The question has been posed time and time again, and I never seem to read a satisfying answer - How much does getting a tattoo hurt? Professional tattooists and long-time collectors sometimes tend to forget what it was like to be on the other side of the chair for the first time. Although there is no way for me to tell each individual what it will feel like for them, I will do my best to offer some encouragement.
It's true that everyone has a different threshold of pain. What one person considers not painful at all could be devastating to another. Some people describe the feeling as a "hot scratch". Some have said it was "annoying". Most say it was not nearly as bad as they feared. But there is a little more than pain alone to consider when getting a tattoo.
Fainting and Tears
You may have heard horror stories about people passing out or crying from the intense pain. First of all, people pass out because their blood sugar drops from not eating or they just allow themselves to get too worked up and their own fear knocks them out. Pain is usually not the culprit when someone faints during a tattoo. As far as crying goes, there are some that find the pain too much to bear. These people are few and far between - don't assume you're going to be one of them. I shed a couple tears myself once - after an eight-hour session that was pure torture during the last two from all the stress on my body. More than likely, you are not going to be sitting down to an 8 hour tattooing session! So don't give in to the horror stories - we moms love to share labor and birth horror stories, but that doesn't stop girls from having babies!
Fear of Needles or Blood
If you have a fear of needles or blood, getting a tattoo isn't going to be easy. However, I would like to point out that tattoo needles do not enter the skin very far as many fear - actually, it only goes in about 1/16 of an inch. Take a look at a ruler and you'll see just how insignificant that is. Another thing you can do is get your tattoo somewhere on your body where you will not be able to watch the work going on. This helps some to overcome the apprehension, by not actually seeing the needle.
The needles move in an up-and-down motion, carefully pushing the ink just below the surface of the skin. The damage to your skin is so minimal that many people don't bleed at all - or very little. The tattoo artist will also be constantly wiping up your skin to clean off any traces of blood, so it's done in a very clean and professional manner. Excessive bleeding usually only results when the patron has been drinking alcohol or taking some kind of blood thinner (like aspirin).
I do not consider myself real tolerant of pain. But certain things hurt more than others. I can endure childbirth much better than I can deal with a toothache. I think the end result and the reason you are experiencing the pain can affect how much it hurts. Getting a tattoo is one that I consider worth the discomfort because of the outcome. I know that I'm going to have this beautiful piece of artwork on me that I can be proud of when it's all said and done.
You're Not Alone
Another thing to consider is the fact that nearly everyone is nervous when they go to get a tattoo. I don't care how many you already have, there is always a feeling of apprehension when you sit in the chair. This is your body's natural defense - endorphins. Your own endorphins will kick in and help to ease any pain or discomfort you are about to deal with. The first 60 seconds is usually the worst, and then when you realize it's just not that bad, you calm down and the rest is smooth sailing.
Learn As Much As You Can
And the number one thing that I find helps me to deal with any situation of feeling anxious is being 100% educated and informed about what I'm getting into. When I wanted to get my first tattoo, I did so much research about the whole process and exactly what to expect that I fell in love with the art. When I finally made the decision to get my first tattoo, I knew exactly what to expect and was not nearly as nervous as I thought I would be.
If you truly want a tattoo, and you take the time to be educated about the process and how to choose the right artist that you can have complete confidence in, I promise you that you will not run out the door screaming due to the pain. You will walk out of that studio with a smile on your face, and your permanent "rite of passage" that is well deserved for overcoming your obstacle of fear.
The Beginner's Guide to Tattoos is dedicated to those taking the first step into getting a tattoo. I invite you to read this and educate yourself on procedure, safety, and aftercare. This will give you the confidence that it gave me to sit in the chair and get inked for the first time.
For more information on tattoo pain, check out What hurts more? Outlining or Shading/Coloring?