balck and gray photo of a woman with a tattoo

How Do Tattoo Numbing Creams Work?

At least once every week, clients ask me about pain relief for a tattoo. Questions range from how numbing creams work to seeing if taking something like Advil or Tylenol is ok before a tattoo appointment. While I agree that the pain of a tattoo can be formidable for clients, the reality of any permanent cosmetic procedure, like a tattoo, pain is inevitable. So, when people come to me with these questions, I tell them to do what they feel is best. At the same time, I never recommend numbing creams or ointments. Why you ask? Well, that is why we are drafting this article today!

What are Numbing Creams?

Numbing creams are a catch-all term to us at Better Tattooing. We use the term ubiquitously even though various products are made of and sometimes work differently. Numbing creams are anything that is applied topically (to the skin) before a session to reduce pain. These products can be oil-based, aerosols, or even (yeah, you guessed it) a cream, or lotion.

box of lidocaine numbing creams

How Do Numbing Creams Work?

Nociception is a medical term of what the body does when stimulated by something that we classify as pain. There are specialized receptors in the body called nociceptors (clever name, eh?). They are found throughout the body, including in the skin. These receptors fire up when stimulated by heat, chemicals, pressure, or when the skin is damaged. The sensations they interpret include feelings of pain. Numbing creams work by blocking these receptors so they cannot be stimulated. Because they are not stimulated, they cannot cause the sensation of pain.

Why You Should Avoid Using Numbing Creams on Your New Tattoo?

The use of numbing creams can alter the healing process of your tattoo. If you use them, you can expect your tattoo to take much longer to heal. This is due to the hormone cortisol, which is necessary to increase your skin repairing itself, but, in increased amounts cortisol can decrease your ability to fight off an infection.

Beyond releasing hormones that can affect your healing tattoo, pain is a symptom. It is your body telling you when something is going wrong. If you decide to ignore that message, you open yourself up to a potential catastrophe. If the tattoo artist way overworks your skin or goes too deep – You will not be able to tell because you have been numbed. There is also a chance that the numbing creams will wear off during a procedure.

From an economic point of view, this will exponentially increase the cost of the tattoo if you factor in the chances of the tattoo not healing well. More sittings, with more numbing creams, over a longer period means more money to pay. A $100 tattoo can turn into a $1000 tattoo quickly.

Is There a Good Reason to Use Them for a Tattoo?

There is always a reason to use the products. If they are needed in a medical setting, you should use them. Also, if the fear of getting a tattoo is too much to take but you refuse to be told that you should not get the tattoo, using numbing creams before the tattoo to decrease the fear is an effective way to reduce stress. Decreasing the stress hormones circulating in your body can increase the body’s ability to effectively heal your tattoo.

lidocaine cream in tube for numbinng a tattoo

If you choose to use the product, be sure to read every insert available. Do the research and talk to your doctor about the consequences of using numbing creams on your tattoo.

Before We Get into The Science Behind It All…

We decided to put the answers you seek on this page rather than have you sift through a mountain of words to find what you are looking for. If you do wish to learn a little more about why we caution against numbing creams on tattoos, you can read our in-depth article at your leisure. We also talk about some of the science behind how these products work!

Learn more by following this link to our in-depth article on tattoo numbing creams:

Tattoo Numbing Creams – How Do They Work and Are They Safe to Use?

In Conclusion.

There is more to know. As soon as the in-depth article about pain and tattooing while using numbing creams is done, we will post a link here.

If you are searching for more information on healing a tattoo after its done, follow this link to our articles on aftercare:

Better Tattooing’s Aftercare Articles.

The Extra Stuff.

We also have a YouTube channel that breaks down commonly asked tattoo questions. You can find it by following this link:

Better Tattooing YouTube Channel

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