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The Top 10 Most Painful Beauty Treatments, Ranked

When it comes to beauty, as in fitness, many of us still live by the “no pain, no gain” creed. Sure, you could get by on a namby-pamby regimen of arnica oil and sliced grapes, but to get results and to get them fast, many of us believe you have to feel a little burn.

To measure just how painful Americans view their beauty treatments—and whether that gain was really worth the pain—the folks at Zensa Skincare recently surveyed more than 1,000 men and women.

Here’s how top procedures stacked up, on a scale of 1 (meh, practically a mosquito bite) to 5 (Steve Carell chest-wax terror):

1. Bikini waxing earned the top spot for most painful beauty treatment, with an average score of 3.89 on the pain-o-meter.

2. Tattoos came in at second at 3.52 ouchies.

3. Scrotal waxing—which, it’s safe to say, should never even be contemplated, let alone done—came in at third with 3.45. (Don’t worry, we’re not going to provide a visual.)

Rounding out the top 10 was more waxing, including: upper lip waxing (3.11), nose job (3.09), leg waxing (2.98), arm waxing (2.93), electrolysis (2.88), liposuction (2.87) and eyeliner tattooing (2.81).

To put things into perspective, Zensa also asked respondents to rank the other painful health experiences, which dropped bikini waxing down to earth into sixth place, behind giving birth (a not-surprising 4.69 on the pain Richter scale), kidney stones (4.45), getting hit in the groin (4.09), breaking a bone (4.00), and second-degree burns (3.97).

What amount of pain is actually worth enduring in the pursuit of bodily perfection? Among the most agonizing procedures (those above 3.0 on the pain scale), only lip waxing, tattoos, and, bikini waxing were deemed worth the pain by survey respondents. Scrotal waxing and nose jobs? Just not worth the agony.

So what’s driving this sort of cost-benefit analysis?

“The pursuit of beauty is one of the biggest motivating factors around,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “If a procedure will make someone look and feel better, then they may be likely to do it, even if it’s uncomfortable.”

That said, you can still look good without paying the price. Research the pros and cons of any procedure you’re going into, and definitely talk to the provider before hopping up on the table or settling into the chair. You’ll want to know how many times he or she has done the treatment before, and ask about any possible side effects.

Notes Dr. Zeichner: “You don’t necessarily have to experience significant downtime or discomfort to get a good outcome. New techniques and the advancement of anesthetics and pain medications allow our patients to be comfortable when in the past a procedure may have been intolerable.”