Getting inked but unsure where? Here are the most and least painful places on your body

tattoo artist wearing black latex gloves tattooing colourful tattoo on woman's visible outstretched arm
Most (and least) painful places to get a tattooKosamtu - Getty Images

When it comes to getting a tattoo, the chances are you'll have thought long and hard about what it'll be and where it'll go (unless it was more of a rash decision...). But what about the pain scale? Given that tattoos last, well, quite literally forever (unless you have it removed), then we totally get that the aesthetic is likely to be your key priority. But it's certainly also worth thinking about how sore or painful the actual tattooing process will be... if only to avoid a nasty surprise on the day of your appointment.

Whilst we wish we could say 'Oh actually, tattoos don't really hurt that much wherever you get one done', unfortunately there is a real difference in how painful one is likely to be, depending on where on the body you get it. Looking to get a foot tattoo, or something inked on your armpit? Well, let's just say you might want to consider investing in some numbing cream beforehand.

With all that in mind, we chatted to Fredrik Glimskär, founder and CEO of online tattoo marketplace Inkbay, to highlight the most (and least) painful places to get a tattoo – as demonstrated by the tattoo pain chart below.

Tattoo pain chart

Scared of tattoo pain? These are the most painful places to get a tattoo
Issy Muir

"Tattoos are great, but I’d be lying if I said they were completely pain-free," Fredrik says. "There's no place on your body where you won’t feel the scratch of the needle to some extent, but there are certain places that hurt more than others," he confirms.

The tattoo enthusiast and founder did clarify that if you were to ask 20 people where they consider the most painful place on the body to get a tattoo, "you would likely get 20 different answers". But still, he notes, "there are places on the body that people with multiple tattoos will agree are particularly painful". And here they are...

Most painful places to get a tattoo: Ribcage

The ribcage is a particularly painful place to get a tattoo, explains Fredrik, because "you don’t have as much fat, muscle, or skin on your ribs, meaning you will feel the scratching of the needle a lot more". Ouch. He also suggests the heightened pain "could be down to the central nervous system, as the nerves surrounding the ribs are supposedly really close to the surface of the skin". And one other reason a tattoo on your ribcage will hurt is that "the ribs move every time you breathe, which makes the tattooing process more painful".

According to Fredrik, the worst thing about getting a tattoo on the ribcage is that the pain doesn’t let up. "I’ve had tattoos all over my body and usually after about one-two hours, once the body is used to it and stops reacting, the initial pain signals subside a little," he says. "This isn't the case with the ribs, the level of pain is consistent throughout - for six hours in my case!"

Most painful places to get a tattoo: Head

Although Fredrik has never had a tattoo on his head personally, he's heard from those who have that it's renowned for being really bloody sore. "Not only is it painful because of the lack of fat and abundance of nerves here, but apparently the noise and vibration is a little scary - it can feel like they are drilling your skull!" Delightful. "There is definitely a psychological as well as physical pain barrier to get over when it comes to getting a tattoo," he points out.

Most painful places to get a tattoo: Inside of thigh

"In theory," says Fredrik, the inside of the thigh "should be one of the less painful places to tattoo because it isn’t close to the bone, and there is a lot of flesh and muscle". But in reality, it can be one of the most painful locations on the body to get a tattoo done because "it's an area that isn’t as exposed and is therefore more sensitive". And, he adds, "It may also be more painful than other areas as it heals, purely because it will likely rub against your other leg quite frequently."

Most painful places to get a tattoo: Inside of upper arm/elbow

Not to freak anyone out, but from Fredrik's own experience, a tattoo here "hurts like hell". Why? "Two out of the three main nerves in the arm run right under the inner elbow, making it highly sensitive," the Inkbay founder explains. "Whenever the nerves are pinched, it can cause pain to run right through the arm, not just the area where the needle is."

Most painful places to get a tattoo: Feet/ankles

A tattoo around your feet and ankles can cause so much pain and discomfort because "the skin is so so close to the bone, with very little fat to pad or cushion the needle strokes". But who knows, maybe you'll be the lucky one who can hack it...

feet resting on grass with flower tattoo over ankle
Fuse - Getty Images

Most painful places to get a tattoo: Inside of wrist

It's a similar story here. "Like the feet and ankles, there is little fat there," explains Fredrik. And as well as that, "there are a surprising amount of nerve endings on the inside of the wrist" which can only add to the pain.

Most painful places to get a tattoo: Hands/fingers

"Having a tattoo on your hands and fingers is painful for a number of reasons; the skin is thin and therefore sensitive, they are bony and filled with ligaments, and, as the ink doesn’t stick to this area of skin very well, the tattoo artist may need to go over the design a few times," says Fredrik.

Most painful places to get a tattoo: Armpit

Granted, an armpit tattoo might sound like an odd one, but people do get them done. And it can be particularly sore, the tattoo marketplace founder explains, "because the axillary nerve is located here as well as the glands, and the skin around the armpit is extremely sensitive".

So now you know all the places you might want to avoid getting inked if your pain threshold is low, you're probably wondering where you can get a tattoo without sobbing in agony the whole way through...

Least painful places to get a tattoo: Outside of arm

A tattoo on the outside of your arm tends to be far less painful than one on the inside of the arm, Fredrik explains, because the skin on the outside of the arm isn’t as close to the main nerves running through the arm. "For example, while the inside of the elbow is notoriously painful, when I had the outside of my elbow tattooed I could barely feel it," he recalls.

woman applying body lotion over tattoo on arm in the bathroom at home
FG Trade - Getty Images

Least painful places to get a tattoo: Side of calf

"Anywhere in the area above the ankle and below the knee is a good place to get a tattoo, especially if you opt for the side of your calf muscle, away from the shin bone," says Fredrik. This, he explains, is because "there aren’t as many nerve endings in this area. As you get to the back of the calf, near the back of the knee, it will become considerably more painful".

Least painful places to get a tattoo: Outer shoulder

"The outer shoulder is a common place for people to get their first tattoo as it is considered one of the less painful areas - again, this is because there are few nerve endings in this particular area, and there is enough flesh to provide cushioning against the needles," the Inkbay founder says.

There you have it, time to decide if you're a 'no pain, no game' kind of person, or would rather just stick with the safest option.

Trying to avoid tattoo pain altogether? Invest in some numbing cream before you hit the tattoo studio:

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