What Does Getting a Tattoo Feel Like? Answers from First-Timers on Pain and Sensation

What Does Getting a Tattoo Feel Like

So you’re thinking about getting your first tattoo. That’s amazing! Tattoos can be a meaningful way to express yourself. But it’s also totally normal to feel a little nervous about what the experience will actually feel like. Will it hurt terribly? How do I handle the pain? What exactly does a tattoo needle feel like on your skin?

The short answer is: Yes, getting tattooed does hurt to some degree, but the pain level can vary quite a bit. Most first-timers describe the sensation as uncomfortable pricking, burning, or vibrating – generally not as bad as anticipated. The body part, your pain tolerance, and having an experienced artist all impact your comfort level as well. There are also numbing sprays/creams to help dull the discomfort. While not pain-free, many say getting inked is an invigorating experience they are glad they went through.

Now let’s dive into the details of what to expect when you go for your inaugural tattooing session. We’ll cover everything from choosing the right spot on your body to prepping your skin, the range of sensations, tips to handle discomfort, and how the process progresses from start to finish. Read on to get the inside scoop from first-timers on what it truly feels like to get your first piece of beautiful, meaningful body art.

TopicKey Points
Pain Level by Body PartLeast: Outer Arms, Thighs, Calves
Moderate: Shoulders, Ribs, Lower Legs 
Most: Feet, Back, Stomach, Wrists
Tattoo Needle SensationsSharp prickling, sunburn + scratching, rubber band snaps, vibrating hot knife, buzzing razor, bee sting
Handling DiscomfortNumbing spray/cream, squeeze stress ball, listen to music, steady breathing, take breaks, experienced artist
Tattoo Process Steps1. Arrival & paperwork 
2. Prep work 
3. Needling begins
4. Periodic breaks
5. Completion & aftercare
Best First Tattoo SpotsArms: Easy healing, hideable 
Thighs: Discreet, allows detail
Shoulders: Curves with body 
Wrists/Ankles: Trendy, delicate
Aftercare Do’s and Don’tsDo: Leave bandage on, gentle wash, light moisturizer
Don’t: Pick scabs, over-moisturize, sun exposure, irritate
Multi-Session PainUsually decreases slightly over time as you acclimate
Healing DurationPeak pain at days 1-3, fades by 10 days, fully heals in 1 month
Ink Color Pain LevelBlack most pain, dark colors more than brights, white least intense

Where You Get Your First Tattoo Impacts the Pain Level

One of the biggest factors in how much getting a tattoo will hurt is the location you choose on your body. Areas with lots of nerve endings, thin skin, and bone are generally more painful for tattooing. The parts of the body with thick skin, fat, and muscle are easier to tolerate.

Here is a general ranking of tattoo pain levels from least to most:

Least Painful Places:

  • Outer Upper Arms – A common first timer spot. Meaty without many nerve endings.
  • Thighs – Similar to arms. Lots of fat/muscle with fewer nerves.
  • Calves – Hurts a bit more than arms/thighs but still tolerable.

Moderately Painful Spots:

  • Shoulders/Deltoids – Bony at the top, but not too sensitive.
  • Ribs and Chest – Varying pain levels depending on your fat and muscle.
  • Lower Legs/Ankles/Achilles – Smaller areas but not unbearable.

Most Painful Areas:

  • Feet/Toes – Extremely bony, nerves close to skin.
  • Spine/Back – Very sensitive spinal nerves.
  • Stomach – Little fat/muscle to cushion.
  • Bony wrist parts – Nerve rich, not much fat.

Everybody has a slightly different pain tolerance too, so experiences can vary even at the same body site. But in general, meatier spots hurt less while bony and thin-skinned regions feel the worst. Many first timers stick to arms or thighs.

Tattoo Needle Sensations: Description of How It Feels

Okay, so what does the tattoo needle actually feel like on the skin? The puncturing sensation can differ depending on your personal pain perceptions. But here are some of the most common ways first-timers describe the feeling:

  • A constant sharp, prickly stinging
  • Like a sunburn that a cat is repeatedly scratching
  • Little rubber band snaps rapidly on the skin
  • A vibrating hot knife quickly moving
  • A buzzing electric razor shaving the area
  • An annoying bee sting that goes on and on

Essentially your skin is being repeatedly poked 1-12 times per second with the needles of the tattoo gun. This rapid piercing of such a sensitive organ does cause some level of burning, stinging pain for most people. The feeling may be irritating but is temporary.

