We have all seen the tattoo pain charts that supposedly show the ouchiest place to get tattooed. Most of them feature ominous nuclear zones in the crotch and armpit regions with varying shades of doom on the backs of knees and elbows. Most of this information is subjective as how much getting tattooed hurts depends on too many factors to contain in a single chart (although if you HAVE to look at one here is my favorite)
And how much does this chart help you anyway? If you want a sleeve you are getting your elbow ditch or your knee ditch tattooed – period. And that shit hurts. A lot. No glowing red orb on the chart is needed to point out the obvious.
What causes tattoo pain?
What else contributes to tattoo pain? Your own personal threshold for pain is the biggest one. How prepped you are is another biggy (TIP: sleep well, eat well, and drink TONS of water before going to get tattooed – and drink throughout the tattoo if possible to keep hydrated – makes a huge difference!).
Another significant factor are the artist themselves. Some apply their ink with careful finesse, others hammer down like they are looking for your bones. (TIP- ask the artist if they have a light or heavy touch before you start so you can prepare.) And when it’s all said and done? That tattoo is going to hurt. It really is and you should be prepared for some pain. Period.
Now that we have the hard truth out of the way – is there anything you can do to make it easier? Yes! There are a multitude of products on the market that help with pain while being tattooed.
How to get relief from tattoo pain!
You can go the basic route – come in prepared and maybe swallow a couple of Tylenol, before you begin (or during). You can go the risky narcotic route and take meds in the hopes you will feel the pain but just won’t care that much. I don’t recommend this one mainly because being tattooed and being medicated are mutually exclusive. It’s akin to chugging a quart of Monster Energy Drink and then trying to meditate peacefully for an hour – good luck with that.
Personally I like to start au natural. Just let the artist get started and enjoy the natural endorphin high that kicks in after the first 30-45 minutes. This euphoric buzz will likely keep you going for 1-3 hours before your body starts to register that this shit is not likely to end anytime soon. Once you start to feel compromised – shaky, flinching, tired – then it’s time to bring in reinforcements so you can power through.
Tattoo pain relief products!
What is sometimes known as “bitch spray” in the tattoo community can actually be the difference between sitting and quitting. There are many types of topical relief but they are not all the same. The biggest factor to consider is using a product that will not inhibit your artist. The wrong product can make it hard for your artist to work by making things slippery or greasy and even diluting the ink – BAD!
Recently I was extremely excited to get to work with Teresa Sharpe at the Tahoe Tattoo Show in Lake Tahoe. This has been a tattoo collecting dream of mine for years and my in- progress leg sleeve is more than I could have ever hoped for. Luckily Teresa has a light touch. When I commented on it she remarked that she had to go easy or she wouldn’t be able to get people to sit for so long. Plus she works fast – another huge bonus. And her works speaks for itself. Her speed and gentle hand in no way detract from the quality of her line work or color saturation. Total. Pro. But enough about my girl crush. I still had to sit for about 8 hours to get outlined and I still hit the wall at the 4 hour mark – pretty standard for me. But this time I had a secret weapon. This time I had Sustaine by Face and Body.
Sustaine is meant to be used on broken skin so that you can endure repeated tattooing in the same area. If you have ever sat for a long shading session you know what it feels like to dread the needle coming in contact with the already tattooed area. The phrase “Burning Sands of Hell” comes to mind. Sustaine is a lightweight gel that you put on the area and it just cools everything right down. No more flinching. No more bee-sting sensation. It mutes the pain making it possible for you to relax and let your artist work.
After a long tattoo session you might get a case of the shakes. This is actually you going into (mild) shock. Like a trauma victim, your body tries to deal with excess adrenaline, fatigue, and overworked pain sensors that are fried after multiple hour sessions. Using a product like Sustaine helps you stay out of the red zone so when your artist finally utters those magic words, “I think we are done” you can walk out of there without collapsing in a heap in the reception area (been there, done that).
I have a lot more hours ahead of me with Teresa and I plan on using Sustaine as well as a couple of other Face and Body products to help make the experience be about getting the kick-ass tattoo of my life and NOT about getting woozy and tattoo-sick and tapping out.
Plus now that I have one leg done I will of course need the other one done and I am already trying to finagle a collab between Teresa and my other favorite artist of all time Kelly Doty. That will be some beautiful pain and worth every prickly second – especially with my little helpers from Face and Body along for the ride.
(NOTE: Face and Body is a paid advertiser on this site – Thanks guys!! – but this is NOT a paid promotion. I used their product and am now giving my honest opinion based on my personal experience.)