tattoo pain

Now you might have started thinking this is one of those articles that’s going to talk about how it “hurts” to look at an ex’s name long after the relationship is over or something along those lines. We are not going to talk about that, however. What we are referring to is actual physical pain. How does this happen?


If you have some free time and are in the mood for a high school-type science experiment; get a hold of some iron filings, a paper towel, and a refrigerator magnet. Spread the iron filings out in a small area on a table, about the size of a typical bicep tattoo. Just for fun, let’s say the place on the table is the place within the skin where the tattoo ink is. Take the paper towel and place it over the iron shavings. Now let’s say the paper towel represents your outer layer of skin. Next, take the magnet and place it over the paper towel. Are you noticing how the iron filings are getting all stirred up?

The Point

Although we would be willing to bet that very few of you, if any, actually dropped everything you were doing to dig up some iron shavings, a magnet and a paper towel; we would also be surprised if there were any of you that did not already know how magnets interact with metal. Now picture those iron filings much smaller, perhaps so small that they are no longer discernible to the naked eye. Many tattoo inks are actually bound to metals such as this. Specifically, red ink is bound to the same metal that iron shavings come from; that is, iron.

Now imagine a magnet that’s up to 600,000 times more powerful than that refrigerator magnet you were just imagining a minute ago. This is how powerful of a magnetic field an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine that’s found in clinical practice can produce.

MRI machines are used to locate tumors, spine and bone abnormalities as well as other conditions within the body. An MRI machine uses radio frequency waves along with those extremely powerful magnets we were just talking about to make protons in the body’s cells react. The result is a nice grayscale image that is meaningful to radiologists, and helps doctors determine the best course of action to treat your condition. The older or more athletic you are, the more likely that you will need to have one of these scans.

Not all inks contain the same metals, or even the same amount of metal and each person that’s going to react to an MRI procedure will react differently. One person might say, “I’m covered with tattoos and I didn’t feel a thing,” while another person may have one or two small tattoos yet felt considerable discomfort.

What Might This Feel Like?

Since metals are conductors of electricity, loops of current may be produced while the rapidly changing magnetic fields are taking place during the scan. This can cause a burning sensation. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, even first and second degree burns are possible.

As a result of the metals in the pigments shifting around, swelling of the tattooed skin and surrounding areas is also possible. Of course, a burning sensation is also possible while this is all taking place.

While potentially uncomfortable, the FDA does not believe this results in any long term damage. At least not anywhere near as permanent as a tattoo.

Do You Know if You Have Tattoos?

Well that’s a strange question! But many people with permanent facial makeup don’t have any decorative body tattoos, and they might answer the pre-MRI question as such. Yet if you are going to get an MRI of your head or neck, you should tell your doctor or MRI technician about all of your permanent makeup so that precautions can be taken if necessary.

Pain. Pain. Pain.

Tattoos hurt when they get put on, hurt when they are taken off and may also be painful during certain medical diagnostic scans such as the MRI.

The good news is that if you’re thinking of getting your tattoo removed Renew Tattoo Removal uses the Eliminink™ method, which causes far less discomfort than other tattoo removal methods. Not only that, but our office is much more exciting than spending an hour in an MRI machine.