By Michael Deschenes

How bad is the pain when you get a tattoo? Well, it certainly isn't painless, that's for sure. Much depends on where on your body you are having the tattoo, and how big the tattoo is. Tattoos are most painful when they are close to groups of nerve endings, for example, down the spine, and in areas where there is very little fat between the skin and the bone. The ankle, foot, ribs, wrist, small of the back and the hips are all examples of where you'll experience the most pain when you get a tattoo.

Of course, much depends on your own pain threshold. If you know you are very sensitive to pain, then perhaps a tattoo isn't for you. If you are somewhere between a high pain threshold and a mid-to-low pain threshold, you'll probably survive with no dramas. It has been proven that women do become less tolerant to pain around their periods, so best to book that appointment either well before or well after.

It's worth remembering that the tattoo needle does not penetrate the skin deeply – just 1/16th of an inch. For some reason, with my own tattoos, having the outline drawn seemed to be the most painful part. The shading seems to be more bearable.

It's also one of those experiences that seems to hurt for the first few minutes, and then, as your body becomes used to it, the pain eases off and becomes more bearable.

The best way I could describe how it actually feels is this. Imagine taking a pin, and scratching the surface of your skin, repeatedly, in the same place. Over and over again. And then double it. The result is yes, it's uncomfortable, but not unbearable.

For larger tattoos, the tattoo artist will most likely schedule the work to be done in sessions, as there is only so long that most people can endure the sensation of the tattoo being applied. Before you go ahead, ask the tattooist how long he estimates it will take for the whole tattoo to be done. Feel free to ask for him or her to break these sessions down into smaller sessions if you don't think you are up to a longer session. And remember, you can always ask the tattooist to take a break during the tattoo, if the pain becomes too much.

To relive pain, you could always consider applying a topical anaesthetic cream, such as Emla, up to 4 hours before your session.

One thing to remember. Having a tattoo hurts, but having a tattoo removed hurts a lot more. So consider it carefully, before you take the plunge.