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Top 10 Places Where It Hurts Like Hell to Get a Tattoo

Posted on November 19 2015

Before planning out your next wicked tattoo, make sure you’re mentally prepared for the sheer amount of awful you’re about to put your skin through. It’s easy to let the pain be forgotten as gorgeous ink settles and heals, but while that back tattoo may have hurt like hell, don’t think you can leap into a neck tattoo unscathed. Likewise, even the veritable Illustrated Man on the street corner isn’t going to tell you that his hand tattoos tickled.

There are a handful of places where getting a tattoo is going to be significantly more delicate of an operation than you’d think. It’s a good idea to find a tattoo artist with a light hand, so that they can go back for a touch up later rather than have them burrow a hole into your throat. Just kidding, that doesn’t happen...but it’s basically what it will feel like. So, before planning your next tat, check out our list of the top 10 places where it hurts like hell to get a tattoo. We also offer some handy recommendations before taking the plunge into that glorious ink.

This list is going to start with the top “practical” places to get a tattoo. The truth is, there are plenty of extremely sensitive regions of the body where most people aren’t going to get tatted. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with an eye tattoo, or any of the delicate nether regions, but a large percentage of people looking to spend the couple hundred bucks on fresh ink aren’t going to waste it on non-visible areas unless they are running out of canvas to work with, or it’s part of a larger piece.

The basic premise is, if it feels nice to get touched there, it’ll hurt like hell to get a tattoo there. Here’s why...

The Science Behind Why Tattoos Hurt

Certain parts of the body have higher concentrations of nerve endings. These areas are often called “erogenous zones” and are typically associated with sexy stuff. 

Also, there are some major nerves that run through the body. These main nerves are also going to be extra sensitive since sensations sent through them will follow a direct route to the brain. Pain in this area can have more of a blanket effect, seeming to hurt in areas where the needle isn’t even hitting. 

Combine high numbers of nerve endings & nerves with less “padding” (i.e. muscle or fat) and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an extremely painful tattoo. Here’s our top 6 practical tattoos followed by a few not-so-practical.

1. Hand Tattoos

Why it hurts: Hands have some of the highest concentrations of nerve endings. There’s also very little padding between the skin and the bones. Finally, you kind of need to use your hands on the daily so healing times are often pretty bothersome as well. Hand tattoos have become very trendy lately which is surprising considering that they are some of the most difficult tattoos to do well and tend to fade very quickly. Hands are constantly shedding skin, getting cut, being exposed to the sun, and doing pretty much everything in the handbook of things NOT to do to your tattoos.

Word of Advice: Avoid the palms, which have a higher rate of wear - unless you just love tattoo touch-ups. Also, go to a reputable artist! A good artist will have experience tattooing a range of areas of the body and won't screw up this highly visible tattoo. This is NOT a tattoo for your friend to try out his new gun on!

2. Neck Tats

Why it hurts: The neck is a wonderfully sensitive area. It’s pleasant to be kissed there. That’s because it has a high number of nerve endings. Unfortunately, it also offers very little fat padding and a few very important veins pumping glorious blood. The neck doesn’t have particularly thick skin and your trachea is just squishy cartilage, so you’ve got an area of the body that is going to be very uncomfortable to work on.

Word of Advice: Prone to vomiting? Have a light meal before getting this tattoo. Not so prone? Have a good meal so that you don’t pass out!

3. Feet Tattoos

Why it hurts: There’s virtually no padding on the tops of the feet. It’s comprised of thin skin and bone. There’s also a LOT of nerve endings in the feet. In fact, other than the fun parts and the hands, the feet are some of the most nerve-rich areas of the body. Most people complain not only about the tattoo itself, but aftercare and heal time can be intense. Feet are not known for being very clean and infection in this area is high risk. Remember: the only thing more painful than a healing tattoo is an infected tattoo.

Word of Advice: Use the foot for a series of small tattoos rather than committing to a large pattern. This way, if it’s too much for you, you can get the piece out of the way and wait for another one rather than having a half-finished piece waiting for you to stop pussy-footing around and get it done. Also, get your foot tattoo in the Summer! That way you don’t have to squeeze your swollen, sensitive foot into a boot. Ouch!

4. Tattoos along the Spine

Why it hurts: It’s your spine, guys! Your spine! It houses pretty much everything integral to you functioning as a non-vegetable being aside from the brain itself. So, it’s not typical to want to poke at your life essence with a needle. The main issue with the spine as an area to get a tattoo is that it has a higher concentration of nerve endings than other areas along the back, coupled with the fact that it is a non-padded bone.

Word of Advice: If the spine is part of a larger piece, then treat it as its own section. Request that the artist work on that area last, when the end is in sight. You’ll be able to get pretty close to the finish line with the piece then hope you're in enough of a endorphin-fueled stupor to finish up the spinal area.

5. Ribcage Tattoos

Why it hurts: Again, this area of the body is that perfect combination of sensitive, thin skin and practically no padding. Ever been poked in the ribs? It’s very uncomfortable, and that’s with a fleshy finger. Needles will NOT be kind to this area of your body. Also, the skin along the ribs will move every time you breathe. The average person takes about 12-20 breaths per minute. In other words, prepare for pain!

