My Tattoo Hurts. What is Normal?

Fresh tattoos hurt - it's just a fact we have to deal with.  After all, you just had your skin punctured thousands of times with small needles and your body needs to heal this damage to hold the tattoo ink and replace the upper layers of skin.

So what is a normal amount of pain to be in after your new tattoo?  Well, most people equate tattoo pain to bee stings and razor scratches, or somebody scratching a fresh sunburn.  Sometimes during the tattoo you might feel like a nerve got pinched or is burning as the tattoo needles pass over a sensitive area or over bones.  Usually these sensations are brief and pass as soon as the needle leaves the skin.

A fresh tattoo usually feels like a bad sunburn for the first 2-4 days - it is sore to the touch but otherwise shouldn't bother you too much.  You will probably notice it the most when you are applying aftercare ointment or lotion to it, or washing it in the shower or sink.  Hot water will make you feel the burning sensation more than cooler or lukewarm water will.  The sun will also hurt - not only will you feel the sensation of burning, but you should protect your new tattoo from this exposure to prevent fading!

Tattoos on extremities, especially on the ankles or around the legs, tend to throb or hurt more during the healing process.  I suspect this is due to blood pressure, and the fact that your skin will be trying to heal -  your circulation may slow in that area to allow the capillaries to rebuild and restructure as you grow new skin.  Many people find this annoying and more painful than healing a tattoo on a more central location like the shoulder or chest.

If your tattoo is hot to the touch for more than two to three days and continues to be red around the edges, talk to your tattoo artist and have them take a look at it to see if it is just a normal healing response.  If you are ever concerned that your tattoo is infected (usually accompanied by oozing, scabbing, and/or persistent itching and throbbing pain) see a doctor immediately.  Most fresh tattoos are pink and swollen initially and calm down over the next 24 - 48 hours.  Those farther from your heart will take longer to calm down than those close to it.  Usually you can even see the tattoo getting less pink over an hour or so following its application, but the swelling will be present for a while.

I use anti-inflammatories like Advil to help reduce swelling, and this has been very successful in speeding my healing process and reducing pain for me.  I take Advil at the beginning of the tattoo session, and for the first 24 hours afterward.   I do not experience the swelling of leg tattoos that several of my friends have experienced, but they tell me the also see improvement with taking an anti-inflammatory.  Elevation of the swollen area also can provide relief.

When in doubt, talk to your tattoo artist, and if you suspect an infection, talk to a health care professional.  Always keep your health first!  And, happy tattooing!

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