Many people say that while unpleasant, the poking needle sensation is quite bearable – ranking around a 5 out of 10 on the pain scale. With the adrenaline rush of getting your first tattoo, you may hardly notice the discomfort! The spine, ribs, and other extra sensitive spots hurt the worst.

Also Read: What Does a Joker Tattoo Mean

Handling the Discomfort – Tips to Make Your Experience More Comfortable

Getting a little anxious thinking about your first tattooing session? That’s very normal! Here are some tips to make the experience as comfortable as possible:

Numbing Spray or Cream

  • Apply topical anesthetics like lidocaine to fully numb the area beforehand. Reduces up to 50% of pain.

Squeeze a Stress Ball

  • Helps divert focus from the poking feeling. Bring one to squeeze.

Listen to Music or Podcast

  • Wear headphones and get lost in your favorite songs or shows. A great distraction.

Focus on Steady Breathing

  • Breathe slowly and deeply to reduce anxiety. Inhale through nose, long exhale through mouth.

Ask for Breaks When Needed

  • Speak up if the pain becomes overwhelming and you need a break. Short breaks help.

Have an Experienced, Trusted Artist

  • Research artists’ portfolios. Read reviews. The best ones will provide the smoothest experience.

Having an artist you trust goes a long way in minimizing discomfort. Be sure to thoroughly research studios and meet with the artist beforehand.

Step-By-Step Overview: How the Tattoo Process Unfolds

Wondering what the full experience of getting your first tattoo is like from start to finish? Here’s an overview of how a standard session typically goes:

Step 1: Arrival

  • You’ll check in at the studio, show your ID, and provide any final paperwork.
  • Give the artist your tattoo design or discuss your concept. They can refine the artwork.
  • Agree on placement, size, estimated cost, number of sessions needed.

Step 2: Prep-work

  • The placement area will be shaved if needed, then thoroughly cleaned/disinfected.
  • The final design will be applied to the skin as a stencil outline.

Step 3: Needling Begins

  • This is when the tattoo gun starts puncturing your skin with ink. The vibrating/pricking sensations begin.
  • Let the artist know if you need breaks. Breathe through any surges of discomfort.
  • Outlining usually takes 1-3 hours depending on size. Shading and coloring add more time.
  • For large or complex tattoos, multiple sessions are often needed as the skin can only handle so much in one sitting before getting irritated.

Step 4: Periodic Breaks

  • Your artist will stop periodically to wipe away excess ink and let you rest for a few minutes.
  • This is the time to stretch, use the restroom, grab a snack or water. Short breaks help.

Step 5: Completion

  • When finished, the artist will clean the tattoo area, apply antibacterial ointment, and bandage the fresh ink.
  • They will review all the aftercare instructions so your tattoo heals properly. This is critical!
  • Make your next appointment if more sessions are needed. Then you’re all done!

While getting tattooed for the first time can seem intimidating, having a roadmap of what to expect can ease a lot of anxiety. And don’t downplay your pain – if it becomes too much, speak up! Most artists want to make the experience as comfortable as possible.

Choosing the Best Spot for Your First Tattoo

As discussed earlier, placement is key when getting your inaugural tattoo. You want to start with a less painful area to build confidence and tolerance if getting larger pieces later. Here are pros and cons of the best spots for first-timer tattoos:

Best Spot for Your First Tattoo
Outer Upper Arm– Less pain (meaty area)
– Easily hidden 
– Can admire yourself 
– No hair removal needed
– Tricky healing (clothing rubs scabs)
– Small tattoos look odd
Thigh– High pain tolerance (fat/muscle)
– Can show off or cover up
– Allows detailed art
– Inner thigh more painful 
– Healing complicated by clothes
Upper Back tattoo

Shoulder/Upper Back

Shoulder/Upper Back– Allows unique curved designs
– Low pain sensation 
– Easy, short healing time
– Difficult to do lots of detail in small space
– Permanent 
Wrist tattoo


Delicate, trendy areas for a dainty first tattoo.

