How Much Do Wrist Tattoos Hurt?

How Much Do Wrist Tattoos Hurt?
Credit: Sarah Harvey

When considering a wrist tattoo the first question most people ask is, “How much do wrist tattoos hurt?” But there’s no right answer to this question. So when I asked Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, for his opinion on the pain of a wrist tattoo, his response–rightfully–inconclusive. “Everyone has a different genetic threshold for pain,” he said.

Why wrist tattoos could hurt more

I have tattoos on my wrist, ribs, sternum, lip, and ankle. And, truthfully, I cannot recall which hurt more. Though I must be a glutton for pain because, according to Prairie Koo of Ink & Water Tattoo in Toronto, tattoos on or near joints and bones do hurt more than, say, a fleshy part of your arm–which includes four of my five tattoos. The skin on your wrist is thin, veins are nearer to the surface, and the bones of the joint are more visible, making it pretty simple to answer the question: how much do wrist tattoos hurt?. None of this makes for an ideal canvas if your pain threshold is quite low; but that does not mean you should rule out a wrist tattoo entirely.

Placement is important with any tattoo and if the pain is your biggest concern, where on your wrist you get your ink matters a great deal. The top of your wrist has more skin coverage, so to speak. On most, there are no visible veins and there is, generally speaking, more tissue and fat on the top. However, if your design encroaches on the bone poking out on your outer wrist, you’ll definitely feel the difference. Have you ever watched a medical show where an orthopedist hammers into a bone? Well, tattooing over your wrist bone won’t be quite as violent, but you also won’t be under general anesthetic.

Why your current state matters

In fact, as is the case with every tattoo, your coherence is important, especially when finding out how much do wrist tattoos hurt. Drinking alcohol before getting a tattoo may calm your nerves, but it will also thin your blood and dehydrate you. In a Facebook post from Ikonic Ink, located in State College Pennsylvania, the shop recommends drinking water before your appointment–a lot of it. They explain that “this will actually allow the skin to accept the ink more easily due to the hydration and allow the tattoo process to happen faster without thinning your blood.” Faster tattoos mean less needle time and less needle time means less pain. Need we say more?

While the top of your wrist is likely to be less painful, the inner wrist tends to be a more popular location for a tattoo. Meghan Kortmann, a writer from New York, shared with us her first tattoo experience. Like many, it was impulsive but she has no regrets. “I was studying abroad in Oxford. At the time, I was leaning in hard to the trope of the young American girl abroad and I was generous with my attention and laughter, so it all unfolded really easily. I met the tattoo artist at a club, and he tattooed me the next day.” Kortmann’s new friend tattooed a line from an Emily Bronte poem–no coward soul is mine–on the inside of her wrist. When asked about the pain, she says “It really didn’t hurt very much at all. It was my first tattoo, so I had nothing to compare it to at the time, but I remember feeling pleasantly surprised by how tolerable the sensation was.” Tolerable enough for her to add a portrait of another poet, John Keats, on the inside of her opposite forearm.

The exact area of the wrist matters, too

Both the areas Kortmann chose are where the arms nerve run. Zeichner says “While we don’t have actual data supporting this, anecdotally, I hear that tattoos in areas where there is less underlying fat tend to hurt more than other areas,” including the wrist. “It is unclear why, but perhaps there is a higher concentration of nerves in these areas or perhaps without “padding” from fat to serve as a buffer they hurt more.” One way to test your pain tolerance is to consider how a blood draw at the doctor’s office affects you. That is (hopefully) one needle stick, whereas a tattoo needle punctures the skin between 50 and 30,000 times per minute.

Healing can be tricky

A wrist tattoo may also be more painful or bothersome while it heals. We use our hands dozens of times each day, which makes them and our wrists more likely to be bumped or scraped; the placement over the joint or inside the wrist which is frequently bending may also require longer healing time and extra moisture. Wrist tattoos are also prone to blur faster that other areas for the same reasons, according to Koo. For this reason, many artists recommend designs using single needles or small, delicate lines to preserve the look.

As you consider the pain of your first or next tattoo, also consider its longevity which is as, if not more, important that a few minutes of needle sticks. If you’re like me or Kortmann, these considerations will be made quickly or not at all and can still result in a low-pain, long-lasting tattoo. But if you’re a planner, let this serve as your pro and con list for deciding whether a wrist tattoo is worth the (slightly increased) pain.

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Not ready to go under the needle? Consider an inkbox Tattoo, which look like permanent tattoos but only last for one to two weeks, fading naturally over that period of time. Just a heads up, Inside Out is powered by the folks at inkbox. It’s all part of our shared mission to empower you to tell your unique story, be it for now or forever.

Related: How Much Does a Wrist Tattoo Cost?

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