“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.
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 an 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.