Forearm Tattoo Pain - How Bad Does It Hurt?

Written by: Claudia

You’ve narrowed down your placement and decided on tattooing your forearm. 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.

Forearm Tattoo Pain

The forearm is a popular choice for clients getting tattooed because there’s so much real estate and room to grow your design into a full sleeve over time. In addition, it ranks pretty low on the pain index in comparison to many other places you could get tattooed. Most people report little to no pain at all, while some say there is some stinging or burning due to the thin skin on the inside of the forearm.

tattoo pain chart

During a medical research study, a man used a bee to sting himself on various body parts in order to rank them according to where they fell on the pain threshold. A sting on the forearm ranked at a five out of ten, which was actually quite lower than average. This puts a forearm tattoo at an uncomfortable but completely bearable range.

Inner Vs. Outer Forearm

The skin on our outer forearm is built to withstand more exposure to irritants and environmental factors and, as such, it has more flesh, muscle, and a higher tolerance to pain. On our inner forearm, where the skin is thin and there is exposure to three main nerves which run up our arm, the sensitivity may be a little heightened.

The good thing about tattooing your forearm is that you don’t need to dedicate yourself to a large piece, all at once. You can select your placement carefully, choose a simple design, and build upon it later. Areas closest to the ditch of your elbow seem to be the most sensitive on the forearm, while tattoos placed in the center, either on the inner or outer forearm, mainly cause a dull, irritating discomfort rather than an intense pain.

Get a Second Opinion on the Pain

You’ll likely notice that many people, even those with only one or two tattoos, often have tattoos on their forearms. They can be easily hidden under long sleeves while shown off by choice, there is so much skin to work with so they can accommodate any design, and, of course, the pain is relatively tolerable.

Should you ever be in doubt about how you may react to the experience of getting a forearm tattoo, you should just ask someone for their opinion and how they felt about it. Even though every person reacts to pain differently, you’ll likely get many responses indicating that it was tolerable or not bad at all.

Brittany Randall, a tattoo artist, says, “There aren’t as many nerves under the surface of the forearm, so tattoos there aren’t as painful until you get to the ditch (the inner elbow) and the wrist. If your artist has to go over the same location with their needle multiple times, the skin there becomes more sensitive, so generally tattoos that include thicker lines, heavier shading, or color cause more discomfort than something minimal with thin lines and light shading.”

Learn more about the most painful places to get a tattoo

How to Make a Forearm Tattoo Hurt Less

forearm tattoo pain

If you’re still concerned about how much a forearm tattoo might hurt, here are a few tips that may help it hurt less.

  • Speak to your artist about your fears. They have likely tattooed a lot of forearms or probably have their own tattooed, so they can ease your concerns or reassure you of the experience.
  • Select an experienced artist who will be gentle on your skin. Inexperienced artists tend to overwork your skin which is what causes the most pain during tattooing. A gentle artist will make the experience nearly pain-free.
  • Use a numbing cream on the area prior to being tattooed - but only if you get your artist’s permission first! Numbing creams can be excellent for managing short-term tattoo pain, but can make the tattoo procedure more complicated, so that’s why it’s important to discuss this with your artist prior to your session. If you get the go ahead, check out our article, recommending the top tattoo numbing creams.
  • Eat well, drink a lot of water, moisturize your dry skin, and bring snacks for breaks during long sessions to keep your blood sugar up. Speaking of breaks, don’t be afraid to ask your artist for one if you feel you need it!
  • Distract yourself by bringing a friend (if you get permission to do so), watching something on your phone, or listening to music. Dull discomfort that you do not focus on is much easier to handle.
  • Select a simple design, a design with minimal coloring or shading, or a small image that you can build upon later to get a better feel for how painful your forearm tattoo will be for your individual pain tolerance.
  • Avoid alcohol and blood thinners a few days before and a few days after your tattoo.
  • Dive into a thorough aftercare regimen the moment you leave your artist’s chair. Have a look at our article, Tattoo Aftercare Advice - How Do I Care For My Tattoo?

Our Final Thoughts

A forearm tattoo is prime real estate not only for its size and potential, but also because of how low it ranks on the pain index. If you’ve decided to get your first tattoo and have selected your forearm as the placement, we promise you, it’s a great way to ease into tattooing and get a feel for how much discomfort you can handle. Remember that a high-quality artist will make every tattoo experience significantly less painful for you; they are worth the short-term monetary investment.

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