Does Tattoo Numbing Cream Work?

Written by: Claudia

Planning your first or even next tattoo can be a lot of fun. However, the thought of needles repeatedly poking through your skin can be intimidating.

In case you are wondering or have forgotten, getting a tattoo can cause the following sensations:

  • Stinging
  • Burning
  • Vibrating
  • Scratching
  • Dullness

If you have a low tolerance for pain, or if the sight of needles makes you cringe, you might be having hesitations about getting inked right now.

The good news is that there are ways to minimize or even eliminate the pain that comes with the tattooing process. The best one by far is by using a numbing cream.

How Does a Tattoo Numbing Cream Work?

Tattoo numbing creams generally work by blocking the body’s epithelial sodium channels. This process prevents the nerves that provide sensation to the skin from sending pain signals.

You can use this cream before getting a tattoo, but it has many other applications:

  • Prepare an area of the body for minor surgery
  • Minimize the pain from body piercing
  • Relief for severe itching
  • Minimize pain after laser treatment, dermabrasion, and other cosmetic procedures
  • Relieve the pain from sunburns
  • Reduce the pain from waxing and other hair removal procedures

Common Ingredients

Different brands of numbing creams have different ingredients, but they can be classified into three broad categories:

Nerve Deadeners

Nerve deadeners are the gold standard for numbing agents and are used by the most popular tattoo artists. Worth mentioning is lidocaine, which is the best in its class when it comes to pain relief.

Lidocaine is a local anesthetic that prevents the nerves from picking up and sending signals. By blocking these signals, it causes temporary loss of feeling, including pain.

However, lidocaine has the tendency to stay on the surface of the skin, which can be a problem since the tattoo gun’s needle goes through the five epidermal layers. What is more, the effects of lidocaine typically wear off after one or two hours.

To make sure that you get the best results, look for a brand with a formulation that goes deeper than the outer skin layers. Also, reapply the cream if the session lasts longer than one or two hours, but make sure that you don’t overdo it.

Nerve Blockers

Nerve blockers can stop some pain signals from reaching the brain, but not all of them. That is why most numbing creams do not use nerve blockers alone but in combination with nerve deadeners. Some examples of nerve blockers are benzocaine and tetracaine.


Vasoconstrictors are the most potent among the numbing agents. However, they also present the highest risks. These substances constrict the blood vessels, reducing the bleeding and the swelling in the process.

Numbing creams with vasoconstrictors offer longer-lasting relief from pain because the narrowed blood vessels absorb the other numbing agents more slowly. However, it can lead to ischemia, oxygen deprivation in tissues, and an abnormally fast heart rate.

Are Tattoo Numbing Creams Safe?

Numbing creams are approved by the FDA and can be considered generally safe. However, its safety or effectiveness is contingent on its proper use.

If you use it excessively, there is a risk that the skin will absorb too much of the numbing agents. These chemicals can enter the bloodstream and cause a host of health problems.

Potential Health Risks From Too Much Numbing Cream

The numbing cream can be your best friend in the tattoo parlor. However, too much of something, even a good thing, can be bad.

Here’s what can happen if you do not use the numbing cream properly:

  • Erratic heart rate
  • Seizures, specifically convulsions
  • Respiratory failure
  • Slowed breathing
  • Comatose

Other Things To Consider Before Using the Numbing Cream

Aside from the possible risks that come with using numbing cream, its effects can vary widely from one person to another. It has significant implications when used, including the following:

  • Numbing creams can have virtually no effects on some individuals
  • The pain may be amplified once the numbing effect fades
  • Some people can experience severe allergic reactions and difficulty in breathing
  • The cream can interfere with the quality of the tattoo

Consult Your Doctor

With all the potential problems that could come from using numbing cream, is it still worth it?

As mentioned before, the key to the safe and effective use of this substance lies in following the directions. Just don’t go crazy when applying it to your skin and you are good to go.

In addition, you should talk to your doctor before purchasing any over-the-counter product. You might have some pre-existing conditions that you do not know of, and you might put yourself at risk using the product on your own.

Ask your doctor first which brands are best and safest for your type of skin and health condition. It is also a good idea to talk with a tattoo professional about which products might affect the quality of the tattoo.

