“Do tattoos hurt?” You bet your sweet a*! they do! Doesn’t matter if you’re a tattoo virgin taking your first nervous steps into the wonderful world of dermal graffiti, or you’re a seasoned veteran many miles into your journey; this is going to hurt.
Granted there are some tattoo collectors who say tattoos don’t hurt, but this usually comes down to one of two things:
1) that person is trying to act tough in front of people or not lose face. But rest assured that when the needles are running through their skin they’re sweating out like the rest of us!
2) the fact that that person could withstand the feeling of being tattooed for a lengthy period of time without making the artist stop leads them to think that it isn’t ‘pain’ they are experiencing. Because let’s face it; whenever you feel pain you want it to stop, right? (Unless you get off on that kinda thing haha).
To what degree the tattoo hurts depends on a few things; some that are within your control and some that aren’t, so the best thing you can do is to take firm control of the things that are within your control.
Things you can’t control;
1)How sensitive is the area getting tattooed;
Certain areas of the body are more sensitive than others, for example ribs are going to hurt more than thigh. Inner arm is going to hurt more than outer arm. This is nothing to do with how skinny/fatty the area is; it’s all to do with nerve endings; if there is a higher concentration of them in that area then you’re going to feel it more. Areas where the nerve endings do not take ‘damage’ on a day to day basis will also hurt more ie inner bicep. This area is protected from knocks and bumps your whole life, so the nerve endings are still highly sensitive and have no ‘deadening’. Compare this area to the outer arm which is constantly bumped and bashed and is much less sensitive.
2) The way the tattoo has to be made;
Although you have control over the design and style of your tattoo (unless you have given your artist complete freedom to do what they like), if you want a solid full colour Japanese piece, it’s going to hurt way more than a soft look black and grey angel (this will still hurt!)
3) How the artist works;
Some artists have a gentle touch when tattooing and some are just naturally a little more heavy handed. This will vary artist to artist.
So if you’ve chosen a big bold Japanese design full of solid lines and lots of colour and you want it on your ribs, you’re just gonna have to live with that choice and ride the pain train all the way to Agonyville!
Here’s some advice on things you can control that will help you cope with the pain and make your session more comfortable. These are a compilation of things I’ve tried personally and tips I’ve gained from some of the amazing artists I’ve worked with, not to mention some of the toughest clients I’ve ever met.
BE WELL RESTED: getting tattooed demands a lot from your body, more and more the longer the session is. By the end of a multiple hour session you are going to feel like you’ve done a pretty intensive workout. Coming to your appointment already tired after a bad night’s sleep or having had very little sleep is going to make the session much tougher. So try to make sure you’ve had plenty of sleep the night before.
RELAX: getting worked up about what’s about to happen/is happening isn’t going to help, so try to keep calm. Most artists (but not all) will want to talk to you during the tattoo, and if there are several artists in the studio, there will usually be cross way conversations happening. This all serves as a distraction and may help you to be relaxed. If you’re struggling with this, try listening to your favourite tunes or some calm music. Your artist will likely be happy to accommodate you and put your music of choice on the studio sound system. A personal tip of mine is to watch my favourite movie/stand up the night before my tattoo, it puts me in a positive and relaxed state of mind which leads to a better night’s sleep.
EAT: everyone’s body reacts in the same basic way when getting tattooed, regardless if it’s your
1st or your 50th tattoo; you will have a huge influx of adrenaline to help with the shock, and of endorphins to help with the pain. The rapid production of these two in high quantities drains sugar from your system in seconds and if you don’t have sufficient levels of sugar in your body to cope with this drop, you will likely feel quite ill. You may experience nausea, light headedness and in some extreme cases you may even faint or vomit. If you do feel nauseated or light headed, an intake of simple sugars (fizzy drink, chocolate, sweets) and some fresh air will have you feeling better in a few minutes and you should be able to continue with your tattoo. However if you vomit or pass out it is probably best to reschedule your session.
In all cases, prevention is better than cure, so make sure you eat something high in calories about an hour before your appointment.
BREATHE: the simplest of things that we do and take for granted all the time. Although this might sound like an obvious thing to do, in my experience most clients struggle to get a good rhythm to their breathing during a tattoo and have a tendency to hold their breath – especially during some of the tougher spots. It’s really important to try to maintain a regulated breathing pattern throughout your tattoo and this can make all the difference to how you cope with the flow of the session.
Next time you’re struggling, take a moment to check your breathing habits during the session so far.
Try breathing in deeply for 3 seconds through your nose, hold for 1 second, then release for 3 seconds through your mouth, then continue to repeat. This will help you in a couple of ways; the biological part is that you take in more oxygen this way than by short shallow breaths and your blood flow and heart rate is slowed slightly due to the heavier concentration of oxygen in it and you will therefore naturally calm a little.
Concentrating on your breathing will also serve as a mild distraction to the actual process tattoo as your brain is focused elsewhere.
By having a more regulated breathing pattern, you become easier to tattoo as there are no unexpected flinches or tensing of the muscle or sudden huge intakes of air. This makes for a smoother run for your artist and they will be able to get the tattoo done a bit quicker for you.
EMBRACE THE EXPERIENCE: yes this hurts, but after the first 10-20 minutes your endorphins are going to kick in and that will take the edge off the pain (but not get rid of it). The fact is you chose to do this, so don’t regret the decision because of the pain. Don’t fight the pain, cause believe me pain is going to win that fight every time!
Try instead to allow the feeling to just be. Accept that there’s nothing you can do to stop the pain from existing right now (other than stop the tattoo and that’s not why you came here right?!) and realise that no matter how much it hurts in this moment, it won’t hurt forever and you will come out the other side with a killer new piece of body art.
Once you embrace the feeling instead of fighting it, it no longer has a hold over you.
So there you have my tips for coping with the pain of a tattoo. I’m sure every artist and every client had their own to offer, but these really do help and I’ve had clients who struggle to sit for more than 20 minutes at a time really take these on board and can now sit for 4 hours or more without a problem.
Thank you everyone for taking the time to read this, I hope it helps…..