How Painful Is a Finger Tattoo?

How Painful is a Finger Tattoo?
Credit: Kheila Cruz

Think about your fingers for a moment. Consider how often you use them—for everything from texting to pointing to grabbing and scratching. If you’re a basketball player, you use your fingers to dribble and shoot. If you’re a pianist, you use them to play. If you’re a student, you use them to hold your pen or type on your keyboard as you take notes. Our fingers are high action parts of the body, but they’re also small and prone to pain. 

How painful is a finger tattoo, though? Unfortunately, it’s impossible to answer this with absolute certainty because everyone has a unique pain tolerance. “In my experience with customers, the response to finger tattoos has been quite varied from absolutely fine to high up on the pain scale,” says Brighton, England based tattooer Rosie-May. Still, it is possible to say that typically, the finger is a more painful spot to get tattooed and some parts tend to be more sensitive than others. 

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Why are finger tattoos more painful?

“Compared to other parts of the body, finger tattoos are usually described as more ‘sharp’ and ‘pinchy.’ That’s no surprise considering you can feel the bones and knuckles under the skin so easily,” explains Gaia Rowntree, a tattooer in New Zealand whose portfolio is filled with finger designs. Rowntree explains that the reason fingers are so prone to pain is because of the lack of fat and muscle padding the area. “Without this protection, fingers are more vulnerable to the sensation of the needle making contact with sensory nerves.”

Despite their penchant for pain though, Rowntree says there’s a “silver lining” when it comes to finger tattoos. “Most [finger] designs are small in size, so the process is usually quick and the pain doesn’t last very long.” Fingers are also relatively easy to tattoo, making the process smoother (and faster) for both clients and tattooers. “I find fingers really satisfying and enjoyable to tattoo,” Rosie-May continues. “The customer has easy movement if you need to reach different areas of the finger and the skin is already fairly taut so you don’t have to work too hard to stretch it.”

Which part of the finger hurts most to get tattooed?

Part of the reason it’s impossible to say exactly how much pain a finger tattoo inflicts is because, despite its relatively small size, different parts of the finger experience varying degrees of pain. Rosie-May has found that “the closer you go to the nail, the more intense the sensation becomes.” Rowntree agrees, adding that knuckles are also a particularly painful spot because of the lack of cushioning from fat and muscle. 

What can you do to make finger tattoos less painful?

While “how painful is a finger tattoo?” is an unanswerable question, what we can confirm is that regardless of the amount of pain your finger tattoo inflicts, you will experience at least a bit of discomfort. There are several ways to limit that pain though. Rosie-May suggests being aware of your breathing. “Keeping your breathing steady and taking long deep breaths is important in managing the pain with any tattoo,” she says. “It helps you reach a relaxed state. I know it sounds cliché, but if you surrender to the process rather than trying to fight the pain you will have a much better experience.”

Both artists also recommend arriving to your tattoo appointment well rested and having eaten a good meal. “The process of getting tattooed drains your energy levels so it’s important to keep yourself well fed and hydrated,” says Rosie-May. Rowntree also advises clients to avoid alcohol in advance of getting tattooed. Alcohol thins the blood making it “more difficult for the artist to work and can result in a longer process and more time to sit with the pain.” 

Other simple ways to limit the pain include taking breaks if you need them and finding ways to distract yourself. Distraction works wonders for pain management, says Rowntree. “Good ways of relaxing and taking your mind away from the pain are chewing on some candy or gum, zoning into nearby sounds or music, or making conversation with either your tattoo artist or a friend.” Make sure to ask beforehand if you are able to bring a support person with you, though. And, if you’re considering a numbing agent to avoid as much pain as possible—something she sees from people with particularly low pain thresholds—she suggests talking to your tattoo artist in advance of the appointment to determine if this is something they’re open to so you can get suggestions. 

If you liked our post, “How Painful is a Finger Tattoo?”, check out How to Take Care of Finger Tattoos.

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