Chest tattoos, once thought of as mostly for the masculine or the heavily tattooed, have recently come much more into vogue, especially for women. Delicate sternum tattoos and bold under-breast designs are unique, in a very personal area of the body, and can be easily covered or shown off, so it’s easy to see why women everywhere have embraced the trend – and a classic upper chest piece still looks amazing as ever on men and women. When getting that fresh tattoo, you might ask yourself: how much does a chest tattoo hurt?
The basics of a chest tattoo and pain
Ryan Kunsman, owner of Arcola Creek Tattoo outside of Cleveland, answered the question pretty succinctly, nothing that he’d “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.”
Bob Haase, artist at Family Tattoo in Chicago, agrees. “It’s a pretty sensitive area. Of course, it’s subjective to whoever is getting the tattoo done, but the torso is just a pretty uncomfortable spot to get poked, in general.”
However, there’s also the possibility that you won’t feel too much pain—for many, the pain scale is relative. “For some people, tattoos hurt, some feel like it’s therapeutic, some people even feel like it just tickles,” says Flame, the owner of Orleans Ink in NOLA. “In my experience, and I’ve been tattooing 13 years, people say their ribs and their sternum are more painful areas.”
Why a chest tattoo can hurt more
One of the big reasons chest tattoos hurt more (or possibly more) are thought to be more painful is the proximity to bone. “Near the sternum can be pretty awful, mostly because it’s such a bony area,” says Haase. Areas with bone closer to the surface tend to give the person being tattooed a ‘tapping’ sensation, which can be uncomfortable for many, especially when combined with the pain of getting a tattoo.
The pain is also thought to be heightened by the skin in the area being thinner and more sensitive than other places, says Haase. “If someone is in very, very good shape, takes care of their body and their skin, it’s usually a little easier to tattoo because the skin is taut and easier to work with, whereas someone who is less toned or maybe bustier in the chest area will have skin that moves more.”
In addition, chest tattoos tend to be larger than your average design simply because of the space available, adding to the length of time needed to finish the tattoo, leading to many people asking the question: how much does a chest tattoo hurt? “Depending on how much of the available space you choose to tattoo, you can expect a lot of freedom in the types of designs you choose for the chest,” Kunsman said, illustrating the fact that a chest tattoo has the potential to be big enough and/or detailed enough to take hours, or even multiple sessions, to complete, which will (obviously) add to the ouch factor.
What you can do to make a chest tattoo hurt less
Kunsman offered a couple of his top pre-tattoo suggestions: “Sleep, food the night before and day of, no caffeine, hygiene in the location at least and your whole body at best, buy your healing supplies, consider your clothing to make sure the artist can access the spot comfortably.”
When it comes to managing pain when getting a tattoo, Kunsman also suggested some techniques to try while having the tattoo done to help you deal with the pain, saying, “Trust that you are not truly being hurt and keep yourself calm. Focus on staying relaxed in every muscle possible and the process will be less draining.”
After all, he says, “the line between pain and pleasure is grey, so convince yourself you’re closer to the pleasure side—especially considering you get to keep your tattoo forever.”