Getting A Tattoo? Can You Use Numbing Cream Beforehand?

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Applying numbing cream before getting a tattoo could work to some extent. You might not experience a complete pain-free tattoo process, but it does make the pain tolerable and manageable. But the significant thing to remember is to discuss with the tattoo artist your intention of applying numbing cream before getting a tattoo. Some tattoo artists might not mind, but some may give a hard pass for they cannot complete the tattoo efficiently and might not have a good result.

Also, keep in mind that people have different reactions towards numbing cream. So, research well before you make a decision. Numbing creams primarily work for 1 hour, and some over-the-counter numbing creams need to be applied 15-20 minutes before getting a tattoo. Always wear a glove before applying a numbing cream, and you should never leave a numbing cream for more than 1 hour.

Many of us would someday like to get a tattoo, marking a remembrance of something, someone, someplace, or a memory. But what makes us hesitate in going forward to get a tattoo is thinking about the pain we’ll experience while getting one.

Sure, you might hear a lot of different reviews from people who’ve already gotten a tattoo. Some might say that tattoos don’t hurt at all; it’s only a tingling sensation, or like tiny ants biting- harmless, right?

But, on the other hand, you’ll hear, tattoo hurts badly, and about their traumatic experience while getting a tattoo. So, should you numb the area before getting a tattoo? Would that be a good idea? Will it work?

Tattoos can mean so much for so many people. Some people get it to mark an emotion, and others get a tattoo to show their love for their idol or something they love doing.

I like those matching tattoos that mothers and daughters get or best friends get as a way of always keeping each other close to their hearts.

Talking about tattoos being painful then, I think it depends on many factors like your threshold of pain tolerance, the area where you’re getting the tattoo done, and the size of your tattoo.

If you have low pain tolerance, getting a tattoo anywhere will probably hurt you, while some might not feel it’s a big deal as the pain is very manageable. But if someone tells you that they dozed off while getting the tattoo done, then let me tell you, it’s all a complete flapdoodle.

How does numbing cream work?

How a numbing cream works depend on the active ingredient present in the cream. The most effective and often used ingredient is lidocaine which also helps provide relief from pain.

The other active ingredients present in numbing creams are:

  • Dibucaine
  • Benzocaine
  • Tetracaine
  • Pramoxine

The numbing cream active ingredients can work in one of the three following ways:

1. Nerve Deadeners

The ingredient lidocaine temporarily numbs the nerves in the skin, so nerves don’t register when we experience pain.

The numbness is usually temporary and rarely sink in below skin level, which sometimes means that the numbing cream won’t be 100% effective for tattoos.

2. Nerve Blockers

Ingredients like tetracaine and benzocaine are nerve blockers, meaning that you might experience pain, but they don’t send the “ow” signal to the brain.

They don’t prevent the nerves from registering the pain, but instead, these nerve blockers are usually mixed with nerve deadeners to stop any involuntary flinching.

3. Vasoconstrictors

These are the most potent numbing agents, and they include epinephrine which works by constricting the blood vessels and reducing bleeding.

Vasoconstrictors may be considered the most effective for tattoo sessions when mixed with other numbing agents as they will last longer.

Different forms of tattoo numbing agents

Tattoo numbing spray

Numbing sprays are the easiest to apply, but that being said, it’s only good for small tattoos and needs to be re-applied.

Tattoo numbing cream

Tattoo numbing creams are the most commonly used and are not needed to be re-applied like numbing sprays. It’s easy to apply and works for any tattoo.

Tattoo numbing ointment

A numbing ointment is heavier than the 3 numbing agents, and it needs to be applied only once or twice.

It’s excellent for bigger tattoos or the body areas which are more sensitive to pain like ribs, elbow, or back of the knee.

How to apply a numbing cream?

1. Choose the correct numbing cream

For a tattoo session, you need to get the correct numbing cream.

Not every numbing cream is the same and can be used in a multi-purpose way. You need to choose a numbing cream that has 5% of lidocaine but not more than that.

Choose numbing creams that are in gel form so that they don’t hinder the inking process.

2. Wash the area with soap and water

The area where you’ll get the tattoo should be washed with soap and water and pat dry.

3. Apply the cream

Wear a sterilized glove and take a good amount of the numbing agent in your hand and apply it to the desired area.

