What Does Getting A New Tattoo Feel Like?
When most people want to get a new tattoo but visualize bunches of needles puncturing in and out of their skin thousands of times a minute, they generally fear the worst when it comes to imagining what getting a tattoo feels like.
Many people think the tattooing process is just constant, unbearable pain; but this isn’t the case at all in most circumstances.
Throughout a tattooing session, the average person will experience many different feelings, thoughts and sensations, and these will all depend on a multitude of factors.
Keep reading to learn what getting a tattoo really feels like.
What Does Getting A Tattoo Feel Like?
Tattoo pain often comes and goes in varying strengths throughout the tattooing process. Some people liken the feeling to a prickling sensation or an irritating scratch. If the tattooing needle comes into close contact with bone, it can feel like an uncomfortable vibration or rattling sensation.
Normally, the pain starts off quite bad for several minutes at the beginning of the session, but once your body starts to react by releasing various pain-dulling hormones as a response to the needles pumping in and out of your skin, the affected area usually begins to go slightly numb, and the pain often goes away for a while, before coming back again in waves of varying length and intensity throughout the process.
Usually (especially with longer sessions), the pain is normally worse towards the end. This is when you’re most likely beginning to get fed up and tired, and the pain-dulling hormones begin to run out and fade away.
This is the part where you’ve got to give it your all and fight through to the finish line. After all, you’re usually nearly there once the pain starts getting really bad.
Plus, if the tattoo is particularly small/basic, then you may never even have to reach this point!
Also, it’s definitely worth knowing that preoccupying yourself with various distractions (like talking to your artist) can very often help to take your mind off of the pain and help to make the tattooing process more comfortable (more on distraction techniques later).
Along with distraction techniques, the general mindset (state of mind) of the person getting tattooed can also influence how painful (or painless) the upcoming session becomes.
For example, if you walk into the studio already admitting defeat and contemplating throwing in the towel as soon as the needles start to pinch a bit, then in your head you’ve already lost the battle.
However, if you confidently charge into the shop with the mentality that pain is only weakness leaving the body and that you will not give in to any amount of discomfort that is to be thrown your way, then you’re in a much better mental state in order to smash your way through the entire session.
This is why positive thinking can definitely help to improve your chances of feeling more comfortable throughout the process.
Actually, you may not even find the process uncomfortable at all, and may actually end up enjoying it!
In the past, more than just a few customers have described the general feeling throughout their tattooing sessions as ‘euphoric’ and ‘enlightening’, while many even go as far as saying the pain actually becomes addictive, causing them to go back for more ink time and time again!
How Does The Tattoo Studio Atmosphere Feel?
Tattoo shops/studios can vary widely with regard to how they present themselves. Usually, tattoo studios are very relaxed and welcoming, and the artists/staff will generally do everything they can to ensure you feel calm and comfortable.
While some studios will be small and will only work on one customer at a time, many studios are much larger and you will often be accompanied by several other customers all going through the same experiences as yourself.
This can sometimes be a psychological boost to help reduce any anxieties that you may have as you turn up to the shop. Taking the time to talk to these other customers can also often help to make you feel much more relaxed.
Also, don’t be afraid to throw questions at your artist. Most tattoo artists will happily go through queries and concerns with you if it helps to make you feel more at ease. The best chance to ask as many questions as possible will be at your consultation.
Before getting started on your tattoo, your artist/the reception staff will likely ask you to fill out a health waiver to ensure you’re in a good enough condition to go through the tattooing process to minimize the risk of suffering from any serious/adverse effects.
Once the waiver has been completed, your artist will usually begin to measure out your skin and the size of the stencil if this hadn’t already been done on a previous trip to the shop.
If the tattoo is being placed on an area containing any hairs protruding from the skin, your artist will likely shave these off so they don’t get in the way.
Sitting In The Chair
If you’ve never had any ink before, then the nervousness can begin to heighten as you sit into the tattooing chair.
No need to fret – your artist isn’t going to jump straight into sticking a needle into your skin. They will likely need to finish setting up first by doing a few things such as filling up the ink pots and doing a final study of the image that they will likely be using as a reference.
Many people new to getting tattooed are worried about messing the tattoo up by jumping/twitching when feeling the needle go into the skin for the first time. Don’t worry, the pain isn’t sharp enough to cause you to jump or otherwise move the area away from the needle.
The needles are so sharp they cause minimal pain when puncturing the skin, and will, therefore, feel more like a scratching pain when used – and not a sharp, jolting pain that may make you involuntarily pull the specific body part out of the way.
