How much does a tattoo hurt? How much does a paper cut, bee sting, or sunburn hurt? Pain is a relative thing and it's going to be a little different for everyone else. For instance, studies and research has indicated that surprisingly (at least a surprise to many men) that women have a higher tolerance for pain than men. This may in some way be linked to the fact that it's the role of women to go through the pain and labor of child birth, not men!
However, there are some basic clues we can use to gauge how painful a tattoo will be. The location of the tattoo is the biggest factor. Tattoos that are near bone (spine, ankle), nerve endings, or in areas where the skin is thin (ankle, behind the ear). Tattoos that are near nerve endings are more painful. Areas of the body with higher proportions of nerve endings are usually the areas that are most sensitive to touch or tactile stimuli.
A person once equated the pain of getting an upper arm tattoo as like a rubber band around the arm constantly being picked up and let go rapidly. Of course this was a upper arm tattoo, below the shoulder, which is one of the least painful areas of the body to get a tattoo. See the most painful places to get a tattoo.
The size of that tattoo will also make a difference. The larger the tattoo the more area that needs to be inked, which means more skin that to be needled. In general the average tattoo is about a two hour process. This varies by the artist, the number of inks, complexity of the designs, location, etc., but two hours is a good starting point.
Something to keep in mind is that there is a difference between pain and a fear of the needle. For some people greater than the pain it may be the idea of a needle and blood that brings them to a breaking point. Something to keep in mind is that the needle barely penetrates the skin, approximately only 1/16 of an inch! If a fear or needles or the sight of blood applies to you, you might want to consider getting your tattoo in a location that will be out of your sight while the work is being done, or at least in a place that you can consistently look away!
People handle the pain in different ways. It's best not to take any aspirin prior to getting a tattoo in that it can increase bleeding. Many people use breathing techniques to help reduce felt pain. Others use music or conversation to deal or help mitigate pain. In any case, taking into consideration the location and size of the tattoo will give you a decent idea of where you are on the tattoo pain scale. Also you should remember that you do not usually need to do the entire tattoo in a single session. A tattoo can be broken into multiple sessions before being complete. This is something you should discuss with the tattoo artist.
It is best to discuss with your tattoo artist how much pain will be associated with a tattoo. They are in the best position to answer specifically because of their experience, as well as how body locations and the specifics of a particular tattoo design will come into play. Reading up and getting informed about the process so you know what to expect will help too!
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