Common Tattoo Questions; Does it Hurt? - By Jon Poulson

I get people stopping by every week asking the same questions; this week was no different. I've decided to answer some of these questions in a public forum, so that others can benefit. I'm going to break this up into segments to that it's not a novella. Hopefully more like smaller chapters that anyone can read in their preferred order, depending on which questions are the most important to them.

With the new-found acceptance of body art, including tattoos, in popular culture, comes waves of people that in decades past would have never considered a tattoo because of the stigma attached. But now that tattoos are an accepted way to express yourself; a way to express your differences; a way to protest society;  even a way to express your sense of belonging to a particular culture, group, club or way of thinking; a way to remember someone, something, or a moment in time; sometimes even just a way to fit-in. The reality is, more and more people are getting tattooed for every reason imaginable.

But, even though it's widely accepted, not everyone can jump into the commitment of a new tattoo so easily. Which is understandable. I've talked to numerous people that really want a tattoo, but deep-down they are afraid for one reason or the other. What if I can't handle the pain; What if I don't like this image staring back at me for the rest of my life; What if I don't like the results; What if I change my mind in the future; What if my best-friend/boss/parents/members of the opposite sex/and the list goes on... doesn't like it? What if..., What if... What if... And each is a valid concern. It's a life-long commitment. What if? And I can't answer that question for anyone. That's something that each individual must answer for themselves.

What I can tell you, from experience, that once you find that perfect first tattoo, you'll know it. You'll know where you want to get it, and you'll know why. And in reality, that's all that should matter. What do you think of it. Here's why: After you get your tattoo, as you're caring for it, you're going to look at it multiple times a day for weeks, months even. Then, after about 6 months you'll notice that you haven't looked at it or even shown it to anyone in a week or two. That's when you'll look at it from time to time with fond memories that bring back the original emotions of why you got it in the first place. Then, after about 9 months to a year, you'll realize that you only see it now and then, and you usually don't even notice it anyway. Maybe when you're getting dressed one morning,  or walking past a mirror at a certain angle, etc... The reality of a tattoo is; It becomes a part of you. You don't notice it any more than you notice the lines on your wrist or elbow. It's just that... a part of you.

Now, if you did your research, and go to an artist that will do a great job on your tattoo, an artist that will give you honest advice. And you did your research, making sure what you are getting isn't a symbol that stands for the opposite of what you are thinking to some other culture, and that you are realistic about what is physically possible as a tattoo (it is pigment(s) injected into living tissue in real-time by an individual; not a computer printing onto a two-demential piece of flat paper), you'll do what most of those tattooed people out there do. Look at your tattoo from time-to-time with fond memories. And that's the reason most people get tattooed. Some times people get a tattoo so that others can tell instantly a little something about that person, or provoke a thought or conversation. But a tattoo is a personal choice that should have meaning to you, and you alone. Expressing that thought or idea to others is, and should be a secondary motive.

So, now that you know that you aren't alone in your fears of the comitment of a tattoo, we can get down to some of the questions people ask about their first tattoo.

Does it Hurt to get Tattooed? 

What do you think? Of course it hurts! it's a very hard sensation to describe; that's why you've heard so many people describe the sensation differently. But honestly, getting a tattoo feels like... getting a tattoo! The pain comes from multiple needles penetrating your skin thousands of times in quick succession. The needles don't go very deep; In fact, when done correctly, the needles are going just below the first layer of skin (the Epidermis) and barely into the second layers (the Dermis). The tattoo needles don't go deep enough to puncture veins, they don't go deep enough to hit the bone. They are barely go a millimeter into the skin. (otherwise blood would push the pigment back out as quickly as it was applied). The easiest way to answer this question is; the sensation of getting a tattoo is similar to a slow scratch.

I tell everyone; Yes, it hurts. But, it's a manageable pain and as soon as I do the first small line so that you can feel it, You will realize that you will be just fine. You, like everyone that's come before you, have built the pain up in your imagination based on what others have told you and your perception. I also tell everyone that in addition to the realization that a tattoo is rarely as painful as they imagine, that by the time we're done, they will be ready to be done. So, it's not the pain of getting tattooed that's the painful part, it's the pain over time that will get to you. Most people can't go beyond the 3 hour mark; I certainly know that I can't, and won't get tattooed for over 2-3 hours. That's my personal limit. (Thus the need for "sessions" on larger pieces.)


What is the Least/Most Painful Area to Get a Tattoo?

This is a tricky question to answer. Tattoo pain is tattoo pain. It feels the same no matter where you are getting tattooed. The difference in pain at certain areas of the body is directly related to the sensitivity of that particular area. But beyond that, it's biased. The reality is; Everyone is different when it comes down to "the most painful area to get tattooed". While there are areas that everyone says hurts more than others, There are almost as many that say those areas are no more painful than easier areas. So, you will never really know where the most or least painful areas are until you experience them for yourself. The strange thing is, I've worked on someone for several weeks in a row and they have experienced little or no pain in that area. Then one week, they say it's excruciating. And while they have been able to go 3-4 hours in weeks past, on that particular day, they an only go for 45 min - 1 hour. So i've come to realize that it has a lot to do with the state your body and mind are in while getting tattooed. Coming to the conclusion that pain is subjective. So, I answer this question with:

Don't worry where it's going to hurt More or Less. It's a Tattoo, it's not going to be pleasant. But, you'll make it through it just fine. Worry more about where you want this particular tattoo. Get it there regardless of the perception of pain associated with that area. The pain is temporary. It hurts while I am physically tattooing you. After it feels akin to a sun-burn. When it's healed, you won't remember the pain. You will however, have a tattoo where you wanted it. For a Lifetime of enjoyment.


To sum it all up: Tattoos do hurt. They don't hurt as bad as most people think. Anyone can make it through a tattoo with a little will-power and persistence. While there are areas on the body that hurt most people a bit more than other areas, please don't let that get in the way of your decision. Get your tattoo where you want to get it, get your tattoo how you want it, and get your tattoo for the reasons you want.  Don't let anyone directly influence your decision to get a tattoo or not get a tattoo. This is your body, You get to live with this tattoo for the rest of your life. Not every tattoo needs to have meaning; sometimes the meaning comes from getting the tattoo itself. It represents a time in your life; Be it a struggle, or anything but a struggle. A tattoo is a representation of a moment in your life and a reminder of that moment.

If you are considering your first tattoo, we are here to help  you make informed decisions on what to get, where to get it and everything else.

Feel free to contact us at directly with questions, etc.. We'll help you make informed decisions about your new tattoo.

Jon Poulson

Owner, Artist Aloha Salt Lake Tattoos in Murray, Utah. Clean, Professional Tattoos by top artists.