Word of Advice: Avoiding scabs is crucial to an easy heal. Keep a good layer of lotion on the area to prevent that.

6. Elbows Tats

Why it hurts: Nerves, nerves, nerves. The funny bone is ironically named because rather than laugh, you want to just punch things after you hit it. This is because of a major nerve that runs rather closely near the skin in this area called the Ulnar nerve. Keep in mind, when you hit your elbow, you feel it throughout your whole arm. You can expect the same sort of sensation to happen with a tattoo. Likewise, the median nerve runs close to the skin on the other side of the elbow. Not to mention the heal time is difficult on these areas because of the constant flexing and moving of your arms.

Word of Advice: Slap it, don’t scratch it. Scratching damage the skin and cause the ink to come out. Also, keep ice on this extra sensitive area to dull that nerve.

In case you are one of those people that’s running out of canvas, you’re probably not phased at all by my warnings of imminent pain. So here are by far the most painful areas to get a tattoo, despite their unique location:

7. The Top of the Head

Why it hurts: You know when you’re getting a tattoo on the arm or leg and there’s all sorts of lovely padding underneath that separates the hard needle and vibration from bare bone? Well, you’ve probably never even considered it, but the scalp has none of that padding whatsoever. A tattoo on the scalp feels like its burning right into your brain. Also, think about the fact that these tattoos are awfully close to the ears, which results in an acute sense of hearing for the whole process. The buzzing is hard to ignore when it feels like it’s in your head. Think of a lovely head massage, now picture that massage with rapidly moving needles. Not so pleasant.

Word of Advice: Sleep with your head elevated to avoid rubbing the top of the head while you sleep. Avoid using scented soap on the area and keep Lubriderm or another unscented lotion on it frequently to prevent scabbing.

8. The Face & Eyes

Why it hurts: Nothing hurts like the pain of getting a tattoo around the eye. I cannot say this from experience but I watched my husband go through it and he described the pain as nothing less than “exquisite”. It’s a unique sort of pain, like taking a jackhammer to the delicate bones of your eye socket. There’s no denying that this tattoo is definitely going to make you wince a bit, and maybe even pee a little. There’s no shame in that. The skin on the face is delicate, and no amount of baby face is going to cushion this area enough for it to be comfortable. This is not only an intense area to get a tattoo because of the immediate pain, but the swelling around the eyes and cheeks can actually close the eye up slightly and the heal time seems significantly longer, even if it isn’t. Have you ever been punched in the face? It hurts to blink…think about that. You blink approximately 15-20 times per minute. That makes this sort of pain pretty hard to ignore.

Word of Advice: Don’t do it. It’s extremely painful, it swells a lot and it’s a very hard heal. If you’re set on it, then careful planning is in order. Make sure this is a tattoo you don’t mind being visible, and you don’t mind people CONSTANTLY asking you about. Having a facial tattoo is like presenting an invite to the world to talk to you about it whenever they want. Grocery store visits are awkward. Mentally prepare yourself for the lifestyle associated with facial tattoos and make sure you have a job or career in place that guarantees work. While tattoos are becoming more professionally acceptable, we’re still a few steps away from being welcoming towards facial tats.

9. Armpit Tattoos

Why it hurts: The armpit typically has very little fat which isn’t really what makes this location immensely painful. The real problem with armpit tattoos is that the armpit contains a very important nerve called the Axillary nerve. Major nerves such as this one have the ability to “distribute” pain around an area. Also, it is very important to try to keep sweat out of a fresh tattoo, which is a little difficult in sweat factories such as the armpits. Sweat can irritate a tattoo and make it hurt worse during heal time.

Word of Advice: Buy some unscented, non-alcoholic baby wipes and keep them on hand for cleaning your pits throughout the day if you begin to sweat. These are gentle enough to clean the area without bothering the tattoo. Can’t stress the non-alcoholic wipes enough. If you accidentally grab alcohol based ones then you will regret it.

10. The Nether Regions

Why it hurts: Sort of goes without saying but if you are getting your junk tattooed then it is going to be extremely painful. The highest concentration of nerve endings are in your fun bits and it’s also a little awkward. Also, there’s a knee-jerk reaction to protect that area of the body so wincing is in order. This is another one of those areas that needs to be watched carefully to avoid infection. Finally, be prepared to have no sex for a little while.

Word of Advice: Going to double up on the baby wipe advice. Keep this area as clean as you can because there’s a lot of bacteria down there and infections can be very bad. Wear only cotton underwear as it is the best at absorbing moisture. Buy white and bleach it to keep it as clean as possible.

Overall, all tattoos are going to hurt and everyone is going to react differently. It’s hard to make blanket statements about the most painful locations because some people are more sensitive than others. This list is based on basic human anatomy but you may find some areas aren’t as bad as people say. It’s always good to start on a “safe” area to get a feel for what tattoos are like, such as the forearm or thighs, then work in to the more brutal tattoos. Then again, no ones going to stop you if you really want that full neck piece, so have at it! In the end, if you work with a reputable artist, you're going to love it regardless of the pain. It's worth it! So suck it up and push through the pain! Best of luck and happy inking!

Want more tattoo-inspired news? Read related article: Tattooed Professionals: How Punk & Alternative Culture are Now Running the Workplace


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