Lidocaine for Tattoos: Safety and Effectiveness

  • Written By Dan Hunter on February 09, 2022
    Last Updated: March 13, 2022

With tattoos comes pain, and for some, the discomfort is intolerable. If you’re craving body art but can’t tolerate the pain, you might want to explore the idea of using lidocaine.

In this article, we examine the safety and effectiveness of lidocaine for tattoos. We also discuss what lidocaine is, how to apply it, and whether it’ll affect your tattoo.

What Is Lidocaine?

Lidocaine is a local anesthetic that numbs the skin and surrounding tissues when applied correctly. 

People often apply lidocaine before they have a tattoo to help prevent the pain. Lidocaine will not completely eliminate your pain, but it will reduce it and make the experience of having a tattoo more comfortable.

Topical lidocaine comes in several forms including, cream, gel, spray, lotion, ointment, and skin patches. Many of these are applied just before you begin your tattoo session. However, you can apply some sprays to broken skin and use them throughout the procedure.

Unfortunately, the effects of many topical anesthetics, including lidocaine, wear off after approximately two hours. So, if you’re planning to have a tattoo that will take significantly longer to complete, you’ll begin to feel the pain at some point.

The most effective numbing creams will contain five percent lidocaine. Five percent is the highest intensity of lidocaine allowed by the food and drug administration for over-the-counter use. 

Lidocaine for Tattoos: Safety and Effectiveness


Topical lidocaine is generally safe and effective. But, there are some potential side effects such as a red spotty rash, itching, tingling, and mild swelling. These side effects are common, and they should subside when you remove the cream. Only alert your doctor if they don’t go away or begin to bother you.

More side effects include allergic reactions that can cause anaphylactic shock. However, allergic reactions to lidocaine are rare. 

You can overdose on lidocaine if you exceed the recommended dose. When you’re applying lidocaine at home, read the enclosed pamphlet and follow the instructions carefully.

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe burning or stinging.
  • Worsening swelling (especially if it is around your face or throat).
  • Dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Confusion, blurred vision, or tinnitus
  • Blue/gray appearance on the skin.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat.


Lidocaine is usually very effective because it can penetrate your skin. Typically a tattoo needle will penetrate up to two millimeters below the surface of your skin. Lidocaine can reach depths of eight to ten millimeters when applied topically, so it numbs way below the tattoo needle’s reach.

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 Zensa Numbing Cream, which contains the highest level of Lidocaine allowed by the FDA for over-the-counter use. The feedback left by thousands of customers for this product is nothing short of exceptional.

Just follow the instructions supplied with the cream and apply shortly before your tattoo appointment is due to begin so that you can look forward to a less painful and more comfortable tattooing experience. The amount of cream you get in a tube also ensures you have more than enough for a large tattoo. Click here to buy from Amazon

Will Lidocaine Ruin My Tattoo?

No, lidocaine won’t interfere with the shape or color of your tattoo. Some tattooists will offer to apply lidocaine before your session. But, many tattoo artists feel that pain is part of the experience and may try and discourage its use.

How to Apply Lidocaine

Firstly, decide which form you’re going to use, as this will determine how long before the procedure you apply the lidocaine. Try to judge the timing of the application as close as you can to your appointment. 

Once the numbing agent has taken effect, be careful not to injure yourself. It’s easy to catch and damage your skin when you can’t feel anything.

  1. Clean the area you’re having tattooed with soap and water, then dry it thoroughly. If you don’t clean your skin before applying the cream or gel, your skin won’t absorb it well. 
  2. After washing, apply the recommended amount of lidocaine to the area. If it’s a cream, lotion, gel, or ointment, massage it into your skin. If it’s a spray, spray it over the skin.
  3. Cover the area you’ve applied lidocaine to with a saran wrap. The plastic wrap helps heat the skin, which activates the numbing properties and stops it from drying out. 
  4. Leave the wrap on for an hour before removing it. Anything over an hour may damage your skin but, taking the wrap off too early can compromise the efficacy of the lidocaine. Some numbing agents require less time on the skin than others. For example, lidocaine sprays take effect in around two minutes, whereas cream can take anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes.
  5. Once you’ve removed the saran wrap, wipe off any excess cream.


Lidocaine is a safe and effective numbing agent that can help anyone with a low pain barrier. It’s easy to apply, and some agents can be reapplied during the process, great if you’re planning a full sleeve or huge back tat.

You won’t need to look for an expensive brand as long as lidocaine is the active ingredient. Having no feeling in the area you’re getting inked may help you feel less nervous about your session.

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