Tattoo numbing cream may be used for a number of different purposes. It can decrease the pain associated with elective and cosmetic tattooing, body piercing and waxing. When used for pain management, numbing creams are effective and may have some limited utility for tattooing. However, for tattoos requiring more than an hour's worth of work, they are likely to cause more harm than good.
Most tattoo numbing creams utilize either lidocaine or prilocaine, or a mixture of both. Lidocaine and prilocaine are both topical anesthetics used commonly in medical procedures. They may be injected or—as the case may be—applied topically. Lidocaine is especially effective in relieving skin discomfort, such as itching or burning sensations.
Benefits to Numbing Cream
The use of a numbing cream during tattooing may be useful in relieving some of the discomfort associated with the tattoo process. Especially if you're getting a large tattoo or a tattoo over a sensitive area, a numbing cream may allow you to relax during the procedure. Numbing creams are easy to use and can be applied without the assistance of a medical professional.
Drawbacks to Numbing Cream
A negative reaction to topical numbing cream is always a possibility. Numbing cream may prevent the tattoo from being properly placed on the skin and may affect the visual outcome of the design because it can cause the skin to swell and distort. Numbing creams can also dramatically increase the cost of getting a tattoo. The creams themselves are expensive and sometimes require a doctor's prescription (which health insurance generally won't cover, as it's considered cosmetic if used with a tattoo). Also, if the cream doesn't last for the full session, multiple sessions might be needed---which can more than double the original tattoo cost.
The numbing effect lasts, on average, about an hour—which is not as long as most tattoo sessions. As a result, you can be in the middle of receiving a tattoo when you regain full sensation in a previously numbed area. This will not only be more painful than necessary, but it can also disrupt the tattooing process—and the final outcome of your body art.
The Real Pain of a Tattoo
Finally, the tattooing process rarely becomes painful enough to require intervention; the tattoo gun can cause some discomfort but not disruptive pain. Unless receiving a very small tattoo in a sensitive location (typically a location where there is little fat or muscle to "pad" the bone from the tattoo gun), there is no reason to utilize numbing cream. The pain of a tattoo can generally be compared to the pain of a moderate sunburn.