Are you itching to get a tattoo but worried about the pain? Numbing cream could be an option for you to dull the pain of the needles that ink your skin, especially if you’re thinking about getting a tattoo in a sensitive area.
Do Numbing Creams Work On Tattoos?
While many tattoo artists will advise against numbing cream, it certainly is an option for people to consider depending on health conditions and personal choice. Numbing creams do work and can be very effective even though they’re topical. Not all anesthetics are created equal and it is advised to do your research in finding the right one.
How Does Numbing Cream Work?
Tattoo numbing sprays, ointments, and creams all work similar to one another. You apply them to the tattoo location and they numb the area. Lidocaine is the active ingredient in these products that causes numbness by preventing your nerves from sending pain impulses to your brain.
Nerve deadeners rarely sink below the surface of the skin though, which means that they aren’t going to be one hundred percent effective for tattoos. There are nerve blockers that will take away the brunt of the pain and when combined with nerve deadeners will be more effective.
The most powerful tattoo cream available is vasoconstrictors. They include epinephrine, which cause your blood vessels to constrict and reduce any bleeding.
It is also important to remember that different people have different thresholds of pain. The level of a pain from a tattoo can vary on various elements: the tattoo’s placement on the body, the artist’s technique, the size and style of that tattoo, your physical health, and how you prepare for your tattoo.
Using the right cream in the right quantity is important and following instructions is even more important.
Should I Use Numbing Cream?
An over-the-counter numbing cream found at a pharmacy or a prescription numbing cream can be applied to skin before getting a tattoo to mellow out the pain that comes from getting a tattoo.
Some places on our body hurt more than others when we get inked (like an elbow) and some people have low pain tolerances, making the idea of a tattoo not so greatly considerable. But if used improperly the numbing cream can be dangerous and so it is advised to ask a doctor before use and make sure that the instructions are properly followed.
No numbing cream or over-the-counter painkiller can successfully eliminate the complete pain of getting a tattoo. Ultimately, it is about knowing your body, and the tattoo you’re going to get. If it’s a small tattoo in a general area and you have an okay pain tolerance, you might be fine without a numbing cream.
However, if you’re thinking about a large tattoo that is going to be placed in a sensitive spot like a rib or elbow, then there are numbing creams that can help you get through your tattoo appointment.
Why Don’t They Numb You Before A Tattoo?
It is up to the consumer (that is you!) to decide yourself if you would like to use an anesthetic before your tattoo, and tattoo artists don’t often readily offer up numbing cream before the tattoo because of the cost of the cream as well as the prior commitment to initial application of the cream (cleaning the skin, applying the cream before the tattoo appointment).
It has also been said that once the cream wears off, your pain comes back with more force and strength than if you had not used the cream. This is tangible though as the contrast from no pain to high pain will seem to be greater than easing into the pain. Such a high contrast would make it feel worse.
But to think, most people who have gotten a tattoo have went back to get another one. Of those who have tattoos, 70% have more than one tattoo and 20% have more than five.
Numbing Cream Factors to Consider
There are factors to consider when using numbing cream before a tattoo to reduce the pain. Some patients will find numbing cream ineffective. Depending on the type of tattoo, the procedure might take longer than the cream lasts, thus resulting in multiple applications of the tattoo numbing cream, which in turn takes longer and can add to the overall cost of the tattoo.
Overuse of numbing creams can have adverse impact on you and your health and applying the cream incorrectly might affect the design and quality of that tattoo. Check for the side effects of the creams to make sure that the cream will work for you.
You can also look at the customer reviews of the creams to see if other people have had success or failure with a certain cream to make sure that you’re making the right choice. Some creams will be pricey and so make sure that you include the cream in with your tattoo budget.
Why Do Tattoo Artists Hate Numbing Cream?
A lot of tattoo artists are skeptical about the effects of products like numbing cream, and a lot of artists have their own tattoos without having used any anesthetic for the tattoos. Some artists (and consumers) might also say that the pain is a part of the game.
When you decide to get a tattoo, ink on your skin forever, they might consider it part of the process: no pain, no gain. And then there are some artists who might have heard tried a certain kind of numbing cream or have heard stories about it that haven’t been great. Because people will react to the numbing agent different as well, when people expect there to be no pain at all and find themselves in pain, tattoo artists find frustration and surprise instead of expectation.
Water-based numbing creams can cause your skin to be slippery, making your skin harder to tattoo. But there are multiple kinds of numbing creams and many people have found them to be an effective way to handle their tattoo pain.
Does Numbing Cream Fade Tattoos?
A quality numbing cream will not interfere with the ink nor cause any side effects to the tattoo. Stay away from low quality products though as you get what you pay for. Also, make sure you talk to your tattoo artist before using any numbing or skin products before getting a tattoo. While it doesn’t fade the tattoo, people have noticed that the healing process for the tattoo can seem to be a lengthier process after using a numbing cream than if not using one.
How Long Does Numbing Cream Last?
If you use the cream before the tattoo (and follow the instructions carefully), depending on the type of numbing cream you have chosen, you could experience little to no pain for the first hour of the tattoo. After the hour goes by your skin will start to get more sensitive and you will feel the machine of needles at work against your skin. Eventually your skin will regain full sensitivity in the area.
However, there are some creams that claim to last up to four hours after the first application. These creams are more expensive and unnecessary for smaller tattoos. If one was thinking of doing a lengthy tattoo, a stronger cream might be better to invest in, as you don’t want the cream to fade with a lot of time still left during your appointment.
Ways to Minimize the Pain
If you decide to not use any sort of anesthetic, there are ways to minimize the pain of getting a tattoo. Here are some options to think about:
- Pick a less sensitive part of your body (forearm, front / rear shoulder, calf, outer upper arm).
- Have a full belly going into your appointment. Low blood sugar increases pain sensitivity so eating beforehand can prevent dizziness and help lower the pain.
- Bring a snack if you tend to get low blood sugar or know that the tattoo will take some time.
- Get plenty of sleep the night before. This will reduce your anxiety levels and make it easier to sit in the tattoo chair for your appointment.
- Stay hydrated (your skin likes to be hydrated to!).
- Avoid alcohol as alcohol heightens pain sensitivity and dehydrates your body.
- Avoid the sun. You don’t want to tattoo a sunburned or dry part of your skin.
- Communicate with your artist. Let your artist know how you’re feeling and take a break when you need to.
- Take deep breaths to help tolerate the pain.
Whether you decide to go with or without a cream, expect pain while getting a tattoo so that you won’t be surprised when it is there. With or without the pain, a tattoo is a personal and permanent choice that is yours to make and isn’t any less of a tattoo whether you avoid the pain when you get one.