Is Tattoo Numbing Cream Effective?

For the purposes of reducing or eliminating the pain from tattooing, numbing creams are generally safe and effective. Again, just make sure that you do not go beyond the recommended dosage or amount and follow your doctor’s advice.

Are Numbing Creams Necessary?

To some ink enthusiasts, pain is a part of the unique tattoo experience. It is especially true of the tattoo is supposed to mark a significant life event, like the birth of a child or the death of a loved one.

However, every person reacts to pain differently than another, depending on their tolerance level. If you feel that the pain will be too much, there is no reason not to use numbing cream.

Factors That Affect Tolerance Level

There are many factors that can affect a person’s ability to tolerate pain. They can be either psychological or biological:

  • Genes
  • Underlying medical conditions affecting the nervous system
  • Hypersensitization from chronic pain
  • Loss of sleep
  • Other injuries
  • Mental health conditions like anxiety, stress, or depression

Different Levels of Pain in Different Parts of the Body

Another thing you need to consider is which part of your body you want to get tattooed. Some areas are more susceptible to pain than others.

Most Painful

These are the most painful body parts to tattoo:

  • Armpits
  • Rib cage
  • Ankles and shins
  • Groin
  • Nipples and breast area
  • Elbows, knees, and behind the knees
  • Neck and spine
  • Head and face
  • Stomach area
  • Inner arms

Least Painful

If you haven’t decided yet which part of your body to have the tattoo on, you can consider any of the following spots:

  • Forearms
  • Outer shoulders
  • Outer arms
  • Calves
  • Back

There are also ways to manage how your body responds to pain, like relaxation and biofeedback. However, there is no shame in using numbing creams.

Do Tattoo Artists Use Numbing Cream?

By default, tattoo artists do not use numbing creams.

Like die-hard ink enthusiasts, they feel that getting a tattoo is a rite of passage that naturally comes with pain. It makes the experience more meaningful and the tattoo more emblematic of the event.

Additionally, some numbing creams can mess up the design or make the process harder for the tattoo artist.

Having said that, any tattoo artist will not deny your request if you want to use the product. Their priority is to give their clients not only the best results but the best possible experience.

How To Use Tattoo Numbing Cream

Given the risks that come with using a tattoo numbing cream, it is important that you use it properly, especially if it is your first time. Your best option is to go to the clinic and discuss this with your physician. You can also refer to the step-by-step guide below:

1. Read the Label Carefully Before You Purchase

As discussed above, every brand has its own formulation, using different ingredients at different amounts. When you choose a product, make sure that you read the label carefully, so you know what to expect when you use it.

For instance, if the product only uses lidocaine as its main numbing agent, you would know that its effects won’t last longer than two hours. You could apply it a few times during the sessions since there are no vasoconstrictors.

Of course, you should check the instructions first before you do this.

2. Prepare the Area To Be Tattooed

Before you head out for the tattoo parlor, make sure that your skin is clean. Take a shower and wash with soap and water. If needed, shave the spot where the tattoo is supposed to go.

Once you get to the tattoo studio, expect the tattoo artist to wash your skin again with a soap solution and some alcohol.

3. Ask the Tattoo Artist to Apply the Numbing Cream

Once everything is set up, you can ask the tattoo artist to apply the cream, or you can apply it yourself. Just make sure that your hands are clean before you do.

Let it sit for 30 minutes or for how long it says in the instructions. Take note that areas where the skin is thicker need a longer time.

4. Clean the Excess Cream

Any excess cream has to be wiped off before the session can start. This will ensure that the ink sets in properly and that none of the numbing agents will reach your bloodstream.

5. A Painless Tattoo Experience

Pain does not have to be part of the experience for a tattoo to be memorable. That is why the community has come up with many ways to dull or manage it, including the numbing cream.

Just make sure that you use it properly. Consult with a doctor and follow the instructions – the numbing cream will take care of the rest.

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The information contained on Tattify is intended for informational and educational purposes only. None of the statements made on this website are intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease, infection or illness. Please consult a healthcare practitioner before using tattoo/skincare products that may interfere with medications or known conditions. This article is provided with the understanding that it does not constitute medical or professional advice or services. If you are looking for help with your condition, please seek out a qualified medical practitioner.

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