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People ask us many questions about tattoos each week. The most popular question is nice and simple: “will it hurt?”
The potential for pain is a real turn-off for many people who want a tattoo. To help with the pain, some of these folks turn to tattoo numbing creams.
However, these creams are very controversial in the tattoo community. Before you use any of it, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into. That’s why we’ve prepared a solid guide to what these creams are, how they work, and whether they are actually worth it or not.
How Does Tattoo Numbing Cream Work?
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On the most basic level, tattoo numbing creams work by numbing the skin. Exactly how this works depends on the active ingredient inside the cream.
Despite the scary name, “nerve deadeners” are the mildest creams. They are pretty weak on their own (deadening the nerves can only block so much pain), so some people combine them with other options.
“Nerve blockers” are a bit more effective because they block pain signals from reaching your brain. Technically, the pain is still registering with the nerves, but your brain just isn’t aware of it.
“Vasoconstrictors” are even more straightforward: they force your blood vessels to constrict, which means you end up bleeding less. Less blood means less pain; easy peasy.
A Tale of Two Numbing Creams
Earlier, we mentioned three active ingredients for a tattoo numbing cream. However, all the creams fall into two camps: creams that you use while you are getting a tattoo and creams that you use as part of your tattoo aftercare.
Each kind of cream has its uses, but the practice is frowned upon by many tattoo artists (more on this later). Additionally, the effectiveness of these creams can vary quite a bit.
Is It Effective?
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Will a tattoo numbing cream dull the pain? Yes. Will it dull the pain enough? That’s the big question.
While your pain will be reduced, no numbing cream can perfectly deaden the pain directly at your tattoo area. So if you think this will make everything pain-free, then you’re in for a rude (and painful) awakening.
It’s also worth noting that the FDA frowns on these kinds of numbing creams. It’s their belief that such creams are only effective when administered by a medical professional; unfortunately, you and your favorite tattoo artist probably don’t qualify!
Know the Controversy
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As we said before, many tattoo artists don’t like tattoo numbing creams. Some refuse to use them altogether.
Why is this? In truth, there are several reasons. One is that certain numbing creams (especially water-based ones) may make your skin slippery and mess up the tattoo process.
For some artists, it’s more direct: they’ve tried creams and felt that they didn’t work. Therefore, they don’t want to stock what they see as defective products.
Finally, some old school tattoo artists and aficionados think that pain is an important part of getting a tattoo. To them, dodging the pain means missing out an a big part of the experience.
Tattoo Numbing Cream: The Bottom Line
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So, the big question: is a tattoo numbing cream right for you? The only real answer is that it depends. If your artist approves of them and you find it effective, then you’ve got nothing to lose but money. Just be aware that not all creams are similarly effective, and none of them can completely remove the pain!