Do Tattoos Hurt? Should I Use Numbing Cream?

Although everyone has their limits and handles pain differently, the answer would still be yes. Tattoos hurt, but the level of pain can vary depending on the person, the size and the placement of the tattoo.

Our bodies can take pain comfortably for short periods of time, so naturally a small tattoo with minimal shading won’t be much to handle. But, when you’re considering a day of tattooing, we have to know our limitations. Something to think about when determining how much pain you’re ready to take is where the tattoo will be placed.

Your body will naturally do it’s best to get you through, but some places on the body may not be as easy. Places on the body where the skin is thinner can be more sensitive. Tattooing over a bone or near the joints may cause involuntary twitching. Examples of these areas would be the ribs, knees, feet, hands, elbows, or head. Just to name a few.

If you’re planning on getting a big tattoo, more than just the placement matters. A small tattoo with minimal shading, you may be able to handle pretty well. A bigger tattoo typically involves more lining and shading and requires you to sit still for longer periods of time. A good way to manage this is with distractions.

Watching a movie, listening to music, or reading a book are a good way to keep your focus on something other than the pain. You should always prepare to be at a tattoo appointment for longer than you expect. That way, finishing early is just a bonus.

Numbing creams are often used to help get through a tattoo, but most artists won’t suggest it. For numbing creams to be effective, they need to be applied several hours prior to starting your tattoo. The pain-blocking effects of numbing creams are temporary, and can be helpful for quick, simple tattoos but will wear off long before you finish a mid to full day session. You may feel more comfortable in the beginning, but once the cream has lost its effect is when the real pain hits all at once. Your body will not have had a chance to gradually adjust to the feeling.

Pain killers also aren't recommended. The effects of some pain killers are blood thinning, which can actually make the process longer and more painful. Thin blood results in excessive bleeding, which can cause the ink to have a harder time penetrating and holding in the skin. This can lead to your tattoo having a harder time healing. Alcohol and drugs can also trigger the same effects. So what’s left to do?

Our bodies produce endorphins. This is your body's natural response to pain or stress. These hormones relieve pain and create a general feeling of well-being. The same way after getting a tattoo, it will naturally begin to heal itself. In fact, our bodies are in a constant state of removing damage and producing new, healthy tissue.

Overall, the key is to prepare. Do what you can to make the day as comfortable as you can. Your body will naturally do it’s best to manage pain and get you through, but when you’re considering a longer session, make sure to prepare yourself. Get a good nights sleep; eat before your appointment so your body has enough energy; don’t drink or do drugs, so you have a clear mind and body; ask a friend with experience what you can expect. Do your research online, or better yet, ask your artist!


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