Do Tattoo Numbing Creams Work?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 10, 2020
    Last Updated: November 10, 2020

Whether you’ve been burned by a painful inking session in the past, or whether it’s your first time receiving body art and you’re not sure what to expect, there are ways you can reduce the pain and discomfort of getting a tattoo. Numbing creams — topical anesthetics designed to numb the skin or dull pain sensations — are a popular option, and many varieties are available over-the-counter. 

Tattoo numbing cream works well for many people, but how safe and effective it is can depend on the individual using it. Here’s what you need to know about using tattoo numbing cream.


Does Tattoo Numbing Cream Work?

While products such as numbing creams aren’t entirely risk-free, they are mostly safe, effective, and may provide a much more comfortable tattooing experience for some tattoo enthusiasts.

For people wanting a little extra assistance for dealing with the pain, a good tattoo numbing cream can really help to take the edge off.

One of the most effective tattoo numbing products currently on the market is a cream called Numb 520. The feedback left by hundreds of customers for this product is nothing short of excellent.

Just follow the instructions on the tub, apply shortly before your tattoo session is due to begin, and expect a less-painful experience. The amount you get in a container also ensures you have more than enough cream for a large tattoo.

What You Need to Know

To illustrate how, when, and why tattoo numbing creams work, we’ll address a few common questions that people have about them. We’ll discuss why numbing creams might be necessary in the first place, how they help reduce pain, and what risks they carry.

Why Is Tattoo Numbing Cream Necessary?

In some cases, the decision to use a numbing cream is more a matter of personal preference than necessity. While some ink aficionados see pain as part of the “ritual” of getting a tattoo, there’s nothing at all wrong with wanting to be comfortable while you receive your body art. 

It’s your experience and yours alone — so it’s entirely up to you to decide how you would like it to feel. Especially for your first tattoo, it’s understandable if you’re nervous about needles.

For people who have a low tolerance for pain — which can be due to medical conditions, chronic pain, injuries, genetics, and other factors — the sting of a tattoo needle may be too much to bear. These folks may not be able to receive body art without using anesthetics, and they may choose to use creams with more potent numbing agents.

Many different biological and psychological factors may influence how much pain someone can handle. Some common reasons for low pain tolerance include:

  • Genetics
  • Medical conditions that damage the nervous system (such as diabetes)
  • Chronic pain, which can create hypersensitization
  • Prior injuries
  • Depression, anxiety, or stress
  • Lack of sleep

A low tolerance for pain is often built into a person’s biological makeup. If you are sensitive to pain, it may not be possible to change how your body responds to uncomfortable stimuli. However, our thoughts and feelings also play a vital role in how we experience pain. Techniques such as relaxation and biofeedback can help you retrain your brain and make it easier to tolerate physical discomfort.

Still, if you’re concerned about the pain associated with getting a tattoo, topical anesthetics can make the sensations more bearable. Knowing you have options for lessening the pain might help put your mind at ease.

How Numbing Creams Work

Numbing creams are meant to be applied to the skin before you go in to get your tattoo. Their active ingredients include numbing agents designed to reduce the pain of getting inked. These numbing agents fall into three main categories, each of which has different strengths and potential drawbacks.

Nerve Deadeners

Most popular tattoo numbing creams contain numbing agents called nerve deadeners — lidocaine is a common example. These chemicals stop your nerves from picking up pain signals, causing a temporary loss of feeling. Lidocaine is often used to lessen discomfort during dental procedures as well as certain medical tests. 

One of the downsides of nerve-deadening tattoo creams is that they only numb the skin’s surface. Tattoo needles go approximately 1/16″ below the surface of the skin, puncturing through the five epidermal layers and into the upper dermis. If you have a cream that isn’t formulated to penetrate beneath the outer skin layers, you’ll still feel pain in those deeper layers while you’re under the needle.

Additionally, lidocaine typically doesn’t last a long time; its effects wear off after an hour or two, so depending on how much tattoo work you’re getting done, you may need to reapply cream a few times throughout the session. Just be careful not to over-apply to avoid the risk of harmful health effects.

Nerve Blockers

Nerve blockers such as tetracaine and benzocaine work a little differently — they allow your nerves to register some sensations, but they block some nerve signals from reaching the brain. Creams that contain nerve blockers won’t numb you completely but will dull the intensity of the sensations you feel. In tattoo creams, nerve blockers are often combined with nerve deadeners for a more substantial effect.

As with other numbing agents, nerve blockers should be applied with care and may be harmful if used in excess.

Vasoconstrictors

Vasoconstrictors, which include epinephrine, are the most powerful — and potentially dangerous — class of numbing agents. They work by constricting your blood vessels, which reduces bleeding and swelling at the site of your tattoo. When used along with other anesthetic chemicals, vasoconstrictors can prevent your body from absorbing them as quickly (so their effects last longer).

The combination of vasoconstrictors with nerve blockers and deadeners creates a potent, long-lasting topical anesthetic. However, there are health risks associated with blood vessel constriction. It can contribute to ischemia, or lack of oxygen, in bodily tissues, or cause tachycardia — an abnormally fast heart rate. 

If your body isn’t absorbing numbing agents from the bloodstream as quickly as usual, the chemicals can reach toxic levels.

There are many tattoo creams on the market with varying formulations of numbing agents. Before choosing a numbing cream, make sure to talk with your doctor or healthcare provider — they can review your medical history and point you towards the right anesthetic for you.

Risks of Using Numbing Creams

Numbing creams are generally considered safe — that is, as long as you follow all directions on the packaging. Putting an extra dollop of cream on your skin might sound like a fine idea, but using too much can potentially lead to dangerous side effects or toxicity. Be careful not to reapply too often or use more cream than directed.

All creams may contain preservatives and other ingredients that can cause allergic reactions. Make sure you carefully read the ingredients list on any cream you purchase. If your skin tends to be sensitive, you may want to choose a more naturally-based cream with fewer additives.

The numbing agents themselves also carry certain health risks. Again, we strongly recommend that you check with your doctor prior to purchasing a numbing cream to discuss any potential health concerns.

Thoughts in Closing

If your last tattoo felt like torture, or if worrying about the pain has you feeling scared of getting inked for the first time, you don’t have to grin and bear the suffering. Although you may have heard otherwise, receiving body art doesn’t have to be painful — especially when you apply a numbing product beforehand to take the edge off.