Tattoos are a form of body art that has been practiced for centuries across different cultures. However, getting a tattoo can be a painful experience, especially for those who are more sensitive to pain or getting inked in a more sensitive area (i.e. cubital fossa).
This is where tattoo numbing creams come in handy. Numbing creams can significantly reduce – if not entirely eliminate – the pain associated with getting a tattoo.
In this article I answer all your frequently asked questions about tattoo numbing creams, including how they work and how you can use them.
Frequently asked questions about tattoo numbing creams
How Do Tattoo Numbing Creams Work?
Tattoo numbing creams and sprays contain topical anesthetics that work to block pain signals from reaching the brain. This makes the tattooing process more comfortable, particularly if the tattoo is being placed in a sensitive area.
The active ingredient in most tattoo numbing creams is lidocaine, a local anesthetic commonly used in minor medical procedures. It blocks pain signals at the nerve endings in the skin, making it a safe and effective choice for pain management during tattooing.
Yet the stronger creams will also incorporate prilocaine and epinephrine alongside lidocaine to boost their overall effectiveness. Both lidocaine and prilocaine (active numbing agents) are vasodilators. They open blood vessels and increase blood flow, which then carries them away from the site of application.
Epinephrine is a powerful vasoconstrictor that decreases swelling and increases the effectiveness of numbing creams. It prevents the active numbing agents from being carried away by the blood vessels. And epinephrine increases how long the numbing agents in a cream will last, after each application.
How to Use A Tattoo Numbing Cream
To maximize the numbing effect, avoid alcohol consumption 24 hours prior to your tattoo session, as it thins your blood and can reduce the cream’s overall effectiveness. Also, it’s advisable to do a spot test a day before the tattoo session, especially for those with sensitive skin.
Steps for Application:
- Shave the Area: To save your tattoo artist time and for best application of a tattoo numbing cream, shave the area to be tattooed.
- Wash and Exfoliate: Clean the area to be tattooed thoroughly with soap, water and an exfoliator. This removes dirt and dead skin cells, which aids in the cream’s penetration.
- Dry the Area: Pat the area completely dry before applying the cream.
- Apply the Cream: Apply a thick layer (2mm) of the numbing cream to the area and rub it in thoroughly. Always wear gloves when applying the cream.
- Cover with Cling Film: The heat under the plastic wrap helps activate the cream and prevents it from drying out.
- Wait: Leave the cream and wrap in place for 90 minutes before the procedure. After this period, remove the cling film and wipe off the cream with a paper towel.
If the cream starts to wear off during your session, most numbing creams and sprays can be reapplied during your tattoo session to extend the pain-free experience.
Important: Do make a note of the exact time you applied the cream. And don’t touch the cream with your bare hands. Always wear gloves.
Other Uses For Tattoo Numbing Creams
Apart from tattooing, tattoo numbing creams and sprays have a variety of other uses. They are safe to use anywhere on the body and can be used for procedures like:
- Semi-permanent tattooing
- Laser hair removal
- Injections and vaccinations
- Lip fillers and permanent makeup
- Tattoo removal
- Piercings and other cosmetic skin treatments
How Long Do Tattoo Numbing Creams Work?
The numbing effect of a tattoo numbing cream can last up to 3-4 hours after application. Creams with epinephrine will have a longer effect.
It’s recommended to apply the cream at least 30-60 minutes before your tattoo session for maximum numbing effect. Time your application correctly to ensure the cream doesn’t start to wear off during your session.
If you’re going in for a longer session, most numbing creams and sprays can be reapplied. Yet a reapplication mid session won’t last as long as the first. And your tattooist isnt going to appreciate sitting around waiting for the effects to kick in.
Pro tip: In my experience, 4 hour tattoo appointments when using a tattoo numbing cream are about the perfect length. That way you don’t need to reapply the cream mid-session. And the session will end at about the same time the effects of the cream start to wear off.
Possible Side Effects of Numbing Creams
Like any other substance applied to the skin, tattoo numbing creams and sprays can cause minor side effects, although these side effects are rare. Some of the side effects include minor localized redness, puffiness and initial burning or itching.
Skin irritation caused by numbing creams and sprays are usually temporary and should abate as the numbing agent wears off. However, if you experience severe or unusual effects, discontinue use and consult your doctor.
Tattoo Artists and Numbing Cream
The use of tattoo numbing products by tattoo artists varies based on personal preference. Most artists don’t provide numbing products. And it’s up to the client to get a numbing cream before their tattoo appointent.
It’s rare that you’ll find a tattooist who believes pain is part of the traditional tattoo process. It’s a persistent internet rumor. However, you will encounter artists who don’t like numbing products because they don’t want to be waiting 60-90 minutes for it to kick in.
So you should apply your numbing cream at home, before your tattoo appointment. That way you’re not wasting the artists time.
Most artists do like clients using numbing creams. Because clients using numbing products are far less likely to be flinching or asking for breaks due to pain. When the client sits still and lets the artist work, its good for both the client and the artist.
When you sit completely still during your tattoo session, you’ll get a better qualiy tattoo and the artist won’t need to work as hard.
Ideal Body Parts for Numbing Cream Application
Tattoo numbing creams can be used on most parts of the body. But they are particularly beneficial for areas that are usually more painful to tattoo.
Some of the most sensitive areas include the armpits, ribcage, ankles and shins, nipples and breasts, groin, elbows or kneecaps, behind the knees, hips, neck and spine, head, face and ears, lips, hands, fingers, feet and toes, stomach and inner bicep.
But be extremely careful not to get the cream or spray in your mouth or eyes. Tattoo numbing products are for external use only.
How Strong Are Tattoo Numbing Creams?
The strength of a tattoo numbing cream depends on its formulation. The strongest allowable amounts of the numbing agents lidocaine and prilocaine are 5% without a prescription. If a numbing product has lidocaine, prilocaine or both at 5% levels, it’s the strongest available over the counter (OTC).
What You Should & Should Not Do Before A Tattoo
In the 48 hours leading up to your tattoo session, avoid consuming alcohol or caffeine as they can thin your blood, making the tattooing process bloodier than necessary. And the more you bleed, the quicker the effects of your numbing cream will wear off.
Remember to apply your numbing cream 90 minutes before your tattoo session, ensuring a thick layer is applied and the area is wrapped in cling film. Just before the procedure, wipe off the numbing cream and relax as your tattoo artist creates your masterpiece.
What You Should & Should Not Do After A Tattoo
After getting your tattoo, avoid exercising for the first 48 hours. This is because your muscles expanding and stretching can slow down the healing process. Also, resist the temptation to pick, rub or scratch your tattoo as it can damage the artwork.
Avoid soaking in a bath until your tattoo is completely healed. If you need to clean your tattoo, use a tattoo-specific soap. It’s also important to regularly apply a purpose specific tattoo balm to the newly tattooed area.
A tattoo specific aftercare cream, balm or gel acts as a barrier coat, locking in moisture while keeping dirt and germs out. They’re also designed to prevent the tattoo drying out, leading to cracking, itching and ink drop.
The Takeaway: Tattoo Numbing Creams
Tattoo numbing creams provide a practical solution for those apprehensive about the pain associated with getting a tattoo. By understanding how these creams work, how to use them and the potential side effects, you can make an informed decision about whether they’re right for you.
Remember to always consult with your tattoo artist before using any numbing cream. And follow all of your tattooist’s aftercare instructions to ensure your tattoo heals properly.