Tattoo Numbing Cream: Everything You Need to Know


Something we can all agree on is the fact that getting tattooed hurts. The level of pain you feel while getting tattooed will be influenced by factors such as the location and size of the tattoo, but the fact remains that all tattoos hurt.

The pain is all worth it in the end because you’ll have a beautiful piece of artwork on your body for the rest of your life. Thankfully, there are a few ways to reduce the pain significantly including numbing creams and preparing properly for your session. 

In this post, we’ll share everything you need to know about tattoo numbing creams, including how they work and potential side effects, and we will discuss our top 6 picks to help you make the best decision possible.

What are Tattoo Numbing Creams?

The name itself is pretty self-explanatory. 

Tattoo numbing creams are local anaesthetic creams used before a tattoo session to numb the area to which it is applied. This aim is to reduce pain, and in turn, reduce the number of sessions you need to sit through for larger pieces. 

Tattoo numbing creams can be applied by the client an hour or so beforehand, or by the artist themself at the tattoo shop/parlour, and generally lasts up to an hour after it is applied. There are many different creams on the market, and it might be daunting to a first-timer when choosing the correct one. There are some on the market that are harmful, and some that do not work at all, hence we have written this article. 

If you are an artist who finds that your clients are often expressing that they are in a lot of pain, you may not be tattooing correctly. We recommend investing in our professional tattoo course by the great Hugo Feist - this intensive course will take you through everything you need to know to become the best artist you can be. 

How do Tattoo Numbing Creams work?

While all tattoo numbing creams essentially do the same thing, they are made with different active ingredients. This will make them more or less effective than others, and determine how they achieve their numbing effects. 

Numbing creams are generally:

Nerve blockers

These types of tattoo numbing creams contain special chemicals such as Tetracaine and Benzocaine that block or restrict the pain signals sent to the brain when applied to the skin. Note that the nerves are still functioning normally, the difference is that the pathways are being blocked to the brain.

Nerve blockers work pretty well for small tattoos in less sensitive areas and can dampen the pain significantly. However, when it comes to large tattoos in more sensitive areas, they are more effective when used in combination with nerve deadeners.

Nerve deadeners

Nerve deadeners contain different chemicals from nerve blockers, such as Lidocaine, that stop the nerves from working temporarily instead of blocking the pain signals. 

These are much more effective and can make the process less painful. However, they don't penetrate the skin deep enough to actually kill the nerves being affected by the tattoo needles.


These are more effective during the tattooing process because they cause blood vessels to contract and reduce blood flow. They contain ingredients such as Epinephrine which lessens the amount of bleeding in the tattoo area, making it less messy and less time-consuming.

Vasoconstrictors are included in numbing creams to make them more effective since a reduced rate of blood flow makes other numbing agents last longer, thus making the process less painful. They are also fast-acting and can be used during the session to reduce inflammation and swelling.

Are there any side effects?

Like everything in life, tattoo numbing creams do have side effects. Generally, these side effects are uncommon and minor if the cream has been used as directed. People with sensitive skin or preexisting skin conditions should exercise caution when using tattoo numbing creams since they can cause adverse reactions.

These include:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Inflammation/swelling
  • Burning/tingling sensation
  • Rash

Applying Tattoo Numbing Creams In 5 Steps

Before applying numbing cream, ask your tattoo artist if they are comfortable with it. The majority of tattoo artists are not, and many will refuse to work on numbed skin. The numbing agents make the skin feel like rubber, and this may prevent the ink from entering the skin properly.

Many artists have their own numbing sprays that they use with their clients. These are generally easier to work with and clients respond well to them. It would not be a good idea to apply numbing cream and have the artist apply something else during the session as this could cause complications. 

With that being said, tattoo numbing creams can come in the form of a cream, gel, or spray. The first thing you should do is read the label to find out how it is supposed to be used. Here are some general instructions:

Step 1

Clean the area with soap and water. Pat dry with a paper towel or allow to air dry. Clean skin, free of dirt and oil will better absorb the numbing cream, making it more effective. We recommend using a paper towel soaked in rubbing alcohol and giving the area and good scrub after washing it to remove any old skin and built-up oils. 

Step 2

Put on a pair of disposable gloves (latex is easy to get your hands on) that will prevent the numbing cream from activating in areas you don’t want it to. Imagine having numb fingers when all you wanted to do was get a tattoo on your leg!

Step 3

Apply the amount directed by the manufacturer of the cream to the area. If it says a thin layer, don’t just blob it on there! If it specifically says to apply a generous amount, then do so. 

Some labels have vague directions, so use your discretion. If you’re the client, reach out to your tattoo artist for some guidance, or just apply the same amount you would if you were applying ointment to a rash in that area.

