Philippines · Third-Culture Thoughts

How Badly Does Getting a Tattoo Hurt?

If getting a tattoo isn’t a thing to do while traveling, I don’t know what is.

I’ve been in the Philippines for some time now and will be leaving soon, so this seemed like the perfect time to finally get one done at the highly recommended Whiplash Tattoo parlor on Aguirre Avenue in BF Homes—my very own stomping grounds.

I’ve always been curious as to exactly how badly getting a tattoo hurts.

I’ll start by documenting the various levels of pain I’ve experienced in my life on a rough scale of one to ten so that I can see where getting a tattoo fits in.

On this scale, one represents nothing more than a pinprick while ten stands for I’m literally dying right now.

For clarification, we’re talking about an entry-level tattoo here, on my thigh which is basically all muscle, so we’re not hitting any bones or nerves. Who knows, one day I might get one on the spinal cord or some other such sweet spot and rank that in too.

  • Laser hair removal. It’s just a pinprick: you can more or less pretend it’s not happening.
  • Practicing MMA with a bruised rib. When someone puts their full body weight on your chest and you already have an injured rib cage, you will definitely wince. It is equally unenjoyable when you get kicked in that same spot.
  • Sprained ankle. A fairly common sports injury, sprained ankles are no fun. You know you can’t get up and keep playing because it hurts too much.
  • Removal of wisdom teeth. Sure, I got anesthetics. If you ask me, the needle the size of my hand they jabbed into my gums multiple times was one of the most unpleasant parts of the experience. Then again, I do hate needles. Even after the numbness kicked in, the pressure and general discomfort of drills and tongs breaking up and forcing out bits of a tooth that hadn’t even broken the surface yet was no fun. Years later, my orthodontist said I could’ve kept them. Thanks for nothing, dentist.
  • Broken hand bone. This happened to me in high school and in the first couple of hours it hurt quite a lot. I even cried when I told my mom about it.
  • Frozen ear. Not fun. This was in high school as well. It happened when I rode my bicycle to school on -15 degree Celsius winter day and wore a little beanie that didn’t cover my ears because I thought it was cool. I barely made it through the first class before my ear and head started aching so much that a teacher got me a ride home. Laying on the couch that day with a frozen ear is one of the most uncomfortable afternoons in recent memory.
  • Phakic Intraocular Lens implant. So very worth it but definitely not fun for the first few days. Eye surgery: ouch.
  • Reconstructive jaw surgery. Of course I was out during the procedure but waking up after eight hours of jaw reconstruction was, quite frankly, awful. I experienced pain of all sorts during the week-long hospital recovery.
  • Childbirth. Giving birth to life feels like death. I have other no words for it, except that it was the only time in my adult life that I screamed in pain.

I detailed the experiences above before actually going in for the tattoo and my luck—or lack thereof—gave me an immediate reference point for the pain.

On my way out the door for my booking, I missed a step and twisted my ankle, which is still a bit swollen as I write this. It was only a light sprain but when I got home with my fresh ink and swollen ankle I was groaning much more about the latter far than the former.

So we have our finalized rankings:

  1. laser hair removal
  2. practicing MMA with a bruised rib
  3. getting a tattoo (on your thigh)
  4. sprained ankle
  5. removal of wisdom teeth
  6. broken (hand) bone
  7. frozen ear
  8. phakic intraocular lens implant
  9. reconstructive jaw surgery
  10. childbirth

In my estimation, getting a tattoo falls right in between a bruised rib and a swollen ankle and receives a pain ranking of 3: not exactly comfortable but certainly bearable.

What does it feel like?

I’d say it’s a little more uncomfortable than laser hair removal because there are actual needles burrowing into your skin but the initial pain is mild. You get used to it quickly, though it becomes unpleasant towards the end.

When the artist does the final touchups on an already open wound, the skin is pretty sensitive and it smarts a bit more. You might also be feeling a bit stiff from staying in one position for a couple of hours. I had been on the table for three, and really needed to pee.

P.S. The tattoo artists at Whiplash are amazing; if you’re in town you’ll want to book them for sure.

P.P.S. You can check out my first ink here on their Facebook page.

Update: I’ve since gotten a tattoo on my back that runs up the spine to the nape of my neck. That was much harder to deal with than the one I got on my thigh. However, as much as it can hurt while you’re getting it, the pain doesn’t last long after the fact. Still, I’d easily bump tattoos like this up to a pain level of 5 or 6, maybe even as high as 7.

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