General truth about tattoo numbing cream

To reduce the discomfort of the needle, apply an over-the-counter or prescription numbing cream, also known as a topical anesthetic, to your skin before getting a tattoo. If you have a low pain tolerance or choose to get a tattoo in a sensitive spot, ask your tattoo artist when a numbing agent should be used. However, if used incorrectly, numbing cream can pose a significant health risk, so consult your doctor first.


Numbing creams usually contain lidocaine, prilocaine, benzocaine, and tetracaine. Some prescription topical anesthetics contain a combination of medications, such as EMLA (eutectic mixture of local anesthetics).


While different numbing creams perform differently based on the ingredients, the list of ingredients can be divided into three categories.

  • Nerve deadeners – Ingredients like lidocaine temporarily paralyse the skin’s nerve endings. Since the solution rarely penetrates the tissue, it will only provide temporary relief from the needle and will not fully eliminate pain.
  • Nerve blockers – To relieve the bulk of the pain associated with getting a tattoo, chemicals such as benzocaine and tetracaine are used. These nerve blockers are ph-neutral and will be more effective when used in conjunction with nerve deadeners. This treatment is excellent for removing the sting of a fresh tattoo. When applying permanent eyeliners, it is used to deaden the eyes.

Other Uses 

Over-the-counter topical anesthetics are also used to treat minor cuts and scrapes, as well as sunburn, insect bites, and poison ivy. Some people use a numbing cream before having a tattoo or receiving a hair-removal injection. Topical anesthetics may be applied in a medical setting to the affected area before a laceration repair, biopsy, or dermatological operation.


In 2007, the United States Food and Drug Administration released a public health warning on the usage of topical anesthetics for cosmetic procedures, stating that the drugs can only be used under the guidance of a medical professional. Leaving the topical anesthetic on for an extended period, applying too much or over a wide area of skin, or using it on irritated skin may all result in the drugs entering the bloodstream.

Expert advice

Tattoo numbing cream are often ineffective, only dulling the pain but not completely numbing the tattoo area. Eat a full meal and consume plenty of water before your visit, avoid caffeine on the day of your tattoo operation, and practice deep breathing while getting tattooed to help with pain tolerance.