Lowering the Pain Factor When Getting a Tattoo

For some ink enthusiasts, the sting of the needle is half the fun of getting a tattoo. However, not everyone shares this penchant for physical pain and suffering. If you'd rather not feel the burn, these tips for lowering the pain factor can help you through your next tattoo experience.

Start small

Before you start planning full sleeves, recognize that there's no such thing as a pain-free tattoo -- at least not a permanent one. Sure, you can take precautions to ease the pain, but bottom line is: You're going to feel something. From the grating hum of the tattoo gun to the irritating scraping of needle across skin, getting a tattoo isn't generally considered a comfortable process. With that said, it's important to note that pain is tolerated differently from one individual to the next; so, just because your friend said his tattoo hurt like heck doesn't mean that you'll feel the same pain.

One way to lower the pain factor when getting a tattoo is to start small. Even if your eventual goal is a large landscape that stretches from your tailbone to shoulder blades, start with a small tattoo to see how well you tolerate the pain. It's a surefire way to ease yourself into the tattooing process and help you determine whether a larger motif is something you're willing to sit through. You may find that the pain is better or worse than you expected, but you won't know until you try it. Likewise, if you move on to a larger piece, keeping your individual sessions short -- say 30 minutes to an hour tops -- can help lower the pain factor.

Plan for less painful placement

Again, every individual is different, but certain parts of the body are generally considered to be more painful canvases for a tattoo. These include highly sensitive areas, such as the armpits, groin, and bony areas (the ankles, backbone, and sides of the upper body). This is not to say that you shouldn't get a tattoo in these areas, but you may want to start with another body part and work your way up to a potentially more painful placement.

Just say no to self-medication

It's a common misconception that tipping back a few brewskies before getting a tattoo lowers the pain factor. However, this myth couldn't be farther from the truth. Drugs and alcohol, including over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin, don't lessen the pain of getting a tattoo. On the contrary, in most cases, they actually intensify it. In addition, alcohol and OTC pain relievers thin the blood, which leads to excess bleeding during the tattooing process. And forget the wooziness; this excess bleeding can also lead to ink loss, affecting the final result of your tattoo. What's the point of enduring the pain if your new tattoo doesn't look amazing when you're done?

All this is in addition to the fact that getting a tattoo while you're under the influence could greatly impair your decision-making skills and ability to correctly spell your own last name. (Is it "ie" or "ei"? I forget.) Head to the tattoo parlor high, and you might end up with the Chinese symbol for spatula (there's got to be one, right?) instead of serenity.

If you've done your research, you've probably heard of various sprays and ointments that promise to ease the pain of getting a tattoo, but many artists suggest that these types of products are ineffective. Critics say they wear off quickly, giving way to worse pain than you'd have experienced without a pain-reducing product. Whether you're for or against such products, these statements are difficult to back up, so proceed at your own risk.

Prepping for your appointment

We've established that getting a tattoo is never a pain-free process, but you can potentially lower the pain factor by preparing for your appointment like you would a big test or work presentation. Get plenty of sleep the night before, and take a shower and eat something prior to your appointment. In addition to avoiding drinks and drugs the day of, don't head to your appointment with a hangover. Basically, the less stress your body is already experiencing, the better you'll be able to tolerate any pain associated with getting a tattoo. If you're dealing with hunger pangs, exhaustion, and/or a hangover headache, any pain from the tattoo gun is going to seem that much worse.

Another tip: If you normally bleed a lot when cut, try eating Jell-o® for several days prior to getting a tattoo. Jell-o helps coagulate the blood, leading to less bleeding. This won't necessarily have an effect on your pain levels, but it can potentially improve the final result, making any pain involved more worthwhile.

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