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What Is A Right Amount Of Numbing Cream For Piercing And Tattoos

Posted on June 13 2018

An over-the-counter numbing cream, or topical anesthetic, is applied on the skin before getting a tattoo, piercing, minor surgeries, or any other cosmetic procedures to relieve the pain. It works by dulling the nerve endings which carry pain signals to the brain. So, it’s a good solution for people with low pain threshold or with sensitive skin to easily get a tattoo or any other body art without feeling an ounce of pain. However, when not used properly, a numbing cream is likely to cause some serious health risks. Therefore, it is best to consult a physician before applying a numbing cream.

Numbing Cream For Piercing And Tattoos

Besides just consulting a physician, people nowadays are more interested in knowing more about the numbing cream that they are going to use on their skin. One of the most asked questions about numbing cream is that how much percentage of numbing cream needs to applied before tattooing or piercings?

Before giving a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’, we would like to fill you in with more details about the usage of numbing cream. Continue reading to learn more about the over-the-counter topical anesthetic.


The topical anesthetic is available in the form of a cream, gel or ointment. It needs to be applied just before a tattooing or piercing procedure for temporarily numbing the nerve endings in the skin. It is usually applied one to two hours before the tattooing procedure. The numbing effect begins a few minutes after applying the cream and lasts for approximately 60 to 90 minutes.

Ingredients Used in Numbing Creams:

Good topical numbing creams like NumbSkin, Dr. Numb etc. contains Lidocaine as an active numbing agent with no more than 5%. This percentage of Lidocaine is safe for use and considered ideal for numbing skin for 60-90 minutes. However, this time is not enough for long tattoo procedures. That’s why people are likely to know if the numbing effect can be increased or not, and how much cream needs to be applied.

Here’s the answer:

Only a small amount of numbing cream or a thin layer needs to be applied to the skin. This is because the numbing cream is absorbed by the skin to activate the numbing effect. If more cream is absorbed in the skin, it may be an invitation to major health risks like slow breathing, seizure, respiratory failure, and uneven heartbeat. However, these health risks may vary from person to person. In some people, these consequences are mild while others may suffer from the life-threatening conditions due to excessive usage of the numbing cream.

Another insight by some tattoo artists is that the tattoo numbing creams often aren't as effective as clients might expect. These may be helpful in dulling the pain to some extent but may not completely numb the tattooing area.

FDA Warning:

In 2009, FDA has issued a public health advisory for making people aware about the incorrect uses of numbing creams. Some of its directions from this report are:

  • Avoid applying heavy layers of a topical anesthetic on large parts of the skin.
  • Avoid using numbing cream on the irritated or broken skin
  • Avoid using strong and concentrated formulation
  • Avoid using dressing or cloth to heat the skin after applying the numbing cream

So, it is clear that the numbing cream needs to be applied with several precautions to avoid life-threatening conditions. But that does not make numbing creams unsafe. They are safe and efficient to use, only if you follow the right directions given on the leaflet. Moreover, purchase the numbing cream with the right amount of lidocaine, i.e., 5%.

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