Apply a generous layer on the skin; it should be approximately a 1mm thick layer. You’ll need to wait 5-30 minutes for the area to become numb. Make sure not to apply on broken skin or wounded areas.

4. Cover the area

After applying the cream, cover the area with a cling wrap or a sterilized cheesecloth-like material.

5. Wash off the cream

Once the area is numb, wash off the numbing cream, and the tattoo artist can start the tattoo.

Signs of an allergic reaction

  • Chest pain
  • Itching, rashes, or hives
  • Drowsiness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Change in the ability to sense hot or cold
  • Swelling of lips, face, or throat or on the area where the cream was applied

Note: If you experience any of the above symptoms, call 911 or immediately visit the nearest emergency room.

Why do some tattoos artists not recommend applying numbing creams?

Some tattoo artists might still think the “old school” way, so they want the whole tattoo-getting process to be in the traditional way. They might not accept that people want to get the tattoo but don’t want to feel the pain.

A tattoo artist is sitting down, showing both his hands which are filled with tattoos.

Most tattoo artists might not recommend or agree to give you a tattoo if you have a numbing cream applied because they think it interferes with their work.

Some artists also believe that the pain comes back more strongly, meaning the client might not be mentally prepared for the possible pain of getting a tattoo done, so when the numbness wears off, the pain shocks the client’s mind and body.

Also, some tattoo artists have experienced their client’s reactions and healing process, who have used numbing agents before a tattoo, to be completely different from those who didn’t apply any numbing agent.

And more often than not, these clients have to visit a dermatologist for the delayed healing or allergic reaction from the numbing agent.

So, should you use a numbing cream before getting a tattoo done?

Well, it entirely depends on your personal preference.

Whatever you decide, talk to your tattoo artist too before getting inked. Talk to them about your pain tolerance, your reservations about getting a tattoo done without a numbing agent, and hear what they feel about it.

Also, many effective numbing creams are available today, which mostly don’t give an allergic reaction and are pretty effective for a tattoo session.

Most people who have gotten their first tattoo have always gone back for their second and third. And for people who have worse tattoo experience, the problem often lies with the skills of the tattoo artist and not with the tattoo pain alone.

Ways to minimize the pain

  • Please choose an area for the tattoo where it hurts less, like the forearm, arm, shoulder, calf
  • Hydrate yourself and sleep well the night before. Anxiety and nervousness will only amplify the pain.
  • Eat before you get a tattoo. Low blood sugar often increases pain sensitivity. Also, bring some snacks with you to eat while getting the tattoo done to avoid low blood sugar, and eating while getting a tattoo can also become a great distraction.
  • Bring a friend to talk to you while you get the tattoo done and give you company to take your mind off the process.
  • Talk to your tattoo artist and let them know if you need a break. Tell them it’s your first time so that they can start at a slow pace to help you get used to it gently.
  • Take deep breaths during the process to help you tolerate the pain.

Tattoo numbing cream recommendations


Where is the most feminine place to get a tattoo?

The popular body areas where most women prefer to get a tattoo are the inner wrist, foot, down the side of your ribcage, the back of the neck, behind the ear, hand, and collarbone.

Will my skin remain numb if I leave the numbing cream longer?

Letting the cream stay on too long can harm your healing as the numbed area will be more sensitive, and it could affect the blood flow to the area.

Does it make a difference if the cream is water or glycerin-based?

Choose water-based numbing cream so your skin won’t be slippery and can be washed off easily without leaving any residue.


I think it’s your personal choice whether you want to apply numbing cream or not, but for me, I think when you decide to ink yourself permanently and to get the best result, I feel experiencing the pain is part of the process- no pain, no gain, right?

If the tattoo is closer to your heart, then try to go with the process. Experience it, love it, and endure it. But, hey, you’re the one getting the tattoo, and you know your pain tolerance level. So, choose accordingly.

Talk to your tattoo artist and try to be on the same page with them. If they’re okay and can give their best with numbing cream on your tattoo area, so be it. But, if they don’t recommend a numbing cream, then you can try getting the tattoo at a place where it doesn’t hurt much or find a tattoo artist who can recommend an excellent numbing cream with which they’ve worked before and see no problem with it.

Meanwhile, comment down below on what kind of tattoo you’re planning to get and what does it mean?

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