When you get a tattoo, you are essentially doing damage to the largest organ of your body: your skin. This severe wound could cause a multitude of reactions and symptoms as your body goes into overdrive trying to mend the area. Unfortunately, a stinging sensation is one of those painful symptoms that you may experience.
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Stinging During The Tattoo
A tattoo is technically a wound or an abrasion, and like any damage to your skin, it hurts! The tattoo needle, in particular, pierces through your epidermis and inserts ink into your lower dermis in order to ensure it stays put after healing. Whether your artist is using a large needle for outlining, or a multi-needle tip for shading, your skin is being punctured hundreds of times per minute in order to get the work done and set.
The skill of your artist can greatly influence the amount of pain you feel, as professional artists are usually not heavy handed and are able to get the ink placed efficiently with minimal skin trauma. The placement can also influence the amount of pain you feel, with some regions like the foot, ribs, or neck and chest being highly sensitive to pain. A quick pinch test will help you determine your sensitivity level for some regions, or you can follow the chart below.
The stinging sensation you feel is either your hypersensitivity to the small needles puncturing your skin, or the burning of the wound as your immune system tries to fight the injury.
What To Know Before Getting Tattooed
If you wish to minimize the stinging sensation you feel during a tattoo, you should keep a few things in mind prior to sitting down in your artist’s chair.
- Adjust your placement so that it is in a less sensitive region.
- Adjust the size of your tattoo so that you are able to feel out your pain tolerance prior to committing to a large piece.
- Consider doing a simpler tattoo with less color and detail, as the needles and techniques used for shading and coloring tend to increase the stinging pain.
- Areas with fat, muscle, or tighter skin are notably less painful, as is skin on your body that has external exposure.
Another option if you fear the stinging sensation is to use a numbing cream prior to your tattoo session. Some artists do not like if you use a numbing cream on your skin prior to being tattooed as it alters your blood vessels and makes it difficult to deposit the ink, or lowers your pain tolerance overall, making it feel more painful after the cream has worn off. Be sure to ask your artist prior to using a numbing cream.
Stinging After A Tattoo
Unfortunately, the pain and stinging sensation of a tattoo may continue even after you’ve left the artist’s chair. This will likely continue for up to three to four days, which is the most vulnerable time of your tattoo healing and when your body is fighting the hardest to mend it.
Your tattoo may also experience extensive stinging during the first few washes of your tattoo, because it is hypersensitive, swollen, and raw.
While in most cases there is not much you can do to avoid the stinging pain as it is just a part of the tattooing experience, here are a few tips to reduce it.
- Drink a lot of water. Keeping hydrated helps speed up the healing process.
- You can take a painkiller if necessary but avoid blood thinners as this extends the healing time.
- You can use an ointment after your first wash; select one that has anti-inflammatory properties that soothe on contact.
- Avoid smoking, caffeine, and drinking alcohol if possible.
- Avoid tight fitting clothing which will further irritate the tattoo.
- Ensure you are in optimal health prior to getting a tattoo so your body can focus on healing just one injury.
When Burning Becomes a Concern
There are a few reasons why your tattoo may be stinging that are cause for concern:
- An adverse reaction to aftercare products - Be sure to select products that are chemical, paraben, and fragrance-free and do a patch test prior to using them on your tattoo. Check out our article of the Best Tattoo Aftercare Products - Our Favorites Reviewed.
- An infection - In some rare cares, your wound may have been infiltrated and it may have an infection. Symptoms of an infection include the stinging sensation, redness around the outline of your tattoo, blisters or pus, and are paired with fever or chills.
- An allergy to the ink - Some people are allergic to tattoo ink, especially poor quality inks. If you develop a severe rash or experience intolerable burning, please speak to a medical professional.
How Long Does a Tattoo Take to Heal?
While healing time not only depends on the skill of the artist, it differs for each person depending on their own immune system. Your own meticulous aftercare of your tattoo, as well as ensuring you are not picking at or pulling off the scabs and peeling skin that form will all influence the healing of your tattoo as well.
If you have an autoimmune disorder or an existing skin condition, it may take your body a little longer to heal through a new tattoo.
The stinging sensation of a tattoo should not exceed one week, and if it does, don’t hesitate to contact your artist for advice.
Our Final Thoughts
Like any other trauma to our skin, a tattoo causes an immune system reaction that will naturally cause pain and stinging. In some situations, this stinging simply can’t be avoided, and in others it may be a cause for concern. If at any point during your tattoo process and healing you become worried about your tattoo or the stinging becomes intolerable, you should reach out to your artist for advice, and they may direct you to a medical professional for more assistance.