Last Updated on September, 18th 2020
The harsh reality is that getting a tattoo is painful. One of the primary concerns that new clients have is how much the process is going to hurt; even people with multiple tattoos sometimes worry about pain before getting new ink.
Getting a tattoo is essentially a continuous wounding of the skin and can be stressful for your body. Luckily, during the initial hour, your body will also produce adrenaline and endorphins to help you cope with the pain; some people find this part of the process enjoyable. However, these hormones wear off quickly, and you still must find a way to manage the pain for the rest of the session.
To reduce tattoo pain, follow these tips before and during your appointment:
- Choose a licensed tattoo artist. Experienced artists usually take less time to finish tattoos. Before your appointment, meet the artist to get a feel for their personality and the shop’s hygiene.
- Pick a less sensitive body part. Talk to your artist about placement. (See the table above.)
- Get enough sleep. Your body can handle pain better after a good night’s rest.
- Avoid pain relievers. Don’t take aspirin or ibuprofen for 24 hours before your session. These medications can thin your blood, which may prolong the tattooing process.
- Don’t get a tattoo when you’re sick. Sickness heightens your sensitivity to pain. If your immune system is struggling, your tattoo will take longer to heal.
- Stay hydrated. Getting tattooed on dry skin hurts. Before your session, keep your skin hydrated by drinking enough water.
- Eat a meal. Low blood sugar increases pain sensitivity. Eat beforehand to prevent dizziness from nerves or hunger.
- Avoid alcohol. Don’t drink alcohol for at least 24 hours before your appointment. Alcohol heightens pain sensitivity, dehydrates your body, and thins your blood.
- Wear loose clothing. Dress in comfortable clothes, especially over the area you’re getting tattooed.
- Breathe deeply. Stay relaxed by practicing steady breathing.
- Distract yourself. Bring your headphones and listen to music. If your artist is open to conversation, or if you’re allowed to bring a friend, talk to them to distract yourself.
- Ask about skin-numbing cream. Your artist can recommend a numbing cream for getting tattooed.
- Communicate with your artist. If the pain is too much, let your artist know. A good artist will let you take breaks.
What Not to Do
While it may be tempting to use alcohol to numb the pain of getting a tattoo, most reputable artists will turn away anybody who looks even remotely drunk. The main reason for this is that alcohol thins the blood, causing excessive bleeding that interferes with the artist’s work. Thin blood also hinders the skin’s ability to accept tattoo ink. The thinner your blood, the more times an artist will have to go over the same area to get good color coverage.
The same principle applies to over-the-counter pain-killers such as aspirin, paracetamol (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol). These drugs will all thin your blood, extend the time of your session and increase the pain of getting your tattoo.
Avoid getting a tattoo when you’re stressed out. A tattoo is already a stressful procedure and being keyed up beforehand is a sure way to make it hurt more. If your body is already producing stress hormones, you’ll be more sensitized to pain, and the process will feel excruciating. Only allow an artist to start a session when you’re feeling relaxed and calm. If it’s your first time, let the artist know so that they can also try to put you at ease.for another
Choose the Right Area
Traditionally, certain areas of the body are more sensitive to pain than others. Areas where the skin is close to the bone, such as the ribs, shoulders, feet, neck, and face, are considered some of the most painful places to get a tattoo since the needle will feel like it’s grazing the bone. Areas with more fat and muscle, such as the lower back, top of the arm and top of the calf are much more comfortable and perfect for your first tattoo.
Everybody has different pain tolerances in various parts of the body, so what may hurt for one person may not hurt for another. If you’re not familiar with how your body will handle the pain of getting a tattoo, consider getting a small tattoo that can be completed in less than an hour session. It should give you a rough idea of how your body responds to the tattooing process without putting too much strain or pressure on yourself. If you find that the process wasn’t too bad, you will know that that particular part of the body is the right place for you to get more work done, or expand on your smaller piece.
Prepare Before Your Session
Getting a tattoo is an energy-intensive process. While you may think that you’re just lying there, your body becomes extremely stressed by the constant wounding that’s occurring at the tattoo area, consuming a lot of energy. So, it’s a good idea to have a carb-heavy meal before going in for your session to ensure that you have a decent supply of glucose, which will help your body cope with the stress for a more extended period.
Bringing along snacks is also recommended for more extended sessions to help keep your glucose levels up and can also be a small reward for enduring the pain. Make sure you bring something calorie-dense and delicious, like your favorite chocolate bar or a bag of trail mix.
Hydration is also an essential component of keeping your pain levels at a minimum. Skin is plumper and tauter when hydrated which makes the tattoo artist’s job much more manageable. Your skin will accept ink more readily and speed up the process, which results in a shorter and more productive session.
Make sure that you’re well-rested before your session. As mentioned before, getting a tattoo is an energy-intensive process for your body and being well-rested means that your body will cope better and be able to make it through a longer session before needing to quit.
Many numbing creams are used extensively in the beauty industry to numb skin for a short period. There are even anesthetic gels, foams and sprays that are marketed specifically for tattoos. These may be an option if you’re getting a tattoo in a sensitive area, but their effect and duration is limited, which is not ideal for extended sessions. We have looked at the best tattoo numbing cream to help you find something that will work for you!
Concentrate on Something Else
One concentration trick that many tattoo enthusiasts swear by is focusing on your breathing during the session. Much like when doing heavy lifting or cardio, taking deep, steady breaths helps keep you calm, relaxed and ready for anything. Try taking a deep breath while the needle is being loaded and exhaling in a controlled manner when it touches your skin.
The best way to make your tattoo experience as painful and lengthy as possible is to focus on the pain continuously. Keeping yourself distracted is essential in managing and lessening pain, regardless of how you do it.
Some people like watching the tattoo process because it allows them to focus on the task rather than the pain. Others find that watching makes them notice the pain more. Everybody is different, so it would be best if you determine what works for you.
If you and your tattoo artist are both sociable, having a good chat is a great way to take your mind off the pain. Many artists love to get to know their clients and have plenty of stories to tell to keep the conversation flowing for hours on end. If your tattoo artist is a bit less chatty, ask them if you can bring a friend along and let them distract you.
If you prefer your tattoo session to be a solitary and meditative affair, there are still plenty of ways to distract yourself. Some people may meditate and focus on their breathing, while others listen to music or audiobooks instead. You can also make use of technology and use your session to catch up on TV shows or movies that you’ve wanted to see but haven’t had the time to watch.
It may take you some time to find a distraction that’s engaging enough to keep your mind occupied, so be sure to bring along a couple of options. If your session is long, make sure you bring a charger so that you aren’t left in the lurch during the final stretch, when the pain is at its worst.
Eventually, no matter how well you distract yourself and how well-prepared you are, you’ll reach a point where the pain is too much. It may be tempting to try to power through the pain, but it’s smarter to take a short break, particularly during long multi-hour sessions. A break gives your body time to recover and you time to replenish your glucose stores with a snack. It also gives your artist a break, allowing them to regain their concentration and focus.
Make sure your breaks aren’t too long or frequent though, as your skin will start to swell when it’s not being worked on, making it difficult to work on afterward.
Pain and managing pain are quintessential parts of the tattoo experience. Every person will have their way of dealing with it, and your experience will be uniquely personal to you. Be sure to talk to your tattoo artist throughout the session, as they’ll also have plenty of advice on how to make tattoos hurt less.