The Art of Pain Mitigation: Numbing Creams in The World of Tattoos

Tattoos have been a prominent form of self-expression for centuries, marking the human body with stories, symbols, and art. The process of getting a tattoo involves the insertion of ink into the skin using needles. While the final result is a beautiful piece of art, the journey to that masterpiece often involves some level of discomfort or pain. This discomfort has led to the development of various techniques and products to help mitigate the pain associated with the tattooing process. One such product is numbing cream. In this essay, we will explore the world of numbing creams for tattoos, delving into their history, how they work, their effectiveness, potential risks, and the debate surrounding their use.

The History of Numbing Creams

Numbing creams, also known as topical anaesthetics, have a long history of use in various medical and cosmetic procedures. The roots of these creams can be traced back to the late 19th century when early formulations were used for dental procedures. Over time, they found applications in various medical and cosmetic procedures, including minor surgeries and tattooing. Can you use numbing cream before a tattoo? The use of numbing creams in the tattoo industry gained momentum during the late 20th century. Tattoo artists and clients sought ways to make the process more comfortable, as larger and more intricate designs became popular. The application of numbing creams before tattoo sessions soon became a standard practice.

How Numbing Creams Work

Numbing creams work by temporarily numbing the nerve endings in the skin, which reduces or eliminates the sensation of pain during the tattooing process. They contain active ingredients like lidocaine, prilocaine, or benzocaine, which are classified as local anaesthetics. These ingredients block the transmission of pain signals from the skin to the brain, creating a sensation of numbness in the treated area.

The application of numbing creams is a straightforward process. Tattoo artists or clients apply the cream to the skin’s surface at the intended tattoo site. The cream is then left to sit for a specified amount of time, usually between 20 to 45 minutes, allowing the active ingredients to penetrate the skin and take effect. After the numbing cream has had sufficient time to work, the tattoo artist can begin the tattooing process with significantly reduced pain and discomfort for the client.

Effectiveness of Numbing Creams

The effectiveness of numbing creams in reducing pain during tattoo sessions is a topic of much discussion in the tattoo industry. It largely depends on several factors, including the type of cream used, the concentration of the active ingredient, and individual variations in pain tolerance.

Type of Numbing Cream:

Different numbing creams on the market vary in terms of their effectiveness. Some creams are formulated to provide longer-lasting relief, while others are designed for shorter procedures. Tattoo artists often have their preferred brands or products that they believe offer the best results.

Concentration of Active Ingredients:

The concentration of active ingredients in numbing creams can vary, and this can significantly impact their effectiveness. Higher concentrations typically offer more profound numbing effects but may also come with increased risks and potential side effects.

Individual Pain Tolerance:

Pain perception is subjective and varies greatly among individuals. Some people have a high pain tolerance and may not find numbing creams necessary, while others may experience significant pain even with the use of numbing creams. Personal factors, such as the location of the tattoo and the client’s overall health, can also influence pain perception.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

While numbing creams can be a valuable tool for reducing tattoo pain, they are not without potential risks and side effects. It is crucial to consider these factors when deciding whether to use a numbing cream for a tattoo.

Skin Reactions:

Some individuals may experience skin reactions, such as redness, itching, or irritation, in response to the numbing cream. Allergic reactions to the active ingredients are possible, though they are relatively rare.


Overusing numbing creams, or using them in excessive quantities, can lead to systemic absorption of the active ingredients, potentially causing adverse effects. It is essential to follow the recommended guidelines for cream application to avoid overuse.

Uneven Numbing:

Achieving an even level of numbness across the tattooed area can be challenging. Areas that receive more cream may be overly numb, while others might not be sufficiently numbed. Tattoo artists need to be skilled in applying numbing cream to ensure an even numbing effect.

Reduced Pain Perception:

While numbing creams effectively block pain signals, they can also dull other sensations, making it challenging for the client to provide feedback during the tattooing process. This can hinder communication between the artist and the client.

The Debate Around Numbing Creams

The use of numbing creams in the tattoo industry has sparked a debate among tattoo artists and enthusiasts. Some argue that numbing creams have revolutionized the industry by making tattoos more accessible and less intimidating, particularly for first-time clients. Numbing creams can encourage more people to experience the art of tattooing without the fear of pain.

On the other hand, some traditionalists believe that pain is an integral part of the tattoo experience. They argue that the pain endured during the process adds a layer of significance and commitment to the tattoo. Moreover, they contend that numbing creams can affect the quality of the tattoo, as the client’s movements may be restricted due to numbness, making it difficult for the artist to work.


Numbing creams have undeniably made an impact on the world of tattoos. They offer a practical solution for individuals who seek to minimize pain and discomfort during the tattooing process. However, their use is not without potential risks and challenges, and the debate around their impact on the tattooing experience continues.

Ultimately, the decision to use numbing cream for a tattoo is a personal one. It depends on an individual’s pain tolerance, the size and location of the tattoo, and their overall goals for the tattoo experience. Tattoo artists play a crucial role in guiding their clients through the process, providing information, and ensuring that the tattooing experience is as comfortable and safe as possible.

As the tattoo industry continues to evolve, numbing creams are likely to remain a valuable tool for both clients and artists, providing an option to enhance the tattooing experience for those who seek it. The world of tattoos is as diverse as the art itself, and numbing creams are just one of the many elements that make this form of self-expression accessible to a broader audience.

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