What Does Getting A Tattoo Feel Like? The Truth About How Painful It Really Is

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What Does Getting A Tattoo Feel Like? The Truth About How Painful It Really Is

I got my first tattoo on the day I turned 18. I walked into a local tattoo shop with three friends, and got a 6-inch sword inked in black and white on my back. I don't mind pain, but I put up with it, always have, and getting this tattoo was no different.

What does getting a tattoo feel like?

To me, getting a tattoo felt like getting a constant jolt of electricity shocking me in the back. When the machine would glance across my spine, my arms and legs would go loose and dangly like a puppet's.

It was a bizarre experience more than it was a painful one. For me, the pain came afterward when I was healing. My tattoo felt hot on my back for a week, and so itchy that I thought I'd lose my mind, but I didn't. It healed, and I moved on to get 5 more tattoos (and counting).

Much as each tattoo represents a certain feeling, a certain time in my life, so do the memories of what getting those tattoos felt like. The ones on the inside of my wrists were the most painful, whereas the one on my butt was so pain-free that I kept peeking behind myself during the inking to make sure it was actually happening.

Getting a tattoo is a painful experience, but it's also a totally unique one because we all handle pain differently. And based on a tattoo pain chart, you have a better idea of what to expect, whether it's your first tattoo or your hundredth.

Tattoo Pain Chart

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Of course, the pain is different for everyone, depending on your threshold. So, I asked 15 tattooed people to tell me what they thought, and I was surprised by just how different all of their answers were.

What people with tattoos say getting a tattoo feels feel:

1. It's like a rite of passage.

"Best description I've been able to come up with is this:

Linework: It's like getting the design carved into your skin with a razor.

Shading/color: Once the skin is broken, it's like rubbing on a bad sunburn.

Healing: It will feel like a bad sunburn healing. It stings at first, but it slowly fades and itches. Then, you never feel it again after a week or two. It sucks but that's the process."

2. Some styles are more painful.

"Line work is the most intense, but it also goes pretty fast if the lines are pretty thin. Honestly, I'd rather have the slight throbbing/soreness of the first few days instead of the itching later."

3. It's different for everyone.

"It's hard to tell someone what they'll experience when getting a tattoo. Everyone's pain threshold is different. I'm close to having a full sleeve on my left arm. Each one felt uniquely different to me.

Shoulder/upper arm was like an annoying cat scratch. The ditch (inner part of the knee or elbow) was probably the roughest spot along with the bone on the elbow. Wrist was nothing to me. The stomach area felt like I was getting stabbed in the belly button at times."

4. It's like a serious cat scratch.

"I tell people it just feels like a cat scratch... That lasts for an hour or two."

5. It's like a sewing needle.

"Personally, I describe the feeling as akin to have a sewing needle dragged across your skin with a decent amount of force and pressure. A deep cat scratch is more painful IMO."

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6. It stings and burns.

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"Lines kind of sting, and shading is kind of a burning feeling. The better your artist, the less it will hurt."

7. It hurts — but that's the point.

"You're getting a tattoo. It's going to hurt, but it's nothing you can't handle.

There are people who want tattoos but are too scared of the pain. It's really silly to me. Obviously, getting a few needles in your skin deep enough for ink to stay will hurt. Anyone who says it doesn't hurt is lying."

8. It feels like getting pinched.

"I had a friend who described it as getting repeatedly pinched, which was more accurate than I'd expected for me. But the pain sensitivity definitely varied on location, even in the same tattoo.

Bony areas hurt more. The inside of my forearm hurt more than the outside. And I could barely feel lines. But shading or trying to create full color hurt way more. Just so much retracing the same area."

9. It feels like an Epilady.

"Have you ever used an Epilady — one of those little handheld machines that pulls all the hairs out of your legs? For me, it felt exactly like that. Sunburn is a good description, too. For me it was far less painful than I thought it was going to be."

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10. Pain varies by body part.

"It depends where on your body it's happening because some areas feel more intense, and if it's line work or shading/coloring. For me, the line work was the worst part. I could have the shading and coloring all day long without a care."

11. It's akin to scratching a sunburn.

"For the most part, it just feels like scratching a sunburn. The ones I have behind my ears and on the back of my neck, I didn't feel any pain at all, they just felt warm. I have a large forearm piece and towards the end there was some pain down by my wrist and up near my elbow, but I think that was due to being tattooed for so many hours straight."

12. It's like your first time.

"The tattooist told my ex that it's like losing your virginity: at first it's uncomfortable and you will bleed, but soon you will start to love it."

13. It like an insect bite.

"Feels like a constant bee-sting."

14. It's like pulling off a band-aid.

"To me, it feels like I'm slowly peeling off a band-aid from a hairy spot, but all of the pain is focused in one tiny place that moves around. Shading I usually barely feel."

15. Well, it's all just pressure.

"A hot bee-sting at its worst. Pressure at its best."

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. Her work focuses on relationships, pop culture and news.