Tattoos are rapidly becoming more popular and also more accepted throughout society. Whether it’s just one tattoo or as many as possible, lots of people want some ink. However, not everyone is prepared for the level of pain that is involved in a tattoo. Some hurt more than others, but it’s always going to hurt. Those who have never gotten a tattoo before are smart to do some research and learn about what they should expect from the whole experience. Just how long will a tattoo be sore? The pain, discomfort, and aftercare last much longer than just getting the tattoo itself. 

How long will a tattoo be sore after the session?

On average, the soreness from a new tattoo will last between 3-7 days. This is assuming you are following the aftercare instructions and no infection or reaction has set in.

In a perfect world, tattoo pain won’t last that long. However, there are many factors that go into what you will feel and experience when getting and healing your tattoo. Some are out of your control, such as allergic reactions. But, there are plenty of things you can do and control to minimize the pain in the days following the tattoo. 

What Makes a Tattoo Sore 

Everyone reacts and heals differently, but no one is going to be completely immune to pain. Tattoos are not natural and they irritate the skin. This will cause some swelling and soreness no matter who you are or what you do. 

That being said, there are several things that can contribute to the pain of your tattoo experience. Keep these things in mind when getting your tattoo, and when taking care of it after the fact. 

Your Health

The best time to get a tattoo is when you are completely healthy. If your body is at all compromised from being sick or healing from major wounds, it won’t handle the process of tattooing very well. This means the swelling and bleeding during the tattoo can be worse than usual, which will not only hurt more but it can impede the artist’s ability to do the tattoo. 

Tattoos gotten under these conditions will hurt for longer after the fact as well, due to the added irritation and/or damage to the skin. If your body is fighting something else at the same time, the healing process may also be prolonged. 


Your artist will take every precaution necessary to give you a  professional, clean, and safe tattoo. They will then send you home with detailed instructions on how to take care of it. After this, it’s up to you; they’ve done all they can. 

Aftercare instructions may vary slightly in terms of product recommendations and application/cleaning frequency but they are pretty much the same across the board: 

  • Wash with unscented soap.
  • Moisturize with unscented lotion. 
  • Stay out of the sun for the first two weeks.
  • Stay out of the water (short showers are okay) until it is healed.

Closely follow the specific instructions you are sent home with. There may be some variations depending on the tattoo location and/or your skin type. Failure to take care of the tattoo properly will prolong the healing and can cause unnecessary pain due to dryness, tightness, or possible infection. 


The more friction that a fresh, healing tattoo comes in contact with, the more it’s going to hurt. Of course, no one expects you to sit at home and not move for two weeks while it heals. You must go on with your life, but you should be wary of your healing tattoo for the first couple of weeks. 

Try not to touch it until it’s absolutely necessary for cleaning. Wear loose clothing when possible to avoid rubbing. 

As you go about your day, try not to let anything bump or touch the tattoo. If something hits it or you bump it on the wall or someone grabs it, it’s going to hurt. The stronger the impact, the more painful it will be. 

There is also the risk of damaging the tattoo if it gets hit or scraped hard enough. So, just be mindful of the tattoo and try to leave it alone and covered as much as possible. 

Normal Tattoo Reactions

Since tattooing is not a natural thing, our bodies aren’t going to react perfectly. As far as your body is concerned, the tattoo is no different than any other open wound or injury. 

Therefore, there are several symptoms and reactions that are completely normal. First-time tattooees may experience these and become concerned or even panicked, thinking something is wrong. 

If you’re experiencing any of the following, there is no cause for concern: 

  • Mild soreness in the days following the tattoo. 
  • Slight redness. 
  • Mild swelling. 
  • Itching.
  • Flaking. 
  • Peeling. 
  • Scabbing. 
  • Some bleeding during the tattoo. 
  • Draining of excess ink, blood, and plasma in the first 24 hours. 

Of course, calling your artist or the shop to be 100 percent sure won’t hurt if you’re still anxious about something you’re seeing. The above symptoms are normal but don’t hesitate to make a phone call – they won’t charge you for it and you’ll put your mind at ease.

How to Spot Infections 

Infections are probably the biggest health risk you’ll take when getting a tattoo. Fortunately, they are not terribly common these days. Technology, health/safety precautions, and practices, as well as the ink itself has all improved tremendously over the years. Tattooing is considered relatively safe, but there is always the possibility that it will get infected, much like any other cut or wound. 

If you follow all aftercare instructions and take care of your tattoo properly, you will greatly minimize the risk. However, it’s important to keep your eye out for any possible infection. The sooner an infection is noticed and treated, the better the prognosis will be, for both yourself and the tattoo. 

If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, call your artist or your doctor immediately for further steps: 

  • Extreme and/or prolonged redness or swelling. 
  • A rash or bumps are forming around the tattoo area. 
  • The pain is increasing rather than decreasing over time. 
  • There is excessive drainage coming from the tattoo. 
  • If you start having the chills, sweats, or shakes. 
  • If you develop a fever. 

Just because you take perfect care of your tattoo, doesn’t mean you are completely immune to infection. Monitor the tattoo closely and don’t delay in calling a professional if you even think it might be infected. 

How to Spot an Allergic Reaction 

It is possible to be allergic to tattoo ink. Some people will perform a patch test before getting their first tattoo, though many don’t. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can happen immediately after getting the tattoo, or years down the road. It all depends on how your body reacts. 

Whether it’s happening right away or years later, there are symptoms and signs that you can watch out for. If you think you’re having an allergic reaction, contact your artist as well as your doctor to find out what can be done. They can often be treated with topical creams. In extreme cases, tattoos may have to be removed in the case of severe reactions, but this is a rare occurrence. 

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include: 

  • A lot of swelling, irritation, and redness on and around the tattoo. This is a minor reaction and often clears itself up in a few weeks. 
  • Photosensitivity. All tattoos should be protected from too much direct sun exposure,  but if yours is particularly sensitive and reactionary to the sun, you may have an allergy. 
  • Dermatitis. This can be developed as a result of an allergic reaction to mercury sulfide, which is found in most red inks. 
  • Small bumps developing on and around the tattoo – also most common with red inks. 
  • A scaly, bumpy appearance can be indicative of an allergic reaction. 

Will pain killers help my tattoo be less sore?

If a tattoo is always going to be painful, it may seem logical to take painkillers right before to alleviate some of the pain. This makes sense on the surface, but it can actually be a bad idea. 

Many medications, including the very common ibuprofen, can affect the thickness of your blood. Most tattoos will bleed a little bit. This is normal. However, having blood that is extra thin can cause excess bleeding, which can eventually lead to problems. 

Medication can also inhibit your body’s ability to clot the blood, meaning it will take longer to stop bleeding. In addition to the health concerns related to too much blood loss, it can affect your tattoo as well. 

Too much blood can cause impaired visibility for your artist. A lot of blood coming too quickly can block their view of your outline and may cause mistakes. It will also take them longer to complete the tattoo as they will have to stop more often to wipe it. This can result in higher costs. 

If you plan to get a tattoo, doctors recommend not taking pain killers beforehand. Taking them after the fact is not a problem. 

Do Smaller Tattoos Hurt Less?

Those who are worried about the pain may opt for a smaller tattoo for a less painful experience. This can be a good plan if you’re pain tolerance is low or you’re unsure what to expect. 

While the process is no different with a smaller tattoo, you are subjected to less irritation on a much smaller surface area. While the pain levels, symptoms, and healing process will be the same, dealing with it all on a smaller section of your body is much easier and less taxing.