Chest Tattoo Pain - How Much Do They Hurt?

Written by: Claudia

You’ve narrowed down your placement and decided on tattooing your chest. But now you’re wondering about how much it will hurt. Our Tattoo Pain Series of articles looks at the most popular tattoo locations and gives you the rundown on what you can expect in regards to pain.

Chest Tattoo Basics

Chest tattoos have become very popular over the last few years as the location is easily hidden while also having the option of being beautifully exposed. With such a large canvas to work with, tattoos here can range in size and detail and the placement options are rather endless.

But despite it’s appeal, a chest tattoo can be exceptionally painful.

Why Do Chest Tattoos Hurt More?

tattoo pain chart

Pain is an individual experience and tolerance cannot be compared from one person to the next, but chest tattoos can hurt for a variety of reasons.

First, the skin on this region is not only very thin but it is very stretchy and flexible. When an artist tattoos skin, they have to hold the skin taut during the session. This is quite difficult to do with a chest due to location and comfort level of the client. Skin that is not stretched can be prone to needle jumping which is quite painful and could cause trauma to the region.

Thin skin with minimal padding from muscle or fat means you could feel the rattling sensation of tattooing on bone, and your nerve endings in this area are more responsive and sensitive to pain. If you have a toned chest, both the skin thinness and taut issue is less likely to be a contributing factor to pain, but the nerve sensitivity will still be a problem.

In addition, between your rib cages in the center of your chest sits the sternum bone. This groove is extremely delicate and has a sensitive stress response. The skin there is extra thin and it’s extremely boney, making for a very uncomfortable experience. Ryan Kunsman, owner and tattooer at Arcola Creek Tattoo says that he would, “place the sternum in my top three most painful spots, if that gives any indication. Areas like the rib cage and sternum, I would categorize as high pain areas.”

What Can I Expect the Chest Tattoo Pain to Feel Like?

In addition to the overall sensitivity, areas over rib bones and collarbone can feel like an intense tapping or hammering which can be annoying and sometimes unbearable for people. Since chest tattoos generally tend to be larger pieces, this discomfort can become quite intolerable over a long session.

People have reported that when artists have moved closer to the sternum during a session, the pain becomes excruciating. Some people have also said that the hammering on the bones caused ringing in their ears.

Others have said the needles have just felt like a stinging sensation or sharp pricks and after a few moments during the session, the pain faded away. Nerve sensitivity is different for each person, but the more you extend your piece away from the sternum, the less it will hurt overall.

What You Can Do to Ease Chest Tattoo Pain

If you’ve decided to move forward with getting a chest piece, there are numerous things you can do to help ease the pain.

  • Find an artist with experience. Choosing someone who has experience with chest pieces or knows how to be gentle on sensitive regions will make the experience far better for you. Tattoos become more painful when regions are overworked, so a professional artist won’t have to go over your chest piece numerous times.
  • Ask your artist for advice. Once you’ve found a professional artist to do your chest piece, tell them about your concerns regarding pain. They are usually able to tell from your skin alone how sensitive the experience will be, for you. They will also give you recommendations for placement around your chest area if this is your first tattoo.
  • Start with a smaller design. If this is your first tattoo or your first chest piece, consider going with a small or simple design and then expanding onto it down the line. This allows you to get a feel for your pain tolerance and the sensitivity of the placement.
  • Hydrate and rest. The easiest way to minimize the pain is to prepare yourself days in advance of your session. This includes eating healthy foods which will slow your inflammatory immune response, drinking water and avoiding things like alcohol or caffeine, moisturizing your skin for optimal tattooing and minimal irritation, and getting rest so your body can handle healing the area.
  • Try a numbing product. Numbing creams are topical anesthetics and help desensitize your nerve endings for a certain period of time after application. It’s important that should you want to use a numbing cream prior to getting your chest tattoo, you speak to your artist about it beforehand. Some artists hate numbing creams because it complicates tattooing, and makes the pain even worse after it fades. For a list of our favorite numbing creams, check out our article, The 5 Best Tattoo Numbing Creams For A Painless Tattoo Experience.
  • Place the piece away from your collarbone and sternum. Since we know these areas cause the most pain and experience the most sensitivity, get a piece that does not touch these areas and doesn’t go over that region to help make the session easier for you.

Learn more about tattoo pain and how to minimize it

Our Final Thoughts

Chest tattoos have become quite popular and for good reason: they look phenomenal and are easily hidden for work or personal reasons. Though pain in this region varies for every person, choosing a piece that stays away from the most delicate areas of your chest, such as your sternum or collarbone, can make the tattooing experience more tolerable for you. If you ever have fear about your tolerance to pain, discuss this with your artist who will give you recommendations suitable for your needs.

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