Be aware that most tattoo guns/machines emit a rather loud buzzing noise that can sound quite menacing and intimidating, but don’t let this put you off.
Even with the buzzing of the machine, you’ll still be able to have a normal conversation with your artist over the noise without having to shout, and it still sounds a million times nicer than a dentist’s drill. (Yuck.)
Plus, with technological advances in recent years, tattoo machines are getting quieter and quieter.
By this point in the session, when the needle has gone in and out for the first few times, much of the nervousness and tension has usually gone away, and many customers begin to settle down and feel much more at ease.
You’ve finally gotten over the worst bit, which is the waiting around part, and the part where you’ve had to nervously familiarize yourself with the unknown surroundings of the tattoo studio backroom.
By this point you’ll have realized that the pain isn’t going to be so bad that it’ll knock you out, and all you’ve got to do now is suck it up for a little while (or a long while), and sit through the (usually) manageable discomfort in order to deservedly finish up with the beautiful trophy you’ve been waiting so long for.
What Does Tattoo Pain Feel Like?
Many people appear to think that tattoos have a standardized feeling when it comes to the pain they will encounter during a session. However, this is a very wrong assumption.
Throughout a relatively long tattoo sitting you are likely to experience a multitude of different feelings and types of pain, while being faced with varying levels of discomfort, from ‘this is easy!’ to ‘I want to stop right now.’
A big tattoo will likely cause many different types of feelings and sensations due to the large variation in design and placement across the whole area.
Below is a list of the most common types of pains and feelings you’re likely to encounter while sitting in the artist’s chair:
This is probably the most common type of pain that most people tend to experience.
When a needle is moved over the same area of skin over and over again by the artist as they attempt to complete a specific area, it will likely feel like a deep, intense scratch.
While this scratching pain is definitely manageable and not too high on the pain scale, over a long period of time the feeling can begin to get uncomfortable and tedious.
You will most often feel this type of pain when a few needles are attached to the gun at the same time (usually for shading), rather than when just a single needle is used (for intricate line work).
Sometimes as you get an hour or two into a tattoo, the pain seems to take a back-seat and doesn’t trouble you so much; but as you begin to get a little bit tired, uncomfortable and irritable, this low-level pain can start to feel very annoying, and all of a sudden, quite intolerable.
However – I’d take this kind of discomfort over searing red-hot pain during a tattooing session any day.
You normally feel this ‘sharp’ pain sensation when the gun only has one needle attached to it, which is usually when a thin outline or very fine detail is required within the tattoo.
This pain feels as though the needle is penetrating much deeper into your skin than it actually is, and feels much more intense when compared to the scratchy feeling as described earlier.
It’s worth remembering, though, that the needles aren’t actually going deeper. All of the tattoo ink will be inserted at the same depth, which is actually only a few layers of skin beneath the surface!
Normally, this ‘sharp’ pain feels worse where the skin is very thin and stretched, like on the inner bicep, or wrist, for example. And don’t worry, the needles won’t be causing any damage to those visible veins you see when you look down at your wrists, either.
While this type of pain isn’t very pleasant, just try to fight through it the best you can and have a positive mindset – it will make a difference.
Also, remember that everybody is different when it comes to pain thresholds. Whilst some people may really struggle with a certain type of pain, you personally may find it a breeze, especially if the area of skin that you’re getting tattooed on isn’t too thin and delicate.
Nobody ever knows how they’ll handle different pain levels and types of pain until they experience it first-hand.
This is much like the sharp feeling as described above, but not as intense.
This stinging sensation doesn’t feel as though it’s coming from deep under the skin and can be likened to being repeatedly swatted with a stinging nettle over the area.
The burning feeling that many people experience can be perceived as a bit of a mixture between a scratching pain and a sharp pain.
The burning feeling that many people experience can be perceived as a bit of a mixture between a scratching pain and a sharp pain.
This burning sensation normally becomes more intense when a small area of skin has been constantly worked on for a while. It’s also more common when the tattoo is being added to areas of the body that contain higher fat levels beneath the skin, such as on the stomach, thighs, and buttocks.
While this isn’t an intense feeling, it can become very annoying and can wear you down mentally over time. Therefore, try to stay strong and ask for a short break if you’re really beginning to struggle – your artist will completely understand.
When a tattooing needle comes into close contact with a particularly bony area of the body, it’s not unusual to feel as though the needle is vibrating right through the bone.
