Using Numbing Cream Before a Tattoo

Using Numbing Cream Before a Tattoo

Tattoos have been around for over 10,000 years. But numbing creams have just gained popularity in the last decade. So what's all the hype about? Do they actually work? Do they affect the artist's work or ink quality? Can I use numbing cream for my next tattoo? We're going to answer all of these questions and more - let's dive in. 

Can you use numbing cream before a tattoo?

Let's get right into the most obvious question. Yes, you can use a numbing cream before a tattoo if you want to enjoy a pain-free experience. Tattoo numbing creams create a numbing sensation for 4-6 hours, which is more than enough time for an artist to complete small to medium-sized pieces. And for larger pieces that take 6+ hours, you can still use numbing cream to make the process more bearable. As it begins to wear off, take a 30-45 minute break while you reapply and wait for the numbing session to return – then you’ll be good to resume your ink session. 


It’s worth noting that some tattoo artists have a policy or preference against numbing cream, so make sure to check with them before your appointment. If you show up to the session with numbing cream without telling them, you may be in for an awkward conversation. Or even worse, they may cancel your appointment without a refund. The best way to avoid this is to ask the artist during your consultation. If you want to use numbing cream but a particular artist doesn’t consent to working with it, you’ll have to find another artist.

Does numbing cream affect tattoo ink?

When applied properly, tattoo numbing cream does not affect tattoo ink. It’s a safe & effective skin numbing method for tattoos of all sizes. 


These topical creams act only as local anesthetics, numbing the area for 4-6 hours so that you can sit comfortably during your session. And though they leave behind a thin residue, it won’t affect the artist’s ability to work or the quality of ink. 

Why don’t some tattoo artists use numbing cream?

The tattoo community has mixed opinions on numbing cream. While many artists & ink enthusiasts embrace its abilities, some artists avoid it at all costs. But why?


Well, a few reasons, but here are the most common:

  • Cheap cream can actually have the opposite effect, amplifying the pain. The intense pain often causes patients to writhe in pain, forcing artists to wrestle to keep them in place. 
  • If applied incorrectly, it makes the artist's job much more difficult. Too thick and the needle will slide all over the place. Too early and the numbness will wear off before your session even begins. 
  • Some artists believe that “pain is a part of the process” and that if you can’t handle the pain, you shouldn’t get a tattoo in the first place. 

These are the common thoughts shared among the anti-numbing cream crowd. But we asked some artists about their thoughts on numbing cream and this is what they had to say

How long before a tattoo should you put numbing cream on?

  • Tattoo numbing cream is the most effective way to reduce tattoo pain, but only when applied properly. So if you choose to use it, here are a few tips to make sure it works as intended: 

  • Make sure your artist is comfortable working with the cream.
  • Apply a thick amount of cream 60-90 minutes before your session, covering the entire area plus 1-2 inches on either side. Don’t rub it in like lotion. 
  • Cover with plastic wrap until you’re in the studio.
  • Enjoy your session.

For more information, check out our guide to applying numbing cream.

Are there other ways to reduce tattoo pain without numbing cream?

There are ways to reduce tattoo pain, but nothing will be as effective as numbing cream. Frequent inkers and artists use physical & mental distractions like snapping their fingers, music, Netflix, and anything that will take their mind off the pain. Unfortunately, these are just distractions and won’t actually minimize pain like numbing creams.

Should you use tattoo numbing cream?

If you’re still reading, you’re probably deciding if numbing cream is right for your next tattoo. And while we can’t make the decision for you, we can give you the information you need to make the best decision for you and your skin.


Ultimately, the choice to use numbing cream before your tