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Ultimate guide to sternum tattoos: Designs, pain, and care tips


Thinking about getting a sternum tattoo? The spot catches the eye with its stunning designs but can make you think twice because of the pain. So, our guide breaks down everything from choosing the right design to managing pain and looking after your tattoo. We'll help you get through the process smoothly.

What are sternum tattoos?

Sternum tattoos or chest tattoos are placed on the chest area right between the collarbones, over the sternum bone. They can be large, spreading out towards the ribs, or small and simple, and are popular because they can be easily hidden or shown off. However, getting a tattoo here can be quite painful due to the bone and sensitive skin in the area.


man showing his chest tattoos


Do sternum tattoos hurt?

Yes, sternum tattoos are often considered to be quite painful. The sternum area, being directly over the bone and surrounded by sensitive skin, tends to be more sensitive than fleshier body parts.

The level of discomfort can also vary based on individual pain tolerance, the complexity and duration of the tattoo session, and the specific location on the sternum area being tattooed.

To manage the pain, we recommend using these pain management strategies:

  • Topical anaesthetics: Applying numbing creams or sprays that contain lidocaine before the session can help reduce pain sensations.
  • Proper breathing: Deep, steady breathing can help manage pain by reducing tension and anxiety during the tattooing process.
  • Breaks: Taking short breaks during the session can help manage pain, especially during longer sessions.
  • Distraction: Listening to music, talking to the tattoo artist, or focusing on something other than the pain can help distract the mind.
  • Stay hydrated and eat well: Being well-hydrated and having a good meal before your tattoo session can help you endure pain better.

It's important to communicate with your tattoo artist about any concerns regarding pain management, as they can adjust their technique or take breaks as needed.

How to prepare for a sternum tattoo

Preparing for a sternum tattoo involves both mental and physical preparation to ensure the experience is as comfortable and smooth as possible.

Pre-tattoo preparations:

  • Research and design: Spend time choosing your design and researching artists who have experience with sternum tattoos. Discuss your design thoroughly with the artist to ensure it fits well with the sternum area's unique shape and contours.
  • Health and wellness: Ensure you're in good health before your appointment. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and blood-thinning medications for at least 24 hours before getting tattooed, as these can increase bleeding.
  • Hydration and nutrition: Drink plenty of water in the days before leading up to your appointment, and eat a substantial meal before your session to help you maintain energy and cope with pain.
  • Proper aftercare products: Keep the sternum area clean and moisturised in the days leading up to your tattoo appointment. However, do not apply any lotions or potions on the day of your tattoo.
  • Rest: Get a good night's sleep before your tattoo day to help your body and mind handle the stress and pain of getting tattooed.

What to wear:

Choose clothing that provides easy access to the sternum area without you having to be completely undressed. For women, a button-down shirt or a zip-up hoodie that can be opened easily works well.

Alternatively, some choose to wear a strapless top, bandeau, or a bralette that can be easily moved aside. The key is comfort and accessibility.

What to expect during the session:

  • Initial preparation: Your tattoo artist will clean the area and possibly shave any fine hairs. They'll then transfer the design onto your skin to show how it will look.
  • Pain and discomfort: The sternum is a sensitive area with less flesh padding over the bone, so be prepared for a higher level of discomfort. Deep, steady breathing can help manage pain.
  • Duration: The time it takes to complete your tattoo will depend on the design's complexity and size. Sternum tattoos can take longer due to the need for precision in this sensitive area.
  • Taking breaks: Your artist will likely offer breaks, especially for longer sessions, to help you manage discomfort.
  • Aftercare discussion: After the tattoo is complete, your artist will cover it with a protective bandage and provide tattoo aftercare instructions to ensure proper healing.

How to take care of a sternum tattoo


shirtless body with chest tattoos


Taking care of a sternum tattoo properly is crucial for ensuring vibrant, long-lasting results and preventing infection. Follow these steps to care for your new tattoo, along with information on the healing process:

Immediate aftercare:

  1. Keep the bandage on: Follow your tattoo artist's advice on how long to keep the bandage on. Typically, it's between a few hours to a full day to protect the sternum tattoo from bacteria.
  2. Clean gently: Once you remove the bandage, clean the sternum tattoo gently with lukewarm water and fragrance-free soap. Pat it dry with a clean towel. Avoid using a cloth towel to prevent infection.
  3. Moisturise: Apply enough layer of fragrance-free moisturiser or a specific tattoo aftercare product. We recommend using the MTS tattoo balm to moisturise your tattoo.
  4. Repeat cleaning: Clean and moisturise the tattoo 2-3 times a day. Keeping the tattoo clean and hydrated is essential for healing.