Whilst this isn’t particularly painful, it is certainly a strange and rather intense and unpleasant feeling.
This happens because as the needles come into close contact with your bones, they smack against the area many times a second at very high speeds, simulating the feeling that your bones are actually being hit by the needles (they are not).
This is one of the best states to be in when getting tattooed.
Sometimes, the pain can subside so much that it just begins to feel like a dull ache, and this type of pain becomes much easier to manage.
This dull pain normally sets in quite near to the start of a session once various pain response hormones such as adrenaline begin to pump around the body.
Throughout the rest of the session, you will most likely continue to drift in and out of this dull and achy state, and will probably have bouts of more intense pain between these waves of dullness.
Once in a while, your body will likely snap out of these lesser-painful phases and heighten its pain receptors once again, but a good way to stay within the lower pain thresholds is to keep yourself preoccupied and distracted in order to take your mind away from the pain.
Whilst the pain is commonly manageable towards the start of the session, you must remember that as the sitting goes on, your body will begin to run low on those awesome pain-reducing hormones (and your skin will begin to swell and bruise with longer sittings), and therefore these lovely segments of dull pain will probably begin to become shorter and shorter as time goes by.
Keep in mind though that while one person may only be able to take an hour of pain before beginning to feel like they’re really suffering, another person may be able to go 4 hours or more and not feel too bad.
In fact, it’s not unusual for some die-hard tattoo customers to do 12+ hours in a single sitting! Especially if they’ve traveled a long way to be worked on by a specific artist and they need the work crammed in within a short space of time.
Sometimes the pain receptors in your skin can actually make the area feel numb, which is awesome! However, this feeling, unfortunately, doesn’t tend to stick around for very long.
How To Make A Tattooing Session Feel As Comfortable As Possible
Although it’s almost certain that you’re going to feel at least a small amount of discomfort, there are many things you can try in order to make the whole experience seem more pleasant and bearable.
Remember That EVERYBODY Who Has A Tattoo Has Gone Through The Same Process
It’s definitely worth remembering that MILLIONS of people have managed to get through the tattooing process and happily lived to tell the tale.
Psychologically, it’s always great to know that what you’re about to do has already been done many times, and many people have repeatedly gone back to get even more work done – so it can’t be that bad.
Talk To Your Artist
Most artists are extremely easy to get along with, and would much prefer to have a chat with you throughout the session instead of working in silence.
Talking with your artist can definitely help to pass the time and take your mind off the pain, and most artists are well-equipped in giving you little snippets of encouragement if you ever begin to start struggling.
It’s worth remembering, however, that although the vast majority of artists don’t mind chit-chat throughout the sitting, there are a select few that prefer to concentrate and focus 100% on their work. Therefore, if your artist seems a little less enthusiastic about talking, or if they look like they’re really trying to concentrate, then it may be worth trying one of the other distraction techniques instead.
Wear Comfortable Clothes
There’s nothing worse than sitting in the tattooing chair for a mere two seconds before you have to begin pulling a wedgie out of your ass every 5 minutes or have to begin furiously fanning your hand in front of your face because you’re boiling hot after deciding to wear a huge sheepskin jumper to the shop.
For this reason, it’s always wise to wear something that you’re going to feel totally comfortable in for long durations. This isn’t a fashion show, so if you feel at your comfiest in baggy sweatpants, flip-flops and a string vest then go ahead and own that look.
Loose and airy clothing is generally much more recommended over wearing something tight and restrictive – especially for longer sittings.
Eat Something Beforehand
Having an empty stomach while getting a tattoo can cause a few unwanted effects. For example, you may feel sluggish and lack energy, which can affect your state of mind and tolerance to pain throughout the session.
Also, not eating before arriving can mean that your blood sugar levels may drop quite low once the needles start puncturing the skin (a common side-effect in not only tattooing but also medical practices such as acupuncture).
Low blood sugar levels during the tattooing process may not cause any noticeable issues for some people, but others could experience varying degrees of lightheadedness, dizziness and nausea. Make sure to eat well before turning up to the shop.
Many of the more modern studios now come equipped with at least one television that can be seen from the tattooing chair. Sometimes, the artists in the studio will put a popular film on which can often help customers to focus on something other than the pain.
Take Some Music
Making an awesome and/or relaxing playlist before you leave for the studio can really help during those times of intense discomfort.
Putting your headphones on and focusing on the music often helps many people through some of the pain barriers they come across during a sitting.
