While it’s exciting to get new ink, it’s only natural to wonder how long your tattoo will hurt as you go through the healing process. Will it take a day, a week, or a month to go back to normal? And beyond that, you might wonder if there’s anything you can do for tattoo pain relief or to alleviate the itchiness that creeps up, especially if it starts to get annoying.
According to professional tattoo artist Lisa Doll, the most painful part of any tattoo will always be the actual tattooing process. Once you leave the studio, you can rest assured the hardest and most painful part is over. But you’ll still be able to tell that your skin has a superficial wound, obviously caused by the tattoo needles. “They puncture the skin over and over,” Doll tells Bustle, “which creates small holes in the skin as well as surface heat and friction.” But there are methods you can turn to for tattoo pain relief.
Doll likens the sensation of a fresh tattoo to a scraped knee. And like a scraped knee, a new tattoo might bleed for a few hours and feel hot or sore, before eventually peeling and itching as it heals around day five. “It will feel varying levels of sore and raw, depending on the scope of work done,” Doll says. Read on below to find more info about tattoo pain, which areas typically hurt the most, and what you can do to alleviate it.
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What Type Of Tattoo Hurts The Most?
A tiny line tattoo on your wrist that only takes 10 minutes to do might not have any lingering pain at all. But get a big, detailed tat that takes six hours to complete, and Doll says you can expect the body’s inflammatory response to stick around longer. The square footage of skin that is now an abrasion will need more time to repair itself, she explains. And any time you put pressure on it — by moving and doing everyday tasks — you’ll feel some discomfort.
Still, the sensation of a big tattoo shouldn’t prevent you from going about your life. “The larger the work and session duration may influence someone to take it easy for a day or two,” Doll explains, but notes most people are back at it right away.
The location of your tattoo is another factor. Get one in an area of your body that needs to stretch and bend — like your armpit, the inside of your elbow, or behind your knee — and you can expect it to hurt a little more and for a little longer than a flat area, like your inner arm.
According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Anna Chacon, M.D., the pain might also be worse in areas with more nerve endings, like on your fingers or toes, as well as bony areas, like your hip or elbow.
“The type of pain that is abnormal is pain that increases over time instead of improving after the procedure itself,” Chacon tells Bustle. If the area becomes warm or extra painful, she notes it’s a warning sign of a tattoo infection that’ll need to be treated by a doctor.
Tattoo Pain Relief Tips
To lessen your suffering, both Chacon and Doll recommend getting inked only when you feel good, both mentally and physically. You’ll experience a lot less pain during and after if you go into the studio well-rested, hydrated, and relaxed. They also recommend rescheduling your appointment if you’re sick or have your period, since both scenarios can make you more susceptible to pain.
As for tattoo aftercare, it’s best to follow your artist’s recommendations for cleaning and moisturizing the area. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Purvisha Patel, M.D. says they’ll likely suggest carefully washing and drying the tattoo with a mild soap before covering it with a petrolatum-based ointment.
If you’re super worried about pain, you can always ask about a lidocaine ointment to numb the area. Patel says you might also consider taking over-the-counter ibuprofen once you get home to ease inflammation and discomfort. After that, you could stock up on a cream or lotion specifically formulated for tattoo pain relief to keep on hand for whenever you feel aches.
Take care not to scratch or knock into the area of your new ink so that it can heal properly. From there, you should be all set. “Remember, if it was considered a high level of pain, tattoos wouldn't be so mainstream and popular,” says Doll. “Any discomfort is often forgotten because it pales in comparison to the joy people experience when seeing their tattoo.”
Shop Products For Tattoo Pain Relief
A Soothing Salve
For Extra-Strength Relief
Snag this potent pain-relieving cream if you’re dealing with pesky irritation or aches. It uses a strong dose of CBD plus arnica and menthol to numb your body art as it goes through the healing process.
The Drugstore Buy
This drugstore staple contains 41% pure petrolatum jelly, which works to form a protective barrier over your ink and aid in healing. There’s also glycerin, a moisturizing ingredient that’ll keep your skin hydrated.
Lisa Doll, professional tattoo artist
Dr. Anna Chacon, M.D., board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Purvisha Patel, M.D., board-certified dermatologist