So, How Much Does a Chest Tattoo Hurt?

chest tattoo hurt
Credit: Sarah Harvey

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.”

Related: How Much Does a Wrist Tattoo Really Hurt?

Join the Conversation


  1. I bet a chest/between the boob tattoo would hurt about the same as a rib tattoo? Same proximity to bone as a rib which hurt me sooo much. I love delicate between/under boob tatts but am not sure if I would want one for life…

    1. Hi Oshi,

      I got a rib tattoo before I got my under breast tattoo last week. I thought for sure it wouldn’t hurt as bad but boy I was wrong. I have an extremely high pain tolerance but this one was one for the books aka it didn’t feel good. Normally the pain is therapeutic for me but this is very very painful. I think you should do it. I’m so happy and proud of myself and I think you will really love it. Just relax relax relax is all I can tell you. Everyone is different so it might not be as bad for you as it was for me 🙂 I just want you to know what to expect.

  2. im getting a tattoo more to the left side of my chest above my left boob but not right on the shoulder and im nervous about the pain for that.

  3. I’m having a tattoo on my chest above the nipple with my granddaughter’s name. What should I expect regarding pain? Is it recommended to take an analgesic like Ibuprofen or something stronger prior to the session?

    1. Hi Nick! You can definitely expect to feel some sensitivity while getting the tattoo, but the exact amount of pain will vary depending on your personal pain tolerance. We don’t recommend taking ibuprofen, though—it’s a blood thinner that can actually lead to heavier bleeding during the tattooing process. We have some tips on getting through tattoo pain, here, and if you’re still worried, you can also chat with your artist directly about other pain management options.

      Best of luck!
      — Inside Out

  4. I had my whole chest tattooed in one 7 hour session (artist extremely fast). It hurt in parts, such as in the centre on the bone, but I found the experience no more painful than when I’ve had my arm and leg sleeves done. It was the most bruised/sore I have felt after a tattoo though. I’m a male with an average body

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