Play Games On Your Phone/Tablet
Again, installing a few addictive games on your phone/tablet can definitely help take your mind away from the pain when you’re really beginning to struggle.
Practice Breathing Control / Meditation
This tip is quite hit-and-miss depending on what type of person you are and how well you’re able to ‘zone out’ from reality when needed.
While some people can have amazing success at separating themselves from pain and discomfort by adopting good breathing control or meditation techniques, some people struggle to reap any benefits from controlled breathing.
On a personal note, focusing on deep breathing and relaxation techniques has never really helped me to overcome anything in terms of distracting my mind from pain, but that’s not to say they don’t work for others.
I know many tattoo customers who swear they can get amazing results by practicing good breathing control or meditation techniques. Therefore, it may definitely be worth looking into some of the more popular techniques if you think this is something that could be of help to you when trying to control your pain.
Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing technique is particularly helpful for many people. Inhale for a count of 4, Hold for a count of 7, and exhale for a count of 8. This helps relax your body and relieve stress and tension.
Try A Specialist Tattoo Skin Numbing Product
Sometimes, especially if you’re really worried about how painful your tattoo might be, it might be a wise idea to look into the various skin numbing products that are currently on the market.
Again, tattoo numbing products won’t work fantastically well for everybody, but for many previous tattoo customers, these products have been a godsend, and have enabled them to successfully push through their sessions with minimal pain and discomfort.
There is a huge range of various numbing creams and sprays available that are completely safe to use on skin that is about to be tattooed, including my favorite product below:
For people wanting a little extra assistance for dealing with the pain, a good tattoo numbing cream can really help to take the edge off.
One of the most effective tattoo numbing products currently on the market is Zensa Numbing Cream, which contains the highest level of Lidocaine allowed by the FDA for over-the-counter use. The feedback left by thousands of customers for this product is nothing short of exceptional.
Just follow the instructions supplied with the cream and apply shortly before your tattoo appointment is due to begin so that you can look forward to a less painful and more comfortable tattooing experience. The amount of cream you get in a tube also ensures you have more than enough for a large tattoo.
Take Something To Bite On
You may have seen this in movies where somebody is handed a stick or towel to bite on if they’re about to experience something extremely painful – but this technique does, in fact, work for some people when trying to control and fight through pain!
If all else fails then it may be worth giving this technique a try – it may just help you to get over the finish line. Or, you may break a tooth, so try breathing or distraction methods instead.
How Does It Feel Once The Tattoo Has Been Completed?
For many people, the first initial feeling they get once their artist says “all done” is sheer elation that the pain and discomfort is over.
If it’s been a particularly difficult session, then there’s absolutely nothing better than hearing your artist say that they’ve finished jabbing pointy needles into your skin.
Once the adrenaline has settled and the happiness of finishing your tattoo has subsided, however, you are likely to begin feeling slightly sore and beaten up depending on how long and intense the session was.
For customers who get only very small tattoos that didn’t take long to complete, they will usually get away with only minor soreness and redness once the initial tattoo work is complete (although the area will probably remain sore to the touch for the next day or two).
For people who have gone through 4, 5 or even 6+ hours in the chair, the coming days can be a bit more uncomfortable.
Having needles go in and out of the same area of the body many hundreds of thousands of times is obviously going to do a bit of damage around the tattoo.
It’s not uncommon to experience mild-to-heavy bruising, swelling, redness and soreness around the area for the next several days, although these effects should gradually diminish day-by-day until they’re completely gone.
It’s worth noting that if things actually get worse instead of getting better then there may be a possible infection present, and you should go back to your artist for further instruction.
Cleaning your tattoo will also likely be quite painful for the first few days due to localized bruising and swelling, although you should still ensure you’re thorough when washing the area in order to prevent an infection. Finish by applying a good quality healing lotion to the area to keep things moisturized and nourished.
The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.
Getting a new tattoo is a highly personal experience, and it doesn’t have to be an unbearable and painstaking process.
Yes, you are likely to feel some form of discomfort throughout your session, but everybody is different, and most don’t end up suffering as much as they thought they initially would.
Choose a well-respected artist, go in with a positive mindset, soak up the atmosphere and try to enjoy the experience as much as possible. This is the best way to mentally keep all of the less-nice parts of getting a new tattoo tucked as far back in your mind as possible.
So, what does getting a tattoo feel like? That depends on you, and the only way you’ll know is by going ahead and giving it a go.
I bet you won’t regret it.