How much do tattoos hurt?

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Answered by: Tracy, An Expert in the Tattoos - General Category
The pain associated with tattoos and the uncertainty that it creates is by far one of the most addressed topics in the tattoo industry and brings up the frequently asked question: do tattoos hurt?

When tattoos are applied, the needle enters and exits the skin at a rate of 1,200 or more times per minute (that's about 20 times per second!). Keeping that in mind, really, tattoos hurt no matter what! However, it also helps to keep in mind that tattoos can't hurt too much, or so many people wouldn't have them.

Statistics show that in the United States, 36% of Americans ages 18-29 have at least one tattoo, and 16% of Americans of all ages have at least one as well. With technology increasing to make tattoos easier and less painful to apply, tattoos are on the rise, and the numbers of individuals receiving them, almost tripling in the past sixty years (

Tattoos hurt differently for each person depending on the individual's pain tolerance, but the type of pain itself is difficult to describe to someone who has never had a tattoo before. Even though the needle is moving at an extremely rapid rate, it also doesn't go very deep into the skin, making it much more tolerable. The human body has seven layers of skin, and a tattoo needle penetrates the first three; this is just a bit more shallow than where hair follicles begin to grow.

Some describe this sensation as a burning heat feeling as the tattoo moves speedily over your skin, like a laser. Others describe it as more of a scratchy feeling, like a cat kneading its claws into your skin, or like someone touching a new sunburn. The feeling is also different depending on the type of needles used; smaller tattoos require smaller needles that concentrate the pain in a much smaller area. There are also various groupings used for both the lining and the shading process, depending on your design. Most people agree that shading hurts less because the needles are spread over a wider area, and they feel more like getting a scrape than having a cut.

Naturally, the pain level of tattoo application varies between individuals, but another less commonly asked question gives a little more insight into the pain factor. Do tattoos hurt more in some places than others? The fact is that they do, sometimes with a drastic difference, and sometimes with only a little change. Some areas on the body have less muscle and fat tissue, and tighter skin, such as on the ribs, feet, knees, elbows, and hands.

In these areas where it's sensitive to just pinch the skin, it makes sense for the application to be a bit more painful; however, some areas that are plentiful in tissue and bouncy skin just have more nerve endings, and are less exposed to everyday elements such as sun and wind. In contrast, these places (inner arm, inner thigh, behind the knee) for tattoos hurt even more oftentimes! Knowledge of where a tattoo will inflict the most pain will sometimes put an individual off from getting the tattoo where they actually want it to be.

Don't let this be the case! The pain will always be the same general sort of feeling at different degrees, and remember, you only have to go through it once. One thing is for sure though, it's way better than any dentist!

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