Ankle/Wrist– Smaller canvases to start minimal
– Simple designs work best
– Very discreet and easy to cover up
– Significant pain (lack of cushion)
– Higher fading risk 
– Small tattoos may blur over time

Wherever you choose to get your first piece, make sure to do your research and find an outstanding artist familiar with that area. They will guide you on what type of design works best. And start small if going for a conspicuous spot!

Also Read: Arrow Tattoo Meaning

Prepping Your Skin the Right Way

To ensure you have the best tattoo experience possible, it’s crucial to properly prep your skin beforehand:

Shaving – If your selected spot is hairy, trim it down as best as possible. Some artists will finish shaving when you arrive. Avoid shaving just before your appointment as stubble grows back quickly.

Exfoliating – Gently scrubbing with an exfoliant wash or dry brushing a few days prior removes dead skin cells so the ink adheres best. Don’t exfoliate immediately pre-tattoo though.

Moisturizing – Keep the area hydrated in the weeks preceding but not right before. You want a smooth canvas, not flaky or excessively oily.

Avoid sunburn – Sunburnt skin is thin and damaged. Stay out of the sun for 2 weeks prior. No tanning or tanning creams either.

Properly preparing your skin makes all the difference in how vibrant your tat turns out. Be sure to follow your artist’s specific recommendations as well.

Choosing an Experienced, Reputable Tattoo Artist

This cannot be overstated – having a highly skilled, seasoned artist for your first tattoo is by far the most important factor for minimizing pain plus ensuring you get a beautiful, quality piece of art. Do your research!

Here’s how to find the best artist:

  • Search online portfolios and Instagram accounts to find someone experienced in your preferred style. Set up consultations.
  • Read reviews on Google, Yelp, etc. Reputation and professionalism are key.
  • Ask to see healed photos of the artist’s work. This shows true skill.
  • Ensure the studio is licensed, clean, and sanitary. This is crucial for safety.
  • Vibe check your consultation. Do you feel comfortable with the artist? Trust is vital.
  • Verify they have expertise in the spot you want. For example, a great wrist tattooist may not excel at backpieces.

Never just walk into a shop and pick a random artist. This permanent art goes on your body – research is essential! Take your time finding the perfect person. It’s worth the wait.

How to Care for Your New Tattoo

Care for Your New Tattoo

Getting inked is just the beginning – proper aftercare is mandatory for keeping your new tattoo looking vibrant and avoiding infection. Follow these do’s and don’ts as your skin heals:


  • Leave the bandage on for a minimum of 2 hours afterward. Keep clean and dry.
  • Wash gently with unscented mild soap and water. Pat dry, don’t rub.
  • Apply a thin layer of fragrance-free moisturizer 2-3 times per day.
  • Avoid submerging in water from pools, baths, etc for 2 weeks.
  • Wear loose, breathable clothing over the area.


  • Pick scabs – let them naturally flake away. Picking can ruin ink.
  • Soak or over-moisturize the tattoo. Keep it hydrated but not drenched.
  • Expose to direct sun or tanning beds. Wear SPF 30+ outside.
  • Scratch or irritate the tattoo. Don’t shave over it.
  • Use petroleum, vitamin E creams, or thick ointments that clog pores.

Be diligent about proper aftercare to avoid problems and keep your art looking amazing. Listen closely to your artist’s instructions too. And resist that temptation to peel those scabs prematurely!

How Long Should You Wait Before Getting Another Tattoo?

Gotten through your first one smoothly and now can’t wait to get more? Patience is key. As a general rule, wait at least 3 weeks between sessions for your skin to fully heal before getting tattooed again. This minimizes scarring and potential infection risks.

For very large or multi-session tattoos with considerable trauma to the skin, it’s smarter to wait up to 6 months between appointments. Don’t rush the process. Speak to your artist about what timeframe they recommend for your next piece. They want your ink to stay vibrant and clean too.

