Pain scale and threshold
Do tattoos hurt? Yes, to a degree, but how much getting a tattoo actually hurts depends on the individual person and the location of the tattoo, the duration of the session and the complexity to your design, there are many factors to answer this question.
At the end of the day, your skin is getting stabbed with between 1 and 20 needles at once, hundreds if not thousands of times in a single session, with That being said, not all tattoos hurt equally for each person, each session, tattoo, durations ect, everybody is different and have a differing tolerance, what one person may call pain, somebody else may say its therapeutic.
One of the most commonly described types of pain you experience while being tattooed is as the tattoo gun moves across your skin, the sensations is described as intense scratching. To start with, this feeling isn’t too bad, but as time goes on it can get somewhat tedious if the same area is being worked on over long periods of time.
Multiple needles tend to feel a bit more intense than a single needle, so you’re likely to feel this type of pain more so if your artist is shading your tattoo rather than doing the initial outline work.
Sharp and Stinging Pain.
Usually during the outlining process of your tattoo and the adding of very fine detail it creates a pain and sensation as thought the needle is penetrating deep into your skin, causing it to feel like it’s a sharp and intense feeling. This type of pain can be more common on areas covered with thinner and tighter skin, such as your wrists and inner biceps.
Any type of stinging pain isn’t pleasant and you will probably have the urge that makes you want to move or twitch your body away from the needle, or to mutter to yourself, a bit of swearing, or maybe even laughter, but unfortunately this is all part of being tattooed, and the motto we always use is “no pain, no gain”,
One thought that will encourage you is that if you just fight through the pain you’ll soon have a tattoo to show off by the end of your session.
Burning pain can be a mix between the two types of pain, once again it can be defined as a scratched type of pain where as the other can be described as more of a stinging pain.
These two sensations are more common on areas that are being repeatedly worked on by the tattoo gun mainly in the colouring and shading and also on the areas with a bit more fat beneath the skin.
This characteristic of pain isn’t so much that it feels intense but more so as it is annoying and irritating sensations that you will feel, but like the scratching pain, it can start to ease off mentally after a little while as you get use to the feeling and the area being tattooed becomes a bit more numb.
A strange feeling to experience when you are getting tattooed is that you may feel this type of pain when you’re being tattooed anywhere that is closer to the bone such as places like the outer wrist, outer elbows, ribs and ankles.
With the needles of the gun that comes into closer contact with your bones, they may hit against the area many times at very high speeds, and this can cause quite an intensified vibration feeling, unfortunately this is inevitable as the needles has to penetrate the skin to a certain depth, there is no real way around preventing this from happening.
This feeling of pain isn’t normally considered excruciating in most cases, but it’s not a pleasant feeling. The less muscle or fat you have over a bony area of your body, the more likely you are to experience this kind of pain, but this all dependant on the location you choose for your tattoo.
Dull/Background Pain (The Best Pain!)
When the needle makes its first few passes over your skin at the start of your tattooing session, the pain is probably going to feel quite intense in them few minutes, and if it’s your first time getting tattooed you’ll probably be asking yourself if you made the right decision, and how long can you tolerate this for, I’m sure this is something everyone has asked themselves while getting their first tattoo, and probably every other tattoo after.
The good news is don’t worry too much about this, after a few minutes of being tattooed your adrenalin will begin to kick in and the pain will begin to reduce and will start to feel like a dull background pain. This is your body’s way of dealing with the current trauma. This is the sensation that people like to feel, that’s why they come back for more.
You may drift in and out of this ‘dull pain’ stage throughout your session, you will likely experience it more if you can’t occupied your mind and time with something else to distract yourself from thinking about the sensations you are feeling such as talking to your artist or watching a TV, music, a book, Smartphone ect.
Now and again you may snap back to reality and you’ll have to put up with pain again for a while but you’ll soon be distracted again and the pain will hopefully fall back into the background once again.
The longer your sitting goes on for, the more likely it is that your body will start to resist your tolerance towards the pain. You’re naturally going to be struggling with the pain more towards the end of your session compared to the beginning of your session.
If you have concerns the longer you’re being tattooed then speak to your artist, he may have suggestions to help you through the final stages.
As time goes on your adrenaline levels are going to start reducing, and you are also going to be battling the feelings of bruising and swelling, among other things, this is where you just have to try to dig deep and fight through the pain barrier, it is achievable, and it’s a bit like mind over matter.
Keep in mind that when pain starts to heighten and becomes unbearable it does vary from person to person, your friend might only take a 1 hour of pain and have to stop, where as your threshold could well be over 4/5 hours.
Don’t think about the pain too much leading up to your appointment, you don’t want to step into the artist’s chair already mentally defeated and on the verge of giving up before you even get started. At the end of the day in your artists eyes it’s all about you, if you want or need a little break just say so and they will respect your request.
Ask your artist if you can go outside to get some fresh air for a few minutes, have a smoke break if you need to, and think about whether you’d like to continue for the rest of the session. Don’t give up straight away, don’t talk yourself out of it, Normally a few minutes away from the chair is enough for you to settle down and mentally prepare yourself for round two.
What Factors Can Affect Tattoo Pain?
There are many various factors that can affect how much or how little a tattoo is likely to hurt during your session.
The placement of your tattoo is the next most important decision to make after the design. Tattoo pain can determined significantly between the different places on the body that you choose, if your aiming for fully body tattoos you may not really have much choice where you have your tattoo, its more the case of where is available.
Fatty, fleshy areas are the better areas and are most likely the least painful where as areas with very thin layers of skin and not much fat are generally going to be more painful, especially around bony places of the body
However everybody is different and while one person may have been in agony while getting a tattoo done on one specific area somebody else may have found the same area experiencing just a dull tingle of pain
There are many different types and styles of tattoos, and different techniques are used by your artist, For example, a portrait tattoo or a bigger piece of work will naturally contain lots of different areas of shading, this means that the artist will be using different types of needles in the gun compared to the needle used for doing outlining work.
Outline work will probably cause a different feeling and sensation when it’s compared to shading work like on portrait work. Outlining will require the artist to use fewer needles meaning that the pain will feel different.
Everyone has their own personal pain threshold levels. While one person might be able to tolerate being in the tattoo chair for several hours another person may only be able to tolerate a maximum of one hour before reaching their threshold limit.
Try a Skin Numbing Cream.
This doesn’t work for everyone, numbing cream could definitely help keep some of the pain away. There are many numbing creams available that are safe to use on your skin.
You can check with your artist for which ones can definitely be used specifically on tattoos. There are various numbing cream products available that have been created for generalized usage, and some of these creams can affect your skin or blood in certain ways that could cause a detrimental outcome to your tattoo.
Side effects such as tightening and the loosening of the skin and thickening or thinning of the blood can definitely cause your tattoo to turn out less than desired, and it is recommended that you check the packaging and instructions of each numbing cream you think about using to ensure that the product is tattoo safe and compatible for your needs.
Your artist will help you in choosing the right one for you.
Mental State of Mind
It’s extremely surprising how powerful the human mind can be.
The term ‘mind over matter’ really does relate well to the experience of being tattooed.
If you go to your appointment thinking that the pain is going to be unbearable and that you’ll probably have to quit halfway though you session, then you probably will quit because you’ve already conceded defeat in your mind.
if you enter the studio with a can do attitude and tell yourself that you can do this and convince yourself that there won’t be anything to worry about or be concerned about then you will probably persevere and get through it, because mentally you are prepared for the pain.
We’ve already spoke about distraction techniques in other sections of this website to help you through.