Tattoos feel differently depending on the person, the placement, and the style of tattoo. Some people can fall asleep during a tattoo—especially on HUSH—while others need to use numbing products to get through. We know tattoo artists that hate getting tattooed and others that live for it.
We’ve asked employees, friends, family, lovers, even exes for their take on what tattooing feels like, and we are sharing their experiences with you—there’s no scientific way to explain how pain feels. We prefer anecdotal evidence in this case.
“I have approximately too many tattoos to count. I’ve seen many different artists, both good and bad, and spent thousands of dollars. But the one thing all my tattoos have in common is that they HURT. Was it bearable? Sure. But did I wish I could detach my arm from my body just during the tattoo session? Absolutely. Nearly every tattoo that I’ve gotten has felt kind of like a continuous bee sting. Some spots hurt more than others, and shading nearly makes me pull my hair out. I would say my most painful tattoo was right on my hand and wrist. I put on a brave face for my tattoo artist, but I could barely hold in my anguish.”
"When I walked in to get a fine-line tattoo of my favorite dinosaur, I was so nervous walking in that I was shaking. I can describe the pain as between a bone marrow biopsy and a flu shot. Interestingly, getting the tattoo hurt less than how it felt a few hours after when it started to prickle and burn. I should definitely have invested in tattoo aftercare. All in all, getting a tattoo was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. When I look in the mirror, I don't see my father's chin or my grandfather's eyes—I see someone who is totally and completely me. I am working with my artists on my next piece, but I will be bringing something to numb the pain this time."
"Every tattoo is different, but they all hurt to some extent. Getting ink on a thicker spot like the front of the thigh has been a breeze for me, but when it gets close to the tender inner thigh or inner bicep—ouch! I always recommend (if you're an introvert like me) headphones and an audiobook or True Crime podcast. Anything to keep your mind occupied while you're getting poked. And ask for breaks if you need them—just remember that when that break is over, it may hurt more."
"One of my most memorable tattoos has to be the one my friend Mary gave me! She had a machine, so it was definitely less brutal than a stick and poke. It was her first time using a machine, so it was painful. I flinched MANY times. Her line work was very heavy, and I could feel it in my nerves. When she filled in the black ink, I felt like my skin was being exfoliated off with hot sandpaper. In the end, it is one of my favorite, most cherished, and memorable tattoos. I also get by far the most compliments on this one than anything else! It's unique, personal, and part of me."
“I've been told I have a high pain tolerance. Even with that, all of my tattoos (which are all on some part of my forearms) had a little sting to them; not quite enough pain to bring tears to my eyes (except for my first one on my outer wrist which was just needle on bone the whole time), but not enough for me to ever need to take a break.
For comparison, I've laid down my motorcycle, been stung by wasps and bees, and jumped off a 15-foot waterfall only to miss the water and slide through the mud to hit my face on a rock. I cried with my motorcycle, was just plain confused with my wasp stings, and laughed off my busted face. Use an anesthetic if you're worried about getting a tattoo because of the pain. Easy peasy!
A little vibrating sting is the best way I can describe it—like alcohol on a paper cut, like a couple of ants just going to town on your arm like it's a buffet, but nothing like getting stabbed or sliced open like a lot of people seem to think.
The best thing you can do is prep yourself. on't psych yourself out before your sesh, make sure you've eaten, are fairly well-hydrated, and skip the booze, smokes, and caffeine leading up to it so your body is better equipped to deal with the pain.
We have a natural pain management system, and I promise, as a neuroscientist, that it will kick in within minutes of that needle hitting your skin. So if you're worried about what it feels like, use some numbing gel or numbing cream for tattoos, make sure to prep, and then just imagine how badass you will look and feel with your new art!”
“My stick and poke felt like tiny pinches. When I gave a stick and poke, it honestly felt weirder—like the skin is sticky when you pull the needle out. My machine tattoos were easy, but all of them are in the fattier areas to get tattooed.
I got one around my thigh, and that one was mostly fine and kind of felt good at times, but the inner thigh was a little more sensitive. But I’m one of those people that mostly likes the sensation of getting tattooed. Sometimes it feels a little annoying, like someone singing the same part of a song over and over but lightly under their breath. At some point, you realize what they’re doing and want to tell them to knock it off.
That being said, if I ever get a boney part of my body tattooed—I’m loading up on one of these numbing gels because I have no reason to feel a tattoo needle vibrating through my skeleton. No thanks—numb me up!”
“Tattoos feel like nails scraping your skin but not cutting through it. After that initial pain, it’s like a warm hug against your body, and it feels good. The itchy part of the tattoo healing was the worst for me. I have eczema, so I got a really nice soothing ointment to help with that.”
“Yesterday, I was talking to a friend about her first tattoo because she is scared of needles, and she recalled that her tattoo artist got annoyed when she said needles because he was like needles are hollow. He said, “These are pins, not needles!” So it’s like a lot of pinpricks. It feels like vibrating pins to me. But shading is like a sharp dragging vibration.”
“Like scratching a sunburn.”
“A lot of little owies.”
“It’s a hot, burning sensation, and it feels like someone is scraping your skin.”
“It depends on where you get it, obviously, but I would say it feels like a constant sharp pressure… not unlike the initial needle poke from a shot.”
“It’s like when you touch your arm to the metal part of a seatbelt on a hot day getting into the car.”
“A bunch of tiny electric shocks!”
“A fuzzy dull sting and burn!”
“It feels like repeatedly slapping a sunburn. When it comes to that bummer line work, it’s like someone dragging a needle around your skin.”
Machine tattoos and stick and pokes feel different. Shading and line-work feel different. The thigh and the wrist feel different. Generally, people feel differently! Some have equated their pain levels to a “bone marrow biopsy,” and others find it “painfully exciting.” Some would prefer to go through the experience raw and feel all the feelings, while others would prefer to opt for a little topical numbing agent, thank you very much.
Look, we made a word art from everyone’s experiences: