These Are The Most & Least Painful Places To Get A Tattoo, According To The Pros

Photographed by Beth Sacca.
“Did it hurt?” It’s one of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to body art. Never mind that getting a tattoo has become downright pedestrian, with everyone from Disney stars to corporate suits joining in. In fact, in the past five years alone, the tattoo industry has grown by nearly 10%, collecting revenue of $2 billion in 2017, according to market research by IBIS World. But no matter how common body art becomes, we all want to know about that elusive pain factor.
That’s because until you feel needle-to-skin for yourself, it’s hard to gauge exactly what you’re getting into. Rae Alexandra is a San Francisco-based journalist who has in the neighborhood of 50 tattoos. As she points out, it’s hard to say with certainty which tattoo placement will hurt more than another. “A lot of people warned me about how terrible the inside of the upper arm was, but I breezed through it,” she says. “Same with the top of the foot.” Her point? It’s pretty hard to nail down how others may process pain.
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Another contributing factor to how much we feel the burn is the length of a tattoo session itself. “The longer you sit, the worse it gets,” Alexandra says. “I've actually had a couple of artists tell me it's better for the art to not go longer than three hours. At that point, your body is going to start fighting it.” Additional circumstances — like having had too much caffeine, too little food or water, or being premenstrual, iron deficient, or hungover — can also heighten sensitivity.
Still, questions about pain prevail. In effort to get guidelines as to which body parts take tattooing easier than others, we consulted Alexandra and three tattoo artists (all of whom are inked themselves). See their takes on which placement choices are chill enough to induce naps and which are better known as nail biters, ahead.
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Placement: Near The Armpit

Pain Level: High

“There are a number of nerve endings near the armpit, which explains why people are so ticklish there — and why the skin in that area extremely sensitive,” says Noah Lee, a tattooist who runs his NAL Studio out of 3.1 Phillip Lim in L.A.'s Arts District.
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Placement: Stomach

Pain Level: High

All four of our artists and enthusiasts cite the fleshy stomach as one of the more painful places to get inked. “With only organs resting underneath the layer of skin and muscle, the discomfort is mainly due to your insides being pressed upon,” explains Georgia Grey, a tattoo artist of 10 years with residencies at shops including New York's Bang Bang. "Tattooing the skin in that area also tends to feel more pinch-y rather than a warm, burning sensation.”

Amanda Boone, a Nashville-based tattoo artist who appears on Paramount Network’s Ink Master, calls her stomach tattoo — done in eight hours over three sessions — her most painful. Ditto for Lee, who has about 30 tattoos himself. “My stomach tattoo was the most painful one yet, even though it's one of the smaller pieces in my collection,” he says.
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Placement: The Palms & Near The Nails

Pain Level: High

While Boone pegs the palms of hands as a tattoo spot that clients frequently grimace through, Lee tags the finger, right below the cuticle as another touchy site. “Around the nails is an extremely sensitive area with a ton of nerves underneath,” he says, giving us all the more respect for Rihanna.
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Placement: Ribcage

Pain Level: High

“With thin skin and bone sitting right underneath, the ribcage can be uncomfortable location to get tattooed,” Grey says. “The artist has her arm on the client's torso during the session, so that adds pressure, too.”

But that’s not all: Lee notes that the area also tends to be extremely sensitive and ticklish. “Working on the ribcage requires a bit of patience from both the tattoo artist and client,” he says.
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Placement: Top Of The Foot

Pain Level: High

Two of our three tattoo artists named this spot as a major lip biter, thanks to very thin skin that sits atop the bone. “Its a different sensation when you feel the needle almost rattle the bones,” Grey says.
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Placement: Sternum & Chest

Pain Level: High / Low

No matter how much our bodies change, our sternums remain the same: a bony area with little-to-no fat — and it makes for a painful tattoo. Grey notes that the whole chest vibrates in session, something that can amplify sensation. "Having pressure placed on your chest is not ideal for any client," she says.

But those that go for a little higher placement on the chest often experience considerably less pain, according to Lee. Boone, who has inked 70% of her body, attests, "The tattoos on my chest hurt the least."
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Placement: Outer Arm

Pain Level: Low

Both the forearm and upper, outer arm offer relative smooth sailing in the pain department, according to our pros, thanks to tougher, thicker skin (created, in part, by sun damage).

But as Alexandra explains, getting tattoos in seemingly breezy locales can be painful, thanks to additional factors. "Both of my arms are heavily tattooed, but the right one hurt way more than the left. I came to realize later it was because I had it done right before I got super sick with anemia,” she says.It made sense afterwards. The artist had actually pointed out in one session that my blood was ‘paper thin.’”
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Placement: Thighs, Calves, & Shins

Pain Level: Low

As Boone notes, the skin on our thighs and shins may be more desensitized, due to a lifetime of legs rubbing against clothing. Both areas contain lots of strong supportive muscle, too, “whether you work out or not,” adds Grey — something that minimizes discomfort. “I had a client fall asleep while getting the calves tattooed few days ago,” she notes.

Alexandra vouches for the theory: “The fronts of my thighs have been easy across the board,” she says.
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Placement: Throat

Pain Level: Low

We always looked at people with throat tattoos as being incredibly tough: not only are they 100% committed to flashing their ink, but it really looks like it hurts to get the thing done. But Lee tells us otherwise, citing the throat as one of the least painful areas on his list to get inked.
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Placement: Top Of The Finger

Pain Level: Low

Love the look of a finger tattoo but aren’t up for the pain that comes with getting inked near the cuticle? Lee suggests going for placement near the knuckle. “Although other places close to the bone are painful, the top of the finger by the knuckles can actually handle a decent amount of pain,” he says. “It's also a place that typically suffers the least amount of fading, as far as finger tattoos go.”
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