Tattoos are a wearable form of artwork; often quite beautiful. But, as the old adage says, “Beauty is pain,” and many people are not ready to suffer the pain of going under the needle.
While tattooing is an industry that has been active for thousands of years, it is safe to say that it has come a long way since its initial entrance into human society. Ink has become better quality, styles have altered and grown over the years. Techniques have shifted, becoming less invasive, and the tattoo equipment has evolved substantially.
Compared to the early days of the original hand-tapped tattoos, the industry has minimized the pain substantially.
But, it’s not enough to entice some people…
In order to accommodate even those with the most minimal of pain tolerance, the industry turned to topical anesthetics.
A topical anesthetic is a localized anesthetic which is used to numb or dull the sensations of the surface of the body. They are easily obtainable, quick acting, and affordable—making them a favorite of tattoo collectors with a low pain tolerance. They generally contain an ingredient called lidocaine, a medication which has been used in the medical industry for decades.
Despite their popularity with clients, many tattooists frown upon the product. Some believe that part of tattooing is experiencing the pain and if you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t do it. Others believe that using a topical anesthetic can be dangerous, particularly on larger pieces, as the product isn’t very long-lasting and can wear off during a session—making the potential risk of the body going into shock higher.
Regardless of whether an artist approves of these products, the use of topical anesthetics in tattooing has risen in recent years. This is partly because of the number of tattoo-specific products on the market, but also because of the ease of access. Many tattoo parlors use anesthetic as an advertisement, to help entice wanna-be tattoo collectors into their shops.
If you’re interested in using a local anesthetic during your tattoo experience, it is important to understand which works best for your needs. As with everything these days, there is a varied assortment of options available on the market and each format comes with a different set of variables and benefits. As I will tell you with anything related to the tattoo industry, you should always do your own research first—but, to help you along in the process, I’ve compiled a list of the types of products currently available and their intended benefits.
Anesthetic gels can best be described as a gelatin-like substance, often resembling a jelly of sort. Gels can potentially penetrate further than many other formats, due to their consistency; however, this can take some time. It is best to apply these at least an hour prior to your tattoo session. An anesthetic gel often tends to have an efficiency of approximately two hours.
An anesthetic cream is similar in substance to products like Benadryl cream or Neosporin. They are essentially a semisolid material—being applied in a solid-like format, but able to be rubbed in and absorbed by the skin. Comparable to anesthetic gel in operation, a cream will temporarily block the pain felt by the body in the area of application. Like a gel, this product should be applied in advance as it does have to absorbed by the body in order to work properly.
A spray works much faster than a gel or cream, as it directly applies lidocaine to the skin through a liquid format. Usually, in drops or mists, a spray can be applied directly prior to beginning the process of tattooing or used intermittently during the process after the effects of a gel or cream have worn off.
Pain Relieving Ointments
These work similar to a cream and/or a gel, however, are used after the application of the tattoo to help numb the pain and soreness that can sometimes be associated with the process. Most artists won’t suggest these products, though, as they can sometimes numb the beginning signs of an infection. While there are some products on the market which are targeted specifically for after-tattoo use, utilizing an over-the-counter general pain-relieving ointment can run you the risk of ruining your fresh ink as some of these products contain petroleum-based ingredients.
When you are considering using one of these products in your tattoo process—whether before or after application—there are a few factors you need to consider. A topical anesthetic, regardless of availability, is a medication and, with all medications, should be approved by your doctor prior to use. Products containing Lidocaine are generally not recommended for people with allergies to corn or corn-related products, individuals with Adams-Stokes syndrome or Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, those with severe sinoatrial block, heart block, and more. Always consult your doctor prior to use if you have any medical conditions or allergies at all.