Numbing Cream For Tattoos – Does It Work?

LuxeLuminous is reader supported. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

It’s no secret that tattoos hurt. Getting poked with a needle a million times doesn’t sound appealing to most. Even so, there are a lot of people willing to work through the pain for beautiful art. There are a lot more that, despite wanting a tattoo, are not willing to subject themselves to the anguish of getting one.

But there are tattoo numbing creams that are available that claim to make the experience a LOT more bearable.

Really? Numbing cream for tattoos, does it work?

You’d think that advertising pain-free tattoos would be a selling point, right!? So what’s the deal?

In this article, that’s what we’re going to find out. We’re going to take a look at numbing creams, why most tattoo artists don’t use them, and consider if the claims that tattoo numbing creams make getting a tattoo painless are legit.


Why Don’t Tattoo Artists Use Numbing Creams?

Tattoo Artist

Most tattoo artists do not use numbing cream. There are those that have some on hand, but will only provide it if the client specifically asks.

There are also others who refuse to use it.

If you are thinking about getting a tattoo and want to use a tattoo numbing product, make sure you discuss it with your tattoo artist first. They may have a particular brand they prefer you to use, or they may be among the artists that refuse to do a tattoo with a numbing agent.

You will want to find out BEFORE you show up on tattoo day!

So what do tattoo artists have against numbing cream? Laser hair removal people use them, epilating people use them, as do waxing technicians. Tattoos hurt as much as those, or more!

There are a few reasons that tattoo artists may choose not to use numbing cream, but the two most common are:

Rite of Passage

For the hardcore, old-school tattoo artist, a tattoo is something you have to earn. And the pain is part of that experience, not to mention it making the tattoo all the more meaningful.

They’ve used numbing cream before and it didn’t work

Everyone’s body chemistry is different, which can affect the efficacy of the numbing product.

And people also have different levels of pain tolerance. Neither of which the tattoo artist has any control over.

If the tattoo artist offers a numbing agent as part of the tattoo experience and the client still experiences pain, then it’s the artist’s fault. If the client asks for, or uses their own numbing agent and it doesn’t work, then it’s on the client. It just avoids issues and clients unreasonably demanding refunds or discounts for the pain they experienced.

The above are the most common reasons a tattoo artist may refuse to use numbing agents. However there are other reasons that some tattoo artists do not use them:

Numbing cream can interfere with the tattoo ink

It’s true that some low-quality numbing creams can affect how the ink is applied and can lower the quality of your final tattoo. However, numbing cream that is specifically made for tattoos will not affect tattoo ink, as long as it’s wiped off before the process begins.

Trying to get more money out of their clients

The price of tattoos is sometimes based on how long it takes to make the tattoo. If the client keeps having to stop to take breaks because it’s getting too uncomfortable, then it will take a lot longer.

Numbing Cream For Tattoos – Does It Work?

Numbing Spray

Yes it does, at least for most people.

While numbing cream does not entirely eliminate the pain, it can help reduce discomfort enough to make your tattoo experience much more tolerable, especially at the start of a long tattoo session.

How Do Numbing Creams Work?

There are actually a few different types of tattoo numbing agents that are available:

Numbing Sprays

Numbing Spray

Numbing spray is the easiest to apply. That said, it also needs to be applied more often than cream. Tattoo numbing spray is often used for smaller tattoos, located in sensitive areas.

Numbing Creams & Gels

Numbing Cream

Tattoo numbing cream and gel are the most versatile of the tattoo numbing agents. They are easy to apply, and don’t need to be reapplied as often as numbing spray. Tattoo numbing cream & gel can work for pretty much any tattoo.

If you are not sure which type or which brand of numbing agent you should use, talk to your tattoo artist for recommendations.

How numbing cream works depends on which active ingredients it contains. Tattoo numbing ingredients fall into three categories: nerve deadeners, nerve blockers, and vasoconstrictors.

Nerve Deadeners

Chemicals like Lidocaine, for example, momentarily paralyses nerves in the skin, preventing them from perceiving pain. Nerve relaxants are fantastic topical anesthetics, but they rarely penetrate past the surface of the skin.

So for tattoos, which require a needle to penetrate the top layer of skin (epidermis), into the dermis to deposit ink, nerve deadeners won’t be 100% effective. But they will definitely help.

Nerve Blockers

Tetracaine and benzocaine are both commonly used nerve blockers. While your brain can still perceive pain, they definitely take the edge off.

Because they don’t prevent the nerves from registering pain on their own, nerve blockers are often used in combination with nerve deadeners to avoid involuntary flinching.

