Some of us don’t have a high tolerance for pain. Others simply don’t feel the need to act tough while getting a tattoo. Whether you’re preparing for a bikini wax or a navel piercing, a numbing cream is your answer for diminishing pain. Below we discuss common anesthetic ingredients, numbing cream uses, and two over-the-counter numbing creams.
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Topical anesthetics are used to reduce pain in small areas including the skin, nose, and throat. These products are available as gels, sprays, solutions, creams, and ointments. Numbing cream is most commonly used to relieve pain caused by waxing, piercing, tattooing, tattoo removal, and laser hair removal.
So useful that it appears on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, Lidocaine is a local anesthetic commonly used by dermatologists and dentists. It acts quickly and is even used in minor surgeries as a local anesthetic. The drug works by stopping pain signals before they start. More specifically, Lidocaine impedes voltage-gated Na+ channels in the cell membranes of our neurons.
Lidocaine was invented in 1943 by a Swedish chemist who experimented on himself. The drug is also used as a diluent in illegal substances like heroin and cocaine.
Benzocaine was “discovered” in 1890 by a German chemist and released to the public in 1902. The body feels pain when free nerve endings are stimulated. Benzocaine works by deadening those nerve endings. More specifically, this topical anesthetic impedes VDSCs (voltage-dependent sodium channels). Benzocaine is also used:
- To relieve itching from sources like poison ivy
- To relieve pain from sources like sunburn
- As an ingredient in cough drops
- As an ingredient in ear drops
You do not need a prescription to purchase products containing Benzocaine or Lidocaine. Keep in mind, however, that drugstore products contain only small concentrations of these drugs.
Anesthesia is a precise and complicated science that depends strongly on the procedure and the patient. Mistakes can mean death. Therefore, the amount of anesthesia used by a doctor or surgeon is not available to the public. Procedures involving a level of anesthesia higher than that provided by an over-the-counter medicine are rarely conducted outside the hospital.
Numb Master is one of the strongest over-the-shelf numbing agents on the market. The main active ingredient is lidocaine (5%). Numb Master’s formula is designed to be fast acting and non-oily.
You can purchase a 4oz. jar of Numb Master on Amazon for $60.93 (or 1oz. for $20.48). This pre-treatment numbing agent is specifically marketed to relieve anorectal discomfort. It’s also used for dermarolling and other common procedures like:
- Laser hair removal
- Permanent makeup
- IV injections and blood drawing
For optimum results, Numb Master cream should be applied 20-30 minutes before the procedure. The numbing effect should last about 1 hour.
According to user reviews, Numb Master is most commonly used for hair removal procedures. “A must-have product for waxing!” writes Stacey J. Numb Master is an esthetician’s favorite for dermarolling. Users agree that it is more effective than Dr. Numb for use during tattoos.
The main complaint about Numb Master is that it is pricier compared with other products. Other downsides are that the jar is not as convenient as a tube and the cream tends to dry out more quickly than other numbing products.
HUSH anesthetic is the only numbing gel specifically formulated to be used before and during the tattooing process. In other words, there is no need to penetrate the skin before use.
HUSH is FDA compliant and does not have a negative effect on the ink or on the healing process. It was designed for use during tattooing, but can also be used for piercings, laser hair removal, tattoo removal, waxing, permanent makeup, electrolysis, and minor burns.
HUSH claims to provide pain-free tattooing for up to four hours. Amazon sells a 4oz. tube of HUSH for $37.99 (or 2oz. for $28.99).
HUSH does not contain epinephrine, but is slightly mentholated. Do not use HUSH if you are sensitive to menthol. In addition to the main active ingredient lidocaine (4%), HUSH gel contains a number of natural oils and herbs to promote healing.
Actual numbing experience varies by user. Tattooing over boney areas (like the ribs and knees) tends to cause more pain than other areas, and HUSH seems to be ineffective in these areas. On non-boney areas of the body, some users report numbness lasting 2-3 hours; other report numbness lasting 4-5 hours; and many users noticed no numbing effect whatsoever.
Most users report an “icy hot” sensation upon application. HUSH is appropriate for sensitive skin (but not if you are sensitive to menthol).
According to instructions, HUSH should be applied in a thick layer roughly one hour before the tattoo or hair removal process. Wrap the area in plastic wrap/saran wrap to allow the gel to absorb into the skin. HUSH’s numbing effect will lessen significantly if you do not follow these instructions.
While the product claims to speed the healing process and reduce irritation, tattoo artists will tell you something else. Many tattoo artists complain that numbing creams make the tattooing process far more difficult (the skin has already absorbed the cream and is less able to absorb the ink). This may result in numerous sessions or the artist having to go over the same area multiple times – which can cause later infection and additional pain.
Users agree that Dr. Numb is better than HUSH for most uses, but that HUSH is unbeatable for cosmetic applications.
Relax N Wax No Scream Cream
Advertised for use before waxing, No Scream Cream is available on Amazon for $14.08 (one ounce) and features 20% Benzocaine. Product details:
- Smooth and gentle formula for easy application
- Natural and safe
- Compatible with all types of wax
- Appropriate for all skin types
- Can be used on face and bikini area
According to the Relax N Wax Website, the cream alleviates up to 80% of pain caused by waxing. To use, apply a thick layer of cream 30-45 minutes before treatment. Do not rub into the skin. Allow your skin to slowly absorb the cream (your skin will appear white).
Users agree that No Scream “takes the edge off” during waxing and epilating. It does not eliminate pain. Many advise not to get waxed at all if you have a very low pain tolerance. Although not marketed for any other use, Relax N Wax has reportedly been used to dull (but not eliminate) pain during piercings.
The four products reviewed above are hard to compare because they are not marketed towards the same audience. They do, however, overlap. While the Relax N Wax cream is only for hair removal, Numb Master is for everything else – including hair removal. Simply put, the second product features a much stronger formula and offers more pain relief that lasts longer. There really is no advantage to purchasing Relax and Wax over the first product other than price. Users agree that No Scream can only “take the edge off,” while those getting tattooed after using Numb Master say they could hardly feel the needle. Although pricey, Numb Master is a far superior product when it comes to pain relief.
Everyone has a unique response to pain, which is why anesthesiology is such a precise science. On top of that, everyone has a different reaction to numbing agents. It’s important to keep in mind that some people find these products ineffective.