Ongoing care:

  • Avoid submerging: Stay out of pools, hot tubs, and baths during the healing process. Showers are fine, but avoid direct water flow on the tattoo.
  • Sun protection: Keep the sternum tattoo covered or use a high-SPF sunscreen like the Dermalize Pro Total Black Sun Block to protect it from the sun's UV rays once it's healed enough to be exposed. Sun exposure can fade the tattoo ink over time.
  • Clothing: Wear loose, comfortable clothing to avoid irritation. The sternum area can be sensitive due to the bra or other tight garments, so consider your wardrobe choices during the healing period.
  • Don't scratch or pick: As the tattoo heals, it will itch and possibly flake. Avoid picking or scratching at it to prevent scarring and infection.

Healing process:

The healing process for a sternum tattoo can be divided into several stages:

  1. Initial healing: The first couple of weeks are crucial. You'll likely see redness, swelling, and some oozing. This is normal, and as long as you keep the area clean and moisturised, these symptoms should start to diminish.
  2. Itching and peeling: After a few days to a week, your sternum tattoo will start to itch and possibly peel. This is part of the healing process. Continue to moisturise and avoid scratching.
  3. Secondary healing: Over the next 2-4 weeks, the sternum tattoo will continue to heal beneath the skin surface. Even if the tattoo looks healed, it's still important to care for the skin.
  4. Fully healed: Most sternum tattoos are fully healed within 4-6 weeks, but deeper tissue healing may continue for a few months.

Sternum tattoo designs for women

Sternum tattoo designs for women often blend elegance and boldness, featuring intricate patterns and motifs that complement the unique contours of the chest area. Popular designs include:

  • Floral patterns: Flowers, with their natural curves, can beautifully accentuate the shape of the sternum, offering a feminine touch. Roses, peonies, and cherry blossoms are common choices.
  • Mandala designs: Mandalas are symbolic and can be tailored to fit the sternum area perfectly, often extending slightly under the breasts for a cohesive look.
  • Underboob tattoos: These designs curve along the underside of the breasts, framing the sternum. They can be simple lines or detailed scenes.
  • Ornamental pieces: Lace patterns, geometric shapes, and dot work can create a delicate, jewellery-like effect around the sternum area.
  • Animal imagery: Birds, like swallows or phoenixes, or mystical creatures, such as dragons, can symbolise freedom, rebirth, or strength, making for powerful and eye-catching sternum tattoos.
  • Script or quotes: A meaningful quote or word can be placed elegantly along the sternum, though it's important to consider the font and size for readability and effect.

Can you wear a bra after a sternum tattoo?

Yes, you can wear a bra after getting a sternum tattoo, but it's advisable to wait until the tattoo has begun to heal and is no longer overly sensitive.

The healing process typically takes about 2-4 weeks. During this time, it's important to wear a bra that is not too tight and made from a soft, breathable fabric to avoid irritation and friction that could disrupt the healing process. A soft, wireless bra made from a breathable fabric might be a comfortable option.

Additionally, covering the tattoo with a clean, soft cloth before putting on a bra can help protect the tattooed skin.

Can sternum tattoos stretch or distort over time?

Sternum tattoos can stretch or distort over time due to weight gain, weight loss, pregnancy, or significant changes in muscle mass. The skin around the sternum can change shape and size, impacting the appearance of the tattoo.

However, the extent of stretching or distortion varies from person to person depending on their skin's elasticity, the quality of the tattoo, and how significant the changes in the body are.


man chest tattoos


Why choose a sternum tattoo?

Choosing a sternum tattoo is a bold way to showcase your style and personality. These tattoos, placed in the centre of the chest, are perfect for those looking for something that can be both hidden and revealed.

Despite the pain, which can be managed with careful preparation and aftercare, the result is a stunning piece of art that's close to your heart. With a variety of designs to choose from, like delicate flowers or intricate patterns, there's something for everyone.

Considering a sternum tattoo? Dive into our MTS blogs for more inspiration, tips on managing pain, and how to care for your new tattoos. Visit our site to explore more and find the perfect body art for you. Let's make your tattoo journey unforgettable.


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  • Mark Joshua Luz