The last thing you want to be doing when someone is applying permanent ink to your skin is flinching!


Vasoconstrictors are the most effective numbing agents available over the counter. Epinephrine is a type of vasoconstrictor that works by constricting blood vessels to reduce bleeding.

Vasoconstrictors also slow down absorption, which means that when mixed with nerve blockers and nerve deadeners, increase the length of time they produce their numbing effects.

Vasoconstrictors also help to reduce swelling and inflammation.

What’s The Most Painful Spot To Get A Tattoo?

If you are among those with a low tolerance for pain, you may want to choose your tattoo location wisely. Getting a tattoo on certain areas of the body is much more painful than on others.

Any really fleshy parts of your body with no musculature, like your inner thigh, inner arm, breast (for women), or stomach; or any area that is directly above a bone, like knuckles, ankles, elbows, or knee caps, are much more painful areas to get a tattoo.

How Can You Make Tattoos Hurt Less?

A tattoo numbing cream will make for a much less painful experience. Just understand that numbing creams, sprays, and gels may make you more comfortable, but will not make your tattoo experience completely pain-free.

Again, tattoo location greatly impacts the amount of discomfort. Areas of the body that are more “beefy”, as in directly over major muscle groups, like your outer upper arm, front or outer thigh, pecs, calves and back generally tend to be less painful for a tattoo.

Apart from choosing a spot for your tattoo that is less painful, we’ve put together a few tips for you to make your tattoo experience hurt less:

Choose a licensed tattoo artist.

Experienced artists usually take less time to finish tattoos. Before your appointment, meet the artist to get a feel for their personality, design style and the studio’s hygiene. Ask the artist everything you want to know. Make sure you tell them if you want to use a tattoo numbing agent.

Sometimes the anxiety of the unknown can heighten sensitivity. If you go into your tattoo appointment feeling comfortable with your tattoo artist and the process, you are more likely to have a much more positive experience with much less discomfort.

Get enough sleep.

Your body can handle pain better when it’s well rested.

Avoid pain relievers.

Don’t take aspirin or ibuprofen for 24 hours before your session. These are blood-thinning medications which may prolong the tattooing process.

Don’t get a tattoo when you’re sick.

Sickness heightens your sensitivity to pain. If your immune system is struggling, it will take longer for your tattoo to heal.

Try to avoid booking an appointment when you’re on your period.

Some women experience heightened skin sensitivity during menstruation. Same for waxing.

Stay hydrated.

Getting tattooed on dry skin hurts more. Before your session, keep your skin hydrated by drinking lots of water.

Eat Something.

Low blood sugar increases pain sensitivity. Eat beforehand to prevent dizziness from nerves, hunger and low blood sugar.

Avoid alcohol.

Don’t drink alcohol for at least 24 hours before your appointment. Alcohol heightens pain sensitivity, dehydrates your body, and thins your blood.

Of course, many are saying I would never have gotten my first tattoo if I had avoided alcohol

Wear loose clothing.

Dress in comfortable clothes, especially around the area you’re getting tattooed. You’re going to be there for a while, so you want to feel as comfortable as possible. And you also want to give easy access to the tattoo artist to the area being tattooed if it’s in a place that is not always visible.


This might sound like a given, but slow, steady, relaxed breathing will go a long way to helping you better tolerate the discomfort.

Distract yourself.

You’ll want to suss out your tattoo artist beforehand during your consultation to see if he or she is the kind of person that likes to have a conversation while tattooing, or works better concentrating on the task at hand. You want to make sure that you are the only one you are distracting!

Ask if you can bring a friend you can talk to while you’re getting tattooed. You could also bring headphones and listen to music or a podcast to get your mind off the fact that you are being repeatedly poked.

Communicate with your artist.

If the pain gets to be too much, let your tattoo artist know. A good tattoo artist will let you take breaks.

After your session, follow your artist’s aftercare instructions.

Good tattoo aftercare, proper covering, tattoo sunscreen, etc. will promote quicker healing and reduce the risk of infection, which translates to a less painful healing process.

Take Away

Numbing Cream For Tattoos – Does It Work? Yes it does. But while tattoo numbing cream will not completely eliminate the pain, it can help reduce it to make for a much more pleasant and tolerable tattoo experience.

Also making sure you discuss numbing agents with your tattoo artist beforehand and use the numbing agent they recommend. Follow their instructions on preparation for your tattoo appointment and aftercare, and you’ll have a much more positive tattoo experience.

See also:

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).