A lot of people like to use numbing cream to make getting a tattoo a pain-free process, however a large portion of the tattooed population consider pain to be an integral part of the tattooing process. So, do they really work?
The short answer is of course they do, numbing creams can help make the pain of a tattoo more bearable and allow the artist to tattoo with confidence knowing that you will be relaxed, comfortable and lie still for the duration of the session.
We are going to uncover how numbing creams work and look at if they are 100% safe?
Numbing products comes in two forms: cream (to apply before your tattoo session) and liquid (in the form of gel or spray, for after the skin has been broken).
Loads of different numbing creams exist, Emla, LMX4, Dr Numb, TKTX, the list is endless, most numbing creams contain only lidocaine - which can be used to treat ventricular tachycardia.
VT is a type of abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia. It occurs when the lower chamber of the heart beats too fast to pump well and the body doesn't receive enough oxygenated blood. So its a pretty serious drug.
However as it is applied as a cream, and so long as the correct dosage is used, it shouldn't cause any issues.
Topical lidocaine only numbs the epidermis, the tattoo needle penetrates straight through and into the dermis, the nerve sits in the subdermis.
So lidocaine only creams will only take a very small amount of pain away from the tattoo.
You should be looking for a product which also utilizes another ingredient like propylene glycol which can increase skin penetration and ensures that the deeper nerves in the dermis, fully absorb the active ingredient.
Some people mistakenly believe it’s the same as a Lidocaine injection. Which is used to numb an area of your body to help reduce pain or discomfort caused by invasive medical procedures; ie surgery, needle punctures, or insertion of a catheter or breathing tube.
Lidocaine is also a vasoconstrictor especially when its combined with prilocaine.
A vasoconstrictor causes the blood vessels to tighten up, minimising bleeding and swelling during the process of the tattoo this can also makes the skin more difficult to tattoo it can cause the skin it to have a kind of rubbery feel, and a whiter appearance.
Other creams may contain epinephrine which is used to slow the rate of absorption of the topical cream but too much epinephrine in the body can cause tachycardia (heart rate over 100bpm).
An other ingredient that may be used is benzocaine, which is also used as a cheap filler in cocaine. Benzocaine can cause methemoglobinemia, a condition that can lead to oxygen deprivation in tissues and vital organs due to reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
The risk is increased when combined with other medications that can also induce methemoglobinemia.
You may be more susceptible to developing methemoglobinemia during treatment with certain medications or if you have anemia, diseases of the heart or lungs, blood circulation disorders, liver cirrhosis, shock, sepsis, and certain genetic predispositions.
As with most things in life, numbing creams aren't risk free.
No matter which brand of numbing cream you choose to use, the risks are yours to take.
If you are otherwise healthy, we recommend using a reputable brand, staying within the recommended dosage and don't use topical products on broken skin.
If you decide that the pain of getting a tattoo is a part of the process you'd like to avoid. Choose to use a numbing product and I cannot finish your tattoo session, whether it’s because of vasoconstriction and it becomes too difficult for me to saturate the skin with ink, or because you used too much and died of a heart attack.
I will charge the full price of the appointment. I have no problem with going through your pockets and using your credit card, before I call an ambulance.
All going well though, your numbing cream should help make the pain of a tattoo more bearable.