Over time, it’s best to space out tattoos by a minimum of one month especially in the same area. This gives your body adequate healing time between sessions. A reputable studio will enforce proper wait periods. Slow and steady wins the race!

Does Tattoo Pain and Sensation Change Over Multiple Sessions?

For those planning sleeves, full back pieces, or other major multi-session tattoos, you may wonder if pain lessens over time as your tolerance increases. According to most people’s accounts:

  • The first 1-2 sessions are the most uncomfortable as your body adjusts.
  • Pain slightly decreases as you become accustomed to the poking feeling.
  • However, certain sensitive body parts never get truly comfortable.
  • Endurance improves so you can handle longer sessions.
  • Having trust in your artist makes the biggest difference long-term.

So there can be a bit of a “numbing” effect, but plenty of people report sleeve sessions on bony parts like wrists or ankles remain intensely painful. Key is developing grit to push through the discomfort knowing the end result will be worth it.

How Long Does Tattoo Pain and Soreness Last After the Session?

Once the tattoo gun stops buzzing, residual pain sticks around for about a month as the skin heals. Immediately after, there is just some soreness and tenderness that night, with ibuprofen helping relieve discomfort. Days 1-3 bring the most swelling, pain and redness as the immune response ramps up – very uncomfortable, peaking on day 2 or 3.

Discomfort then gradually subsides over the next week from days 3-10 as scabbing begins. The following few weeks from days 10-30 involve some itchiness and tightness as the tattoo continues healing internally. So while the worst pain usually resolves within the first 3 days, it takes a full 30 days for a tattoo to completely heal. Proper aftercare ensures the healing process goes smoothly. Don’t panic if the tattoo looks irritated the first few days – this anger is very normal. Carefully cleaning and treating it as per the artist’s directions is important.

Does Tattoo Pain and Intensity Differ Based on Ink Color?

Curious if getting a tattoo done with darker pigments hurts more than lighter ones? In general, black is the deepest color and requires the most needle passes to saturate it properly. This means more pain initially, but the payoff is crisp, vivid lines. Darker shades like blues and greens also tend to sting more than lighter colors since they deposit more ink into the dermis layer of skin. On the other hand, bright tones like yellows, oranges and pinks are often less painful because they usually only need one quick pass to apply.

White ink feels the least intense during application because the artist has to be very gentle for it to show up properly under the skin. The type of tattooing also impacts pain levels – outlining tends to be less bothersome compared to packing in color for shading. So while not a massive difference, richer darker pigment colors do tend to feel moderately more painful overall. But most people find the superior vibrancy that results is a worthwhile trade-off. Plus lighter accent colors can be mixed into the design to help offset any discomfort.

Choosing the Best Place for Your First Tattoo – Key Takeaways

Deciding on placement for your first tattoo is critical to minimize pain and ensure you love the finished design in the long run. It’s wise to thoroughly research and start with a less painful spot like the arms, thighs or shoulders to gradually build up your pain tolerance. Also consider size – a larger surface area allows for more detailed artwork, but a smaller piece can make a bolder personal statement.

Think about visibility too – get a sense for any potential clothing restrictions or job-related considerations per your lifestyle and comfort. Finding an artist specifically experienced in the type of tattooing you want and skilled working on that part of the body is key as well – do your homework! Finally, be patient.

Let each new tattoo fully heal before getting another one. Rushing the process risks infection and poor healing, which compromises the integrity of the artwork. Taking the time to pick the perfect first tattoo location sets you up for success in proudly showing off your meaningful, beautiful new ink for years to come.

What Does Getting a Tattoo Feel Like? Key Takeaways:

While getting any tattoo involves some degree of pain and discomfort, most first-timers say it’s not as terribly painful as anticipated, especially in meatier body areas. The poking, pricking sensation ranges from irritating to mildly burning depending on personal pain tolerance. Having an experienced, trustworthy artist makes a big difference as well.

Choosing a spot wisely can minimize discomfort too. Areas with lots of padding and muscle hurt substantially less than bony regions dense with nerves. So do thorough placement research to find the best match for your design and tolerance. While not fully pain-free, most say their inaugural tattoo was an invigorating experience expressing themselves through meaningful body art.

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