Tattoo Removal Pain - How Much Does It Hurt?

Written by: Claudia

If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’re having a few regrets about some old ink.

If you’re wondering whether you can handle sitting through a tattoo removal procedure, we will give you the rundown of what options you have and just how much pain you can expect.

How Painful Is Tattoo Removal?

We aren’t going to lie to you; tattoo removal can be painful, but generally no more painful than getting the tattoo itself. Where the tattoo removal lies on the pain spectrum is dependent upon a few factors:

  • The removal process you choose
  • The location of the tattoo
  • The intensity of the pigment
  • The age of the tattoo
  • The skill of the artist who made the tattoo
  • The colors of the pigment
  • The size of the tattoo
  • The removal session you are in (first, second, third, etc.)

Of course, like tattoo pain, tattoo removal pain is relative to your own pain threshold. Some people compare the experience to an intense sunburn, others compare it to a rubber band being snapped against your skin.

The least painful spots for tattoo removal are generally when tattoos are located on:

  • The upper arms
  • The front of your thighs
  • Your shoulders

The tattoo pain charts below will help give you a general idea of the pain of removal, as well.

tattoo removal pain female tattoo removal pain male


Research also shows that your stress, fear, or negative perceptions towards pain can negatively influence your ability to withstand it, so we hope this article helps to put you at ease ahead of the process.

What Does the Procedure Feel Like?

There are three procedures available for tattoo removal and what you feel depends upon which option you choose.

Laser Tattoo Removal

Generally thought to be the least painful, laser tattoo removal uses a high-intensity laser with small bursts to break apart ink particles in a tattoo. The ink particles then become absorbed by your body, causing your tattoo to slowly disappear with each session.

Laser tattoo often does need multiple sessions to fully remove the tattoo, especially with size and color in consideration, and it does get less painful with each session. This process generally feels like having a rubber band repeatedly snapping against your skin, and afterwards may feel like a bad sunburn.

The pain is generally felt during the procedure and not long after.

Take a quick look at the best laser tattoo removal machines.


This process involves a sandpaper-like technique which sands off the top layer of skin and then uses microneedling to remove the ink fragments. The clinic will numb your skin prior to doing this procedure, and you will likely have dressings to change during the recovery process.

This is significantly more painful than laser removal, but often requires only one session. You also could be at risk for infection following the procedure if you don’t take care of your wound.

Following the procedure, people often describe this as feeling as though hot oil splashed on their skin; the spot burns during recovery.


Another tattoo removal procedure available to you is surgery. This is the most invasive option, and it can include full or localized anesthesia (depending on the size of the tattoo). The plastic surgeon will cut off the tattooed skin and stitch the remaining skin back together. It is a recommended option for significantly smaller tattoos.

This option feels like any small but significant wound which was treated with stitches. It requires only one session.


As tattoos continue to grow in popularity, there’s been a surge in tattoo removal creams. There are many people out there that want to remove the tattoos they’ve had placed on their body. But, not all tattoo removal creams were made equally. It’s important for you to understand what to look for in a tattoo removal cream so you can ensure you’re purchasing a high-quality cream that’ll work.

Check out our buying guide and reviews of the best tattoo removal cream

Laser Tattoo Removal Aftermath

For laser tattoo removal, the majority of the pain is felt during the sessions themselves. Afterwards, it may feel as though you have a sunburn, but the intensity of this goes away in 36 to 48 hours.

The spot where you had the treatment may experience:

  • Blistering
  • Flaking skin
  • Scabbing
  • Redness

These are all normal side effects of the procedure. It is recommended that you drink lots of water following your treatment, keep your hands off the area, do not pick or pull at scabs or blisters, avoid direct sun exposure on the area, and use a vitamin E ointment to help with the inflammation and restore the skin. You should also avoid baths, pools, or hot tubs during your healing period.

It takes around 30 to 40 days between sessions for your skin to be fully healed and ready to sit through another procedure. Usually, less aftercare is required for any subsequent tattoo removal sessions, as your body has less ink reacting to the laser and gets used to the procedure.

You should also know that sometimes laser tattoo removal may leave scarring where your tattoo once was, or may leave a lightened pigment in place of your tattoo. Some tattoos can be completely removed with sessions, but some may leave an imperfect spot in its place. Talk to a tattoo removal specialist to better understand how your tattoo may look following your procedures.

Ways to Make Tattoo Removal Hurt Less

There are a few ways that clinics are able to make a tattoo removal procedure less painful for you.

Numbing Cream - Though numbing cream doesn’t completely eliminate the pain of a tattoo removal procedure, it will certainly minimize the intensity of it. We compiled a list of The 5 Best Tattoo Numbing Creams For A Painless Experience to prepare you for your session, but oftentimes clinics will use prescription numbing agents which will be far more effective against the pain.

Cold Air Machines - If you’re nervous about pain, ask your clinic whether they use cold air machines during their procedures. High-quality clinics use this cooling technology as a way to numb your skin prior to your laser procedure. The cold air numbs the skin on contact and tends to last longer than numbing creams on their own.

Cold Compress - Ice packs and cold compresses are an easy way to ease the burning sensation of laser tattoo removal. It should never be applied directly to the skin; ensure you wrap the ice pack or compress in a paper towel or a tea towel prior to using it on your wound.

Lidocaine Injections - This option is not offered by all clinics because it’s required that it is administered by a medical professional. It’s a localized anesthetic option that can be quite efficient for larger tattoos. It’s no more efficient than cold air machines, and is more invasive.

Prepare Yourself Mentally - It almost seems silly to say, but the best way to prepare yourself for your appointment is to psych yourself up. A fear response or anxiety can increase the pain you feel, so come to your procedure without stress or hesitation, or distract yourself ahead of time. Bring a stress ball with you to the session if it helps keep your mind focused off of the pain.

Our Final Thoughts

If the fear of the pain of tattoo removal is holding you back from getting rid of that bad memory on your skin, don’t be afraid. Laser tattoo removal is generally less painful than getting the tattoo itself, and the more prepared you are for the session, entering the procedure with a calm mind, the stronger your threshold to the pain will become.

Speak to a professional about your tattoo removal options and what relief treatments might be available to you.

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