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Written by Kieran Proctor

Best Tattoo Numbing Cream 2024 | Tested On Blackout Sleeve

Tattoo

Updated

Best Tattoo Numbing Cream

The best and strongest tattoo numbing cream available on the market without a doctor’s prescription is Relieve by Mad Rabbit. It contains the maximum over the counter (OTC) level of lidocaine, which is 5%. It also contains no epinephrine (adrenaline), which can lead to a distorted tattoo when the effects of epinephrine based creams wear off.

Below is my own experience personally testing Relieve by Mad Rabbit on my full blackout tattoo sleeve. A full blackout tattoo is the most rigorous test for any tattoo numbing product. It passed with flying colors!

How I Discovered The Best Tattoo Numbing Cream!

I recently traveled from Australia to Germany, to complete a negative space blackout sleeve on my right arm. Having sat through my first full sleeve, the solid color sleeve on my left arm, I knew how much pain I was in for when he got to my elbow, antecubital fossa (elbow ditch) and my armpit.

It was going to hurt like a m**her f**ker!

elbow and armpit tattoo
My tattooist loves tattooing armpits and elbows.

My artist does fantastic work. But damn he’s painful. When he told me that his usual tattoo gun wasn’t powerful enough and wasn’t big enough for my black sleeve, I started to panic.

He then wheeled out a tattoo gun that looked and sounded like a miniature chainsaw. I almost booked my ticket home right then and there to avoid it. The thought of letting my artist, who loves tattooing elbows and armpits, near me with that large coil gun was a nope.

Luckily, he suggested trying a tattoo numbing cream. And we ended up trying 4 creams in total. But I’m only going to discuss one of these tattoo numbing creams here. Because I don’t want to get sued by the other 3 that didn’t work.

The cream I used for the bulk of my tattoo sleeve and for all of my tattoos since, is by Mad Rabbit. I personally recommend that everyone try their tattoo numbing cream.

Does The Tattoo Numbing Cream Work?

The tattoo numbing cream worked perfectly and it made the most painful spots completely pain free. I could feel vibration and pressure, but not the sharp pain typically associated with tattoos.

Used on the most painful spots to tattoo, including my elbow and armpit, the tattoo numbing cream removed the pain and reduced the swelling that is normally seen when tattooing those regions.

I sat like a rock during my long tattoo sessions while using their tattoo numbing cream. I even nodded off while my tattooist was doing the inside of my bicep.

negative space blackout tattoo in progress
Halfway through my full right arm tattoo

What Did It Feel Like Getting Tattooed With A Tattoo Numbing Cream?

Spots that were extremely painful without tattoo numbing cream were completely numb with the numbing cream. I could feel pressure and vibration, but not the sharp pain typically felt during a tattoo.

The numbing cream took away the sharp pain. I could feel the pressure from the tattoo gun and the vibration, but not the sharp pain associated with the needles. It felt more like my tattooist was pressing on me with a dull vibrating instrument. Not a sharp needle.

Getting tattooed while using this numbing cream was weirdly like getting a massage, not a tattoo.

antecubital fossa tattoo
My negative space blackout sleeve.

Would I Recommend Tattoo Numbing Creams? 

I would absolutely recommend using a tattoo numbing cream. I’ve previously done the most painful spots without tattoo creams. I’ve sat through the pain before. But it doesn’t make you stronger if you sit through your tattoo session without a numbing cream. Tattoos needn’t hurt.

I would recommend everyone try a tattoo numbing cream. And if you use one that actually works like I did, you’ll never go back!

I wasted time, money and pain trying other creams first. Mainly because I could just buy them over the counter and didn’t need to order online. And they didn’t work.

If these defective creams were my only experience of numbing products, I’d have written them all off as junk. Luckily, I found one that actually works.

Skip straight to the tattoo numbing cream that works.

Mad Rabbit Numbing Cream
The best tattoo numbing cream I’ve used

What’s In Tattoo Numbing Creams?

The product from Mad Rabbit contains 5% Lidocaine, which is the maximum legal strength. Up to 5% lidocaine can be legally sold over the counter (OTC) and online. Lidocaine is the active numbing ingredient.

You’ll see a lot of articles online claiming that one cream is stronger than another, but the only number that matters is the amount of Lidocaine in the cream. If it’s got 5% lidocaine, it’s the strongest you can buy.

If you use the cream by Mad Rabbit with its 5% Lidocaine, you’ll get through your long tattoo sessions while sitting like a rock.

Grab yourself some today – www.madrabbit.com (click the link for a 20% discount)

blackout tattoo using numbing cream
My arm looks painful and swollen, but it’s actually numb.

Numbing Creams FAQ

What does using a numbing cream feel like?

