What Can I Do to Make a Tattoo Hurt Less?

by Jennifer Komatsu

Choosing your tattoo location strategically can reduce the pain of the process.

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Tattoos are a method of self-expression. They can showcase a part of your personality, serve as a memorial to a loved one, or remind you of a certain time in your life. However, the thought of the tattoo needle can be frightening. If you want a tattoo, but are afraid of the pain, there are several things you can try to make it hurt less. A professional, experienced tattoo artist can talk you through the whole process and help you make an informed decision about your body art.

Tattoo Location

Choose the location for your tattoo carefully. To minimize pain during the tattooing process, select a part of your body that is less sensitive. As a general rule, the more that skin is exposed to the elements, the less sensitive it is. Areas that are well-covered by muscle also tend to be less painful. The worst areas for pain during a tattoo are bony areas and areas with a high concentration of nerve endings such as erogenous zones.

Preparation

Be well-rested for your tattoo appointment. Eat a good meal before you arrive. The pain of a tattoo is best described as intense irritation; the worse you feel overall, the more irritating it will be. A full stomach keeps your blood sugar level up and helps keep you from feeling light-headed. Ask your artist to take periodic breaks during the tattooing if you need a breather.

Distraction

Bring along a friend to your tattoo appointment, especially a talkative friend. If you can keep your attention focused on something else, the pain will not be as intense. If you cannot bring a friend, bring something else to distract yourself: a book, a hand-held video game or music. Do consider the location of the tattoo and whether your book or device will be in the artist's way. Meditation also helps you separate your mind from the tattoo process.

Afterward

For pain after the tattoo is complete, try an oral analgesic such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Follow the tattoo artist's aftercare instructions explicitly. Applying a fragrance-free, dye-free moisturizer to the tattoo several times a day will help reduce soreness. Do not soak the tattoo in water for a few days; however, holding it under the shower stream for about 30 seconds, while quite painful at the time, will reduce the pain overall.

Caveats

There are several methods you should not use to relieve tattoo pain. A responsible tattoo artist will not tattoo a client who has been drinking. You should not use topical pain relief creams before the tattoo; these can contain chemicals that will seep into the tattoo and potentially harm it. Taking ibuprofen before a tattoo can increase bleeding during the process. In general, do not try to control the pain during the tattoo appointment with any oral or topical substances. The best things you can do are to pick the location strategically and find a way to keep your mind off the tattooing.

Photo Credits

  • Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

About the Author

Jennifer Komatsu is the founder and director of Minnesota-based greyhound rescue shelter, producing content for the organization's website, blog and newsletters. She has also published articles in "Celebrating Greyhounds" magazine, as well as various psychology journals. Komatsu graduated magna cum laude from Carleton College, earning a B.A. in cognitive psychology.