Updated: It has come to light that my previous "sledgehammer" approach to discussing tattoos and the needles was perhaps a little too blunt. With this in mind I have revised the article in, what I hope is, a more "kid glove" approach. Please be aware there are pictures that are up close and personal with tattoo needles.
One in five people have a fear of needles, in one shape or form and if I'm honest, I'm one of them. I don't run screaming at the sight of them, I don't find myself restless in the presence of them, I'm not even terrified of pricking myself or being injected. In fact, I don't even find having blood drawn or being vaccinated particularly painful, I just don't like the sight of a needle being pushed into my skin, so when I have blood taken, I'm finding interest in anything and everything else in the room. The fact is, I'm not needle phobic, I just don't like getting jabbed.
This dislike of needles going into my skin is in stark contrast and somewhat ironic, given my love of getting tattooed. So, is your fear of needles going to be an issue when you decide whether you get tattooed or not? Well, it depends on your level of fear.
...the old days, when gloves were only for keeping your hands warm.
So what exactly is it you're afraid of? Knowing this will determine whether tattoos are in your future or not. There are six phobias that can be related to needles and getting tattooed so let's take a look at them.
Algophobia - The intense or morbid fear of pain. This is a tough one, if you are terrified of pain you are going to struggle when it comes to getting tattooed, especially if your tolerance of pain is as low as your fear of it is high. While I don't personally find getting tattooed overly uncomfortable, others find it incredibly painful. The closer the area being tattooed is to bone the worse it gets. So, if you have a deep seated fear of pain and can't cope with even mild discomfort when it's unavoidable, I'm afraid tattoos are probably not going to be for you.
Aichmophobia - The morbid or intense fear of sharp objects. This is another tough obstacle to getting tattooed. If your fear of sharp objects extends to you even being in the vicinity of them, I'm afraid a tattoo studio is full of them. There is hope though if your phobia is merely seeing them, if you can suffer the presence of sharp objects provided you don't actually see them, there's a chance you could get tattooed without having a meltdown. Once the needle (a tattoo "needle" actually has multiple points and looks almost like a very small, sharp paint brush) is fixed in the machine only the very tips are visible. It's actually quite difficult to see them once they are in action and distracting yourself from even looking is not too hard, given many tattoo studios now have TV's, you can listen to music or read a book, amongst other things, to help make sure you aren't looking at the business end of a tattoo machine. If you are ok with the discomfort of sharp objects, you're just not ok with the sight of them, you may be in luck. Have a chat with your chosen tattoo artist to see what accommodations they could make for your predicament.
Belonephobia – The abnormal fear of sharp, pointed objects especially needles. I feel the advice given for Aichmophobia applies here, too. Dependent on what exactly it is about needles you are phobic about will determine how likely you are to successfully deal with being tattooed.
Enetophobia – The fear of pins. This particular phobia appears, by definition to be quite specific in its scope. If it is quite specifically pins that you are afraid of then you should be good to go as there are zero pins involved in getting a tattoo, though you may want to consider what it is about the pin you don't like. Some of the previous needle related advice may also be applicable here.
Vaccinophobia - The fear of vaccines and vaccinations. This is another of those, "which bit don't you like?" things. If you are fine with needles, syringes and getting blood drawn but are simply terrified of the substance being injected into you, then you should be ok but you do need to consider that while no drugs, medicines, anti-bodies etc are being injected tattoo pigment/ink is being left under the outer layer of your skin. If you are happy with that knowledge then, happy days, get yourself off to the tattoos studio. On the other hand, if it is the needle entering the skin that is at issue some of the previous advice may apply, however if it is the sensation of being vaccinated that you are phobic about you can relax a little. Being tattooed feels absolutely nothing like being vaccinated.
Trypanophobia - The fear of injections. The advice for vaccinophobia applies here, too. If it is the substance being injected that worries you consider ink being put under your skin before going ahead, consider needles and how you feel about those and rest assured that the sensation is entirely different, however I will say that being tattooed is more uncomfortable than being injected.
If you look really closely you can just about see the "pointy bit".
Things to Consider
Tattoo needles don't look like your average needle, they have an appearance more like a small paint brush than a sewing needle.
Tattoo needles are not like syringes. They don't look like syringes, they don't behave like syringes and they don't feel like syringes. The only similarities between the two are that they are sharp and that they leave a foreign substance in your body.
Tattoo needles don't go very deep, unlike injections which go through the skin, tattoo needles break only the top layer. They do however do this thousands of times during the course of your tattoo.
They are going to hurt…a bit.
It may well benefit you to watch this video I found through “Smarter Every Day”, it’s probably one of the more useful insights into tattooing for people with no tattoos that I’ve seen because Destin Sandlin, has no tattoos and well…watch it. It might help, calm a few nerves, but be warned it does get up close and personal with the sharp end of a tattoo machine.
Hopefully, you’ve learned one or two things about your needle fear and I hope the video has gone given you some insight into what is physically happening to you when you get tattooed. As you can see the show’s host, Destin, appeared to be braced for a far worse experience than he actually got. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised too.