How To Use Numbing Cream For Tattoos

woman putting cream on her tattoo

Tattoos have evolved from ancient cultural traditions into a mainstream form of self-expression, with approximately 32% of Americans proudly sporting ink on their skin. However, amidst the growing popularity of tattoos, one critical aspect often overlooked is the importance of proper care before getting inked.

The process involves using tattoo guns to inject ink into the dermis layer of skin. Although these guns are equipped with a numbing agent, applying additional numbing cream is always recommended to decrease any potential discomfort or pain.

This comprehensive guide will delve into the world of tattoo numbing cream and its significance in pain management during the tattooing process. Understanding how to use numbing cream for tattoos ensures a more comfortable experience and plays a crucial role in achieving the desired tattoo outcome.

What is Tattoo Numbing Cream?

Tattoo numbing cream, a topical anesthetic, has become an invaluable tool in body art. It is designed to minimize the discomfort and pain associated with tattooing. When applied to the skin before a tattoo session, this cream temporarily numbs the area, making it a popular choice for individuals seeking a more comfortable tattoo experience.

The use of numbing creams in the tattoo industry has a fascinating history. Traditional tattooing methods, dating back centuries, had no access to such modern comforts. The introduction of numbing creams marked a significant milestone in making tattooing more accessible to a broader audience.

Over time, advancements in pharmacology and dermatology led to the development of more effective numbing creams specifically tailored for tattooing. Here are some of the common types of numbing creams used in tattooing today:

  1. Topical Anesthetics: These are the most common types of tattoo-numbing creams. They block pain signals from the nerves in the skin’s outer layers. Common ingredients include lidocaine, tetracaine, and benzocaine.
  2. Lidocaine-Based Creams: Lidocaine is a widely used anesthetic in medical and cosmetic procedures. Numbing creams with Lidocaine before a tattoo typically offer strong and long-lasting numbing effects.
  3. Natural and Organic Alternatives: As interest in natural and organic products has grown, some individuals prefer numbing creams that contain natural ingredients like aloe vera, chamomile, or arnica. These options provide a more holistic approach to pain management.

The demand for tattoo-numbing creams has surged in recent years. In 2021, the global market for tattoo numbing creams was estimated to be worth $678.4 million. This impressive figure underscores the growing awareness and acceptance of numbing creams among tattoo enthusiasts seeking a more comfortable and enjoyable tattooing experience.

How Does Tattoo Numbing Cream Work?

Understanding how numbing cream works involves delving into the science behind its mechanism. Below are some of the key concepts behind its effects:

  1. Blocking Pain Signals:
    Its ability to block pain signals is at the core of the numbing cream’s functionality. The cream contains active ingredients, often local anesthetics like lidocaine or prilocaine, which inhibit the transmission of pain signals from the nerve endings in the skin to the brain. These anesthetics bind to sodium channels in the nerves, preventing the influx of sodium ions necessary for nerve signals. Consequently, the nerves cannot transmit the pain sensation, allowing for a pain-free tattoo session.
  2. Reducing Inflammation:
    Numbing creams also have anti-inflammatory properties. They contain ingredients such as steroids or vasoconstrictors that help reduce swelling and inflammation at the tattoo site. This contributes to pain relief and minimizes the risk of excessive bleeding during the tattooing process, promoting better ink retention.
  3. Temporarily Numbing the Skin:
    The primary goal of tattoo numbing cream is temporarily to numb the skin’s surface. Once applied, it takes some time (usually around 20-30 minutes) for the cream to fully penetrate the skin and reach the nerve endings. The numbing effect is localized to the area where the cream is applied, ensuring that only the tattooed region experiences reduced sensation.

Key Ingredients and Their Roles

Numbing creams typically contain one or more of the following key ingredients:

  • Lidocaine: A powerful local anesthetic that blocks nerve signals.
  • Prilocaine: Similar to lidocaine, it provides effective numbing.
  • Tetracaine: Another local anesthetic known for its fast-acting properties.
  • Epinephrine: A vasoconstrictor that reduces blood flow and swelling.
  • Steroids: Anti-inflammatory agents that further reduce discomfort and swelling.

Duration of Effectiveness and Application

The duration of effectiveness varies depending on the specific numbing cream, but it typically lasts 1-2 hours. To achieve the best results, applying the cream to the tattoo area approximately 30 minutes before the tattooing session begins is recommended. This allows ample time for the cream to take effect.

Comparisons with Other Pain Management Methods

Pain Management Method Duration of Effectiveness Ease of Use Potential Side Effects
Tattoo Numbing Cream 1-2 hours Easy Allergic reactions, redness
Topical Anesthetic Sprays 15-30 minutes Convenient Cold sensation, skin irritation
Oral Pain Relievers (OTC) Varies Convenient Digestive issues, potential allergies
Local Anesthetic Injections Hours Invasive Pain at the injection site, potential nerve damage

How to Use Numbing Cream for Tattoos

When used correctly, a numbing cream can significantly reduce the discomfort associated with tattooing. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use numbing cream for tattoos:

Pre-Application Preparations

  1. Consultation with the Tattoo Artist: Before applying numbing cream, it’s essential to consult with your tattoo artist. They can provide valuable insights into the specific areas where the cream should be applied and any other recommendations based on your tattoo design and location.
  2. Choosing the Right Numbing Cream: There are various numbing creams available, each with different formulations and durations of effectiveness. Choose a numbing cream that suits your needs and preferences. Ensure it contains safe and effective ingredients, such as lidocaine or prilocaine, and is approved for topical use.
  3. Skin Sensitivity Test: Perform a skin sensitivity test by applying a small amount of numbing cream on a small, inconspicuous area of your skin. Allow for a short interval, usually around 10-15 minutes, and carefully monitor for any negative responses such as redness, itching, or irritation. If no negative reactions occur, you can proceed with confidence.

Step-By-Step Application Process

  1. Cleaning the Tattoo Area:
    Begin by thoroughly cleaning the tattoo area with mild soap and water. Pat it dry with a clean, lint-free cloth. Clean, dry skin ensures that the numbing cream is absorbed effectively.
  2. Applying the Numbing Cream:
    Apply a generous layer of numbing cream to the entire tattoo area using a clean, disposable applicator or your gloved fingers. Ensure that the cream forms a thick, even layer. Avoid massaging it into the skin, as this can reduce its effectiveness.
  3. Waiting for the Numbing Effect:
    The numbing cream typically takes 20-30 minutes to take full effect. You can relax and prepare mentally for the tattoo session during this time. It’s crucial not to disturb the cream or allow it to dry, so covering it with plastic wrap can help retain moisture.
  4. Removing Excess Cream:
    After the numbing cream has had sufficient time to work, your tattoo artist will remove any excess cream from the tattoo area using a clean, damp cloth. This step ensures that the cream doesn’t interfere with the tattooing process.

Tips for Maximizing the Effectiveness of Numbing Cream

  • Follow the instructions provided with the numbing cream carefully.
  • Avoid excessive movement or sweating during the waiting period.
  • Communicate with your tattoo artist about any discomfort during the tattooing process to make necessary adjustments.

Potential Side Effects and How to Mitigate Them

While numbing cream is generally safe, there can be potential side effects, including:

  • Skin redness or irritation
  • Allergic reactions
  • Temporary changes in skin texture

To mitigate these side effects, conduct a skin sensitivity test before full application. If irritation occurs, choose a different numbing cream or consult a dermatologist for guidance. Additionally, ensure you are using a numbing cream approved for topical use on the skin.

Do’s and Don’ts While Applying Tattoo Numbing Cream

Using tattoo numbing cream can greatly enhance your tattoo experience, but it’s crucial to follow certain do’s and don’ts to ensure its safe and effective application:


  1. Follow the Instructions on the Cream Packaging: Always adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines for the specific numbing cream you’re using. These instructions typically include information on the application process, recommended wait times, and any precautions to take.
  2. Inform Your Tattoo Artist About the Use of Numbing Cream: It’s essential to communicate openly with your tattoo artist regarding your intention to use numbing cream. They can provide valuable insights into its compatibility with their tattooing process and make any necessary adjustments to ensure a successful session.
  3. Monitor the Tattooed Area During the Process: While the numbing cream is effective at reducing pain, it’s essential to stay aware of the tattooing process. This includes being attentive to any sensations or discomfort that may arise. Effective communication with your tattoo artist is key in ensuring your comfort throughout the session.


  1. Don’t Use Expired Numbing Cream: Check the expiration date on the numbing cream packaging. Using an expired product can lead to reduced effectiveness and potential adverse reactions. It’s vital to prioritize your safety by using only fresh, unexpired numbing cream.
  2. Avoid Excessive Application: Applying too much numbing cream won’t make the numbing effect stronger; instead, it may lead to wastage and potential skin irritation. Follow the recommended application guidelines to ensure the cream works optimally without overloading your skin.
  3. Never Apply Numbing Cream to Broken or Irritated Skin: Numbing cream should only be applied to intact, healthy skin. Avoid using it on areas with cuts, scrapes, rashes, or other skin conditions. Applying numbing cream to compromised skin can lead to adverse reactions and complications.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Numbing Cream

  1. Underestimating the Wait Time: Some users may become impatient and not allow the numbing cream enough time to take full effect. This impatience can result in inadequate pain relief during the tattooing process.
  2. Neglecting the Sensitivity Test: Skipping the skin sensitivity test is a common mistake. Testing the cream on a small area of skin helps identify any potential allergic reactions or adverse effects before applying it to a larger tattooed area.
  3. Using the Wrong Type of Cream: Not all numbing creams are suitable for tattooing. Ensure that the cream you choose is specifically formulated for topical use on the skin and contains safe and effective ingredients.


Incorporating numbing cream into your tattoo experience can be a game-changer, offering a more comfortable and enjoyable session. Whether you’re a first-time tattoo enthusiast or a seasoned ink aficionado, don’t hesitate to explore numbing cream options with your tattoo artist. Embracing this pain management solution can help you focus on the artistry of your tattoo while minimizing discomfort.

By Mike Smith

Mike Smith, a talented writer and devoted art enthusiast with a deep love for tattoos. As a creative soul, Mike's passion for arts, culture, music, and lifestyle shines through his engaging writing. With a keen eye for detail, he delves into the world of tattoos, exploring their rich symbolism and captivating stories.

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