Is It Safe To Use A Numbing Cream When You're Getting A Tattoo?

Tattoos are hardly new. For thousands of years, human beings have been decorating their bodies for both traditional purposes and/or to celebrate life (via Smithsonian Magazine). Your body is a canvas, after all. Although once something only sailors and bikers sported, tattoos have become mainstream in the past few decades. But as tattoos have become more mainstream, so has the attempt to make the pain of getting them easier — which, although great in theory, takes quite a bit out of the experience. Tattoos are supposed to hurt.

"Many people who claim they are addicted to tattoos and body modification find that the physical pain of these experiences is a big part of what drives them to seek more," psychologist Dr. Sal Raichbach of Ambrosia Treatment Center tells Bustle. "These individuals are likely referring to the surge in brain chemicals that the body naturally releases to deal with physical pain. These are the same mechanisms that lead to addiction to drugs and alcohol, but the body does not become dependent on these behaviors as it would with substance abuse."

When we get tattooed, the body releases both adrenaline and endorphins. Not only do these two hormones help with pain relief but they also evoke an emotional response that makes people feel really good. That's why some people claim to be addicted to getting tattoos (via TattooDo). Still, while there are those who really love the thrill of that pain and the high that comes with it, others just can't handle it. Others would rather opt for something less painful or, ideally, painless. That's where numbing cream enters the conversation.

What is numbing cream

As its name suggests, numbing cream is a medication that numbs the skin by blocking nerve signals (via Verywell Health). When these signals can't reach the brain, the pain that's being felt can't be processed.

Originally created for medical procedures, some numbing creams are now available over the counter without a prescription. But just because it's readily available, doesn't mean it's not without its side effects. In fact, fatal overdoses have happened when numbing cream has been used without input from a medical doctor (via Everyday Health). This is something you absolutely want to consider before purchasing numbing cream for anything, not just in preparation for getting a tattoo. Of course, one would like to hope that people read the directions before applying anything to their body, but some just want to dive in and lather up with zero regard for the side effects. Do not do this. Whether it's numbing cream or ibuprofen, skipping the directions is never a good idea.

Numbing creams and tattoos

While many tattoo artists will tell you to skip the cream as it deflates the experience, the choice to numb or not is yours (via InkedMind). It's your body and your tattoo, and because the cream doesn't negatively affect the actual tattoo, the call is yours. But there are some things you should know. First of all, numbing creams won't completely alleviate the pain. Because these creams are topical, you can only expect so much from them. Also, even if you apply it in advance, as you're supposed to, when you sit down to get your tattoo, your skin will be cleaned by the artist.

"Numbing cream is typically considered safe to apply before tattoo treatments, especially in areas that are particularly sensitive," Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., tells Byrdie. "However, the numbing cream may or may not be effective depending on the type of ingredients used. Furthermore, numbing cream starts to wear off as soon as it's wiped away, so it may not last the entire treatment duration."

Secondly, pain tolerance varies from person to person, especially depending on the part of the body that's being tattooed and how it's being tattooed. Fine-line tattoos that are small and far away from a boney area are the ones that hurt least, but they still hurt (via Cosmopolitan). In fact, it's hard to imagine how much a tattoo hurts until you experience it firsthand.

Ultimately, using numbing cream can be hit or miss. It can help with some pain, but not all of it. You have nothing to lose by using numbing cream, just know that the pain that comes with a tattoo won't disappear just because you smeared a topical numbing agent on your body before heading to the tattoo studio. You'll still feel something.