While some sites will claim that a numbing cream can be ‘luxury’ or that it ‘feels closer to our favorite moisturizer than a topical anesthetic’, that’s just an indication that those reviewers haven’t used the numbing creams that they’re reviewing.

A numbing cream correctly applied, should start to make the area to which it’s applied begin to go numb in under 5 minutes. Reaching full effect in about 20 minutes. If the cream works, if it actually numbs, it shouldn’t feel like anything.

Can you feel a tattoo needle with numbing cream?

If you’re using an effective numbing cream containing 5% lidocaine, you won’t feel the tattoo needle. Instead, you will feel pressure as the tattooist pushes down on you and the vibration from the tattoo gun, but you shouldn’t feel the sharp pain associated with the needles.

When I got my blackout sleeve in the video below, I could fee the gun vibrating but not the needles. It kind of felt like a massage.

My own blackout tattoo sleeve sessions.
What is the strongest numbing cream for tattoos?

Over The Counter (OTC) numbing creams are limited to 5% lidocaine. Any cream with 5% lidocaine is the strongest tattoo specific numbing cream that you can get without a doctor’s prescription.

Of all the 5% lidocaine tattoo numbing creams that I’ve personally tested, my favorite is Relieve by Mad Rabbit. I wouldn’t use any other numbing cream on my own tattoos.

Is Zensa numbing cream with 5% Lidocaine the strongest available?

Over The Counter (OTC) numbing creams are limited to 5% Lidocaine and Zensa numbing cream is not the strongest. The bulk of all the available numbing creams on the market have 5% Lidocaine.

5% is the most anesthetic that manufacturers can legally add to their creams. And any claims by brands to be ‘stronger’ should be treated with skepticism. Because 5% is the maximum.

Note: The FDA advises that consumers should stick to 4% lidocaine or less.

What does epinephrine do in numbing creams?

As a powerful vasoconstrictor, epinephrine in numbing creams is added in an effort to decrease swelling and increases the effectiveness of the cream. Yet, it more often causes clients to develop a rash and ‘rash out.

Constricting the blood vessels near the area to which a numbing cream with epinephrine is applied prevents the active numbing agents from being carried away by the blood vessels. Creams without epinephrine do not numb for as long on first application, as the creams with epinephrine. Because the Lidocaine is carried away from the site by the blood vessels.

Personally, I avoid numbing creams with epinephrine for 2 reasons. First, creams like Mad Rabbit can be reapplied for longer sessions, so there’s no need to risk it with the epinephrine creams. And second, most of the creams with epinephrine are white labeled products from China. Meaning the people selling those creams with epinephrine, are just putting their own logos onto mass produced junk from China.

Note: Epinephrine in numbing creams is sometimes listed on the label as ‘adrenaline’. Adrenaline is just another name for epinephrine and you should avoid tattoo numbing creams containing this ingredient.

Which brands of tattoo numbing cream contain epinephrine (adrenaline)?

For those of you wanting to avoid tattoo numbing creams with epinephrine, also called adrenaline, it can be difficult. And this is because the companies selling those creams rarely list the ingredients on their websites.

So, in order to help you make an informed choice when choosing a numbing cream for your next tattoo, here is a list of the tattoo numbing creams with epinephrine:

  • Signature Tattoo Numbing Cream by Tattoo Numbing Cream Co.
  • Painless Tattoo Numbing Cream by Painless Tattoo Co.
  • TXTK Tattoo Numbing Cream
  • Bondi Tattoo Numbing Cream by Bondi Tattoo Co.
  • Signature + Numbing Cream by Numbed Ink
  • Tattoo NumbX by Tattoo NumbX

Note: This list will be updated as more information is gathered on other brands.

Also Note: Relieve by Mad Rabbit contains no epinephrine (adrenaline).

Update: The FDA is currently warning consumers to avoid the same tattoo numbing creams, that I have in the list above.

What are the negatives of numbing creams?

Tattooists typically tend to dislike numbing creams that contain vasoconstrictors like epinephrine. This is because they artificially tighten the skin and can lead to the tattoo having a distorted look when the effects of the cream wear off.

Also, some numbing creams can cause a client to ‘rash out. This is where the numbing cream causes an allergic reaction and a subsequent rash. It’s a by-product of creams that have been stuffed with a whole bunch of different topical anesthetics and epinephrine.

Adding more ingredients does not make a product more effective. And if you ‘rash out’ and are unable to sit for your session, you will still need to pay the tattooist.

Typically, I find that it’s the white labeled products from China that are the most problematic. The Chinese mindset is such that if 5% Lidocaine is considered good, then adding more Lidocaine and a bunch of other pharmaceuticals must be better; But it actual fact, it’s not better. And applying a cream made in unsanitary Chinese factories, to an open wound, is never a good idea.

As someone who’s heavily tattooed and has worked in a senior compliance role for a Government medicines regulator, I personally wouldn’t use a Chinese made, white labeled product. Because I’ve seen how they’re made.

Note: The FDA is currently taking action against a large number of tattoo numbing creams. Particularly those with epinephrine and others that are stuffed with numbing agents at levels greater than the OTC limit. The FDA considers these numbing products to be dangerous. And I agree.

Kieran - author - tattoovagabond and inlovelyblue
Kieran, the author of this article, showing off the blackout tattoo sleeve he got while using this numbing cream. The photo was taken in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 6 months after the last tattoo session.
Should I wear gloves while applying a numbing cream? 

You should always wear gloves when applying a numbing cream. Using your hand to apply numbing creams, will make your hand go as numb as the spot to which you’re applying the cream.

To avoid the unintended numbing of your hand while applying a numbing cream, always wear gloves.

How to apply numbing cream for tattoos?

For best effect when using a tattoo numbing cream, follow these 6 steps:

  1. Shave or wax the area that is to be tattooed;
  2. Wash the area receiving treatment with exfoliating soap and water. Dry the area completely. This step is important so that the cream will be absorbed well by the skin and the procedure will be less prone to any infection.
  3. Apply a thick amount of numbing cream to the area and rub it in thoroughly. A good amount is when the cream fully covers the area to be treated. Always wear gloves when handling numbing creams.
  4. Cover the cream with plastic wrap (cling film or saran wrap). The heat under the plastic wrap helps to activate the cream and it keeps the cream from drying out. It aids in the absorption of the cream.
  5. Leave the plastic wrap and numbing cream on for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Wait until the area is totally numb.
  6. Remove the plastic wrap and wipe the cream off. But do this right before your tattoo starts.
Exfoliating tattoo safe soap by Mad Rabbit
Exfoliating tattoo soap aids in absorption of the numbing cream
How long do I leave numbing cream on before a tattoo?

Depending on the area that is to be tattooed and the numbing cream you have chosen to use, the numbing cream should be left on for 30 minutes to 1 hour. And you should leave it on until you’re sitting in the chair.

Do you wash off numbing cream before starting the tattoo?

Yes, the numbing cream should be thoroughly removed before applying the stencil and beginning the tattoo. The client will still be numb after the tattoo numbing cream is removed.

Can I use a tattoo numbing cream for a piercing?

Tattoo numbing creams like Mad Rabbit that contain 5% lidocaine, can be used for piercings. In fact, 5% lidocaine is the same ingredient used in creams sold as dedicated ‘piercing numbing creams‘.

I used the same product for my own piercings (ears, nipple). And my partner recently used it for her ‘medusa piercing‘. Mad Rabbit specifically lists piercing, as one of the products recommended uses.

Should I tell my tattoo artist I used numbing cream?

You should always tell your tattooist that you have used a numbing cream. This is because some creams with vasoconstrictors like epinephrine will artificially tighten the skin. And if your tattoo artist does not take this into account when tattooing you, it could lead to a distorted tattoo when the cream wears off.

It’s also important to tell your tattoo artist that you’ve used a tattoo numbing cream, so that they can watch for side effects. Notifying your tattooist that you’ve used a tattoo numbing cream will make the whole process of getting a tattoo, safer for you. It’s good tattoo shop etiquette to be open and honest with your tattooist.

Where can I not use a tattoo numbing cream? 

Numbing creams including Lidocaine, Prilocaine, Benzocaine or Epinephrine are not intended for internal use.

Don’t put numbing creams in your mouth or directly onto your eyes. Doing so can have serious adverse effects.

Are there side effects for numbing agents?

Lidocaine, Prilocaine, Benzocaine, tetracaine and Epinephrine can all have undesirable side effects for those allergic to them. You should ensure you have no allergies to topical anesthetics before using numbing creams.

You should test all numbing creams that include topical anesthetics on smaller areas before applying them to larger bodily surfaces. And this is particularly important for the numbing creams containing epinephrine.

To test for allergies to the topical anesthetics contained in numbing creams, put a small dab of cream on your forearm. If the area begins do develop a rash, itch, swell or show any signs of allergic reactions you should discontinue usage until you have been tested for allergies by a medical professional. Consult your doctor.

*This advice applies to all numbing creams with topical anesthetics irrespective of the brand.*

Can you overuse numbing cream?

Local anesthetics work by causing a temporary numbing effect. When used sparingly and as directed, topical anesthetics (lidocaine, prilocaine, benzocaine, tetracaine) are generally safe. Misuse, overuse, or overdose can cause serious problems and even death. See poisons.org.

**This advice applies to all numbing creams with topical anesthetics irrespective of the brand.**

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