattoo I can definitely feel the difference in my pain tolerance. I often feel worse that evening too," she says. "If I’m feeling woozy I'll ask to stop and have a drink and snack on hand to help me power through."
Tattooing over scars or stretch marks
The level of pain you experience when tattooing over scars depends on the depth and size of your scar. Your tattoo artist will be able to advise you on the type of tattoo you can have on your scar and the pain you might feel. As with scars, skin with stretch marks can be more sensitive, so you might find these areas hurt a little more.
Cover up tattoos are tattooed over old tattoos, to change the design or cover what was there. In some cases the skin may be scarred which can mean a cover up is more painful. However, everyone is different and you might find tattooing over an old tattoo hurts the same as a new tattoo would.
Outside of the thigh is one of the least painful places to get a tattoo. Tattoo design by @mas_tattoos_
Least painful place to get a tattoo for a woman
The least painful places for a woman to get a tattoo are areas with less nerve endings and thicker skin like the outside of your shoulders or the outside of your upper thighs.
Least painful place to get a tattoo for a man
The least painful place for a man to get a tattoo is on the arm, mainly the forearm or outside of your upper arms. Which is ideal if you’re thinking of getting a half sleeve or even a full sleeve.
How to look after your new tattoo
Before you’ve been tattooed we recommend our Daily Moisturiser. It’ll help prepare your skin for a new tattoo with hydrating and nourishing ingredients. Just don’t use it on the day of your appointment as it can stop the stencil from sticking.
Stories & Ink's Daily Moisturiser
For more info, read our preparation guide to find out how you can prepare for a new tattoo, and hopefully have the least painful experience possible.