Regardless of whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth time, one of the most common discussions surrounding getting tattooed is about determining where on your body is the most painful place to get tattooed. Those who have never been tattooed ask in the hopes of being reassured that their first time will be a survivable experience. Those who have been tattooed offer their insights on the places that hurt most (to them). But really, these discussions about the most painful place to get tattooed are just hearsay. So how do you know what’s really going to hurt and what will be tolerable?
Myths About Tattoo Pain
Ribs are the worst. Don’t get the tops of your feet done. The inside of your wrist is the most painful. If you were to ask a handful of people with tattoos where the most painful place to get tattooed is, you’ll likely get some of these answers and you’ll very likely get a few different answers if you ask around. So how can you know which spot on your body is going to hurt the most?
You don’t. Everyone has a different tolerance for pain. What someone else experiences is likely to be different from what you’ll experience. The general rule, though, is that tattoos hurt. What you’re concerned about is how badly being tattooed in a certain spot on your body will hurt compared to other spots.
It doesn’t help that there’s no shortage of information out there about how to avoid tattoo pain. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, some if it can even be dangerous. The trouble is, a lot of this advice is mixed, like this article about dealing with tattoo pain from wiki answers. Some of the advice is solid, some of it isn’t. For most people, it’s hard to tell what’s good and what’s bad. The best advice is that if you’re afraid of the pain, don’t get tattooed. If you’re just curious about what place on your body will hurt the most if you get it tattooed… then just do it and find out. Everyone’s experience will be different, so relying on someone else to say “this spot is good, that spot is bad” isn’t a great way to gather information.
Where Getting a Tattoo Hurts Most
If you’re trying to avoid pain, maybe getting a tattoo isn’t for you. If you’re just trying to manage your expectation of how bad a writst tattoo hurts, then we can help you out. As a general rule, areas that are more frequently exposed to the sun (tops of shoulders, outer arms) are going to hurt a little less than places that don’t get much sunlight (inside of arms, inner thighs, back of legs, etc.). It doesn’t have much to do with sunlight though, it’s really about the general placement of nerves in your body– so don’t think that because you like to tan naked you’re good to go.
Another thing to think about is your skin. That sounds like a really obvious statement to make, but hear me out. Getting tattooed in an area where your bones are closer to the surface of your skin (your foot, ankle, knee, ribs, whatever) could be more unpleasant than a meatier part of the body. It doesn’t necessarily hurt more, but many people don’t like the “tapping” feeling of being tattooed over bone. Also, places where the skin is taut (like your outer arms, forearms, tops of legs) tend to have a more agreeable sensation than areas where the skin is softer (like fatty areas). Again, it doesn’t hurt more or less, but the sensation is different. Places where these things overlap, like the inside of your wrist, the ditch (inside elbow) of your arm, etc. are examples of places typically dubbed “The worst place to get tattooed”. So by contrast, an area that is on the “outside” (outside of arms, tops of legs, etc.), with taut skin and not near any bones would be the best place to get a tattoo if you’re trying to minimize pain or irritation.
Of course, if you turn to actual scientific research instead of hearsay, you’ll get an answer that likely won’t make a difference to 90% of you getting a tattoo. According to research done by the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, the most pain sensitive parts of your body are your forehead and fingertips. If you’re not into reading a bunch of scientific jargon, you can get the abridged version from The Guardian’s article on the research. While tattoos are becoming generally more acceptable, most of you aren’t too likely to run out and get a face tattoo. In case you were, though, the research shows this is actually the most painful place to get tattooed.
Getting a Tattoo is Supposed to Hurt
Saying that one spot is more painful to have tattooed than another is just a really convenient way to brag about how tough you are to someone who hasn’t been through the same or similar process. That is to say that what you hear when you ask about the most painful places to get tattooed are often exaggerations. Maybe not huge exaggerations, but exaggerations nonetheless. Isn’t the pain a significant part of the thrill or pleasure of getting a tattoo?
Dealing with Tattoo Pain
Taking anything before getting tattooed is a bad idea. Most painkillers also increase bleeding and increased bleeding can affect how your tattoo heals. Drinking or taking illicit substances is also a terrible idea and any respectable tattoo shop isn’t going to let someone in an altered state get a tattoo. If the thought of tattoo pain really worries you, if you’re afraid you won’t be able to stand it, then rest easy. Many tattoo shops keep a bottle of benzocaine, a topical anesthetic or numbing agent, around. It’s not intended to be used for your whole tattoo, but if a part of your tattoo touches on an especially sensitive area (maybe part of it touches the inside of your wrist and that’s an especially pain-sensitive area on you), this can be an option to get you through this part of your tattoo.
For people who haven’t been tattooed or haven’t gotten a large tattoo, the severity of the pain may not be as much of a concern as the duration of the pain. A long tattoo appointment might be more intimidating than a piece that takes 30 minutes or even an hour. Know that longer sessions typically include breaks and good tattoo artists will stop any time you need a break. Also know that showing up properly rested, hydrated, and fed will help your body cope with the pain.
Do Color or Solid Black Tattoos Hurt the Most?
Since we’re talking about tattoo pain, I figured this is a pretty relevant discussion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this question. It’s nonsensical. There’s no difference in the pain caused by color versus black ink. What does matter is the design of your tattoo and whether the artist is doing line work, dotwork (stippling), or whether they are filling in (or coloring in) solid sections of the tattoo. Line and dotwork are pretty tolerable as far as tattooing goes. The artist is using fewer needles and typically goes over an area once or twice, creating minimal irritation to the skin where the tattoo is being applied.
Filling a solid area hurts worse because the artist is using a lot more needles at a time. The motion associated with this technique has a tendency to irritate the skin and it usually requires several passes to completely fill in an area. This means your skin is getting more and more irritated. The longer it goes on, the more it will hurt. So if you’re someone who wants a tattoo, but wants to avoid pain as much as possible, stick with simple designs that aren’t heavy on color or shading. Combine this info with our earlier discussion and I’m sure you can figure out where on your body will be the most painful place to get tattooed.