How To Use Tattoo Numbing Cream [6 Steps To Numb The Pain]

March 28, 2023
by Christine Devereaux

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If you like tattoos, there’s no escaping the pain that comes with them. Even people with a high pain tolerance will find getting tattooed uncomfortable, especially if the piece is quite large. 

A product that may help lessen the pain of tattooing is a numbing cream. While using these topicals may help make your appointment slightly bearable, it’s important to know how to use them properly. 

We’ll cover how to do so in this post, including the things you should know before using these products, as well as possible side effects that you should keep an eye out for.

What Do Numbing Creams Do?

Before we get into how to apply these creams, it’s a good idea to understand how they work. 

Topical numbing creams won’t be able to reach the deeper tissues underneath the skin. This means that they’re best used for superficial uses, like tattooing, which involves shallow needle punctures. 

Anesthetic topicals can be found in ointment, gel, and cream forms. Some of these treatments can penetrate 2.5 to 3 mm deep when left on for an hour. If this time increases to 2 hours, they may be able to travel 4.5 to 5mm deep. 

The more the cream can permeate the skin to affect cells in its nerves, the more effective the treatment will be. 

Things To Know Before Using Numbing Treatments

You can help your skin absorb the numbing cream’s ingredients by exfoliating the area, then wrapping plastic wrap around it after you apply the cream. The plastic will trap heat and prevent the treatment from wiping off your skin. 

Make sure that you wash the application area to clean the cream off before the tattoo appointment. If you don’t, the tattoo needles may push the anesthetic further into your skin, which increases the risk of side effects. 

Side Effects To Be Aware Of

Some potential side effects from numbing creams include feeling lightheaded, having double vision, ringing in the ears, and numbness in the tongue or lips. Many of these symptoms may be connected to epinephrine inside the creams. 

Take caution when using anesthetics from the ester category, as these are known for their link with contact dermatitis. This involves an itchy, red rash that is the result of an allergic reaction or contact with a particular substance. 

Contact dermatitis rashes may not occur after you first use the treatment, but they can develop after using the creams frequently. 

How To Use Tattoo Numbing Cream

Now that you know a little more about numbing creams, here are the steps you’ll need to follow when using the treatment.

Previous Day

You’ll need to prepare for a numbing cream application the day before your session.

Spot test the treatment on the body part which will be tattooed.

This is to see if your skin will react poorly to the treatment. Remember that a small amount of regional redness is usual, but keep an eye out for any rashes, itchiness, or nonlocalized numbness.

You should also avoid drinking alcohol for 24 hours before your session. Alcohol can increase bleeding, which can make it harder for the tattoo artist to ink your skin well. 

Day Of Tattoo Appointment

Here are the steps you’ll need to follow to apply numbing cream on the day of your tattoo appointment.

Person using tattoo numbing cream on their arm

Clean And Exfoliate 

Wash the area that’s going to be tattooed with soap and water. You should also exfoliate this area to remove any dead skin, as this will help your skin absorb the numbing cream.

Applying The Cream

Apply the numbing cream an hour to 90 minutes before your session. Always use a glove when doing this to prevent your hands and fingers from turning numb.

Use a dense application, roughly three millimeters thick to the area, then massage it in well. You should be able to see the cream on your skin instead of rubbing it in like sunscreen body lotion.

Aim to cover the whole area, as well as an additional inch on the outside to ensure the whole area is numbed well. 

Use Plastic Wrap

After you’ve applied the cream, use plastic or saran wrap to envelop the area. This stops the treatment from drying out and stops any dirt from affecting the area. 

Most of these creams advise leaving the treatment on an hour to 90 minutes before tattooing. Leave the area wrapped until your appointment or until the tattoo artist is prepared to start. 

Begin Tattooing

When you and your tattoo artist are ready to start the session, take the wrap off and use a clean paper towel to wipe the cream away. 

Your skin should have absorbed some of its numbing ingredients, so even though the cream will be gone, you should still experience the numbing effects. 

If your tattoo is quite large, which involves a particularly lengthy session, you may need to apply the cream again. Use a glove to apply the cream, then cover it with plastic wrap. Wait for 20 to 40 minutes to pass, then resume tattooing. 

Should You Wipe Numbing Cream Off Before A Tattoo?

Your tattooed area needs to be shaved, free of any hair, and clean of any cream before you get tattooed. 

If you haven’t already shaved the area, your tattoo artist is likely to do this for you, as this ensures their needles penetrate your skin well. 

After you’ve waited 60 to 90 minutes after applying your cream, use a clean paper towel to wipe away any excess. The numbing effects should continue for four to six hours after application.

Should You Tell A Tattoo Artist About Using Numbing Creams?

If you want to use a numbing cream, always tell your tattoo artist before you do so. Creams can affect an artist’s ability to ink skin, so you should always notify them beforehand. 

Even if you don’t tell your artist, numbing creams leave a residue on the skin, so they’ll know anyway. A simple discussion is all that’s needed to avoid any embarrassment later. 

Final Thoughts

Now you know how to apply tattoo numbing cream! 

Remember that this process begins a day before, as you’ll need to spot-test the area before your session the next day. 

Always notify your tattoo artist well in advance if you plan to use numbing creams, and keep an eye out for any side effects after the application. 

Related: The 5 Best Tattoo Concealers [That Actually Work]

About the Author
Christine Devereaux is a style and gear junkie. She loves the outdoors and picking out clothing and home goods for her husband, son and dog.
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