Step 4

If the numbing cream is not fast-acting, wrap the area with a bit of saran wrap. Your body heat will speed up the activation process. Leave it on for 30 minutes before your session, or until you feel it working.

Do not leave the cream on for over an hour in hopes it will last longer. This can affect healing or cause your nerves to get hypersensitive.  

Step 5

Rinse the cream off before the actual tattooing starts unless otherwise stated. In some cases, topical creams can irritate broken skin. 

Some vasoconstrictors can be applied to broken skin every 15 or 20 minutes to extend the numbing effect.

What are some No-Nos?

If this is your first tattoo, congratulations! Before you read any further, we recommend browsing our post about whether you Should or should you not get a tattoo?  to help you make the best tattoo choice. We also recommend reading up on correct tattoo aftercare practices before getting your first tattoo! 

There are some things that you should avoid doing when it comes to numbing creams.

  • Do not lie to your tattoo artist about using a numbing cream. Failure to tell the artist that you have applied a specific numbing cream can affect the outcome of the tattoo, and in case of emergency, your artist needs to know everything about what you may have been exposed to during that session. 
  • Avoid numbing creams with glycerin as the main ingredient. It will make the skin slippery and can make it difficult for your artist to do their job properly.
  • Do not overdose on numbing creams because you think it will make it more effective. 
  • Tattoo numbing creams should never be a go-to. Most tattoos are small and will not even require numbing. As a general rule in life, don’t rely on medication if it is not necessary, especially anaesthetic. The pain is a part of the process, learn to embrace it!
  • Do not apply a pre-numb cream after a tattoo since it can delay healing and potentially ruin your tattoo. There are aftercare products created for that purpose

Top 6 Tattoo Numbing Creams

Having trouble deciding on the best tattoo numbing cream? Here are our 5 top picks!

1. Ebanel Numb 520

With a 5% concentration of lidocaine, Ebanel Numb 520 cream is fast-acting and lasts up to 2 hours after application. In less than 5 minutes, it gets to work, peaking at 20 minutes after application to soothe irritation, reduce pain, and calm itching.

This numbing cream is water-based, so you’ll never have to worry about greasy messes and difficult cleaning.

2. Uber Numbing Cream  

Uber Numbing Cream also contains 5% lidocaine, along with other soothing and numbing agents such as Vitamin E that reduce inflammation while moisturizing the skin. This numbing cream reaches its peak at 20-25 minutes and its effect should last up to an hour, with some users claiming it has lasted up to 4 hours.

3. Dr. Numb Cream

With a 5% lidocaine concentration, Dr. Numb Cream starts working in as little as 15 minutes to numb tissue for between two and four hours. It works for everything from tattoos and bikini waxes to taking your young one for their first ear piercing. It’s super handy to have in your medicine cabinet in the event of bug bites, pain, and itchiness you may encounter.

4. Hush Spray 

Hush Spray is another popular choice that contains 4% lidocaine and is epinephrine-free (non-vasoconstricting). This FDA-approved numbing spray contains ingredients such as aloe, propylene glycol, chamomile, and menthol that soothe and hydrate the skin while giving over 2 hours of pain relief.

5. Advanced Numb 

Not only does Advanced Numb work for tattoo numbing, but it is perfect for soreness, burning, itching, and even haemorrhoids! It works for up to two hours, penetrating the skin deeply without leaving behind greasy residue and flakes.

6. Bactine Max

Once your skin is broken, many numbing creams become counterproductive and can delay the healing process. At this point, you need something that relieves any burning, itching, or swelling. This is where Bactine comes in. 


Bactine is formulated with 4% lidocaine and antiseptic ingredients to keep the wound clean as it heals, without the stinging or burning effect that hydrogen peroxide/alcohol-based products are known for. Bactine is loved by tattoo artists everywhere, and is the perfect addition to any first-aid kit for the entire family!

Anything else?

The effects of these numbing creams will vary from person to person. While one person may have a great experience with a specific brand, you may find that it wears off sooner than it did for them, or vice versa. This is why doing your own research is important.

Remember to run using tattoo numbing cream by your tattoo artist beforehand. They can help you to make the best decision about tattoo numbing creams, but ultimately the decision lies with you.

If your artist refuses to use a numbing cream, there are other ways to manage pain such as icing, using a stress ball, taking breaks, listening to music, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and simply talking to the tattoo artist as they work. Some breathing exercises can be particularly helpful, and if you know you have a very low pain threshold, ask your artist if you can do the tattoo in sessions to avoid hitting your pain threshold and not being able to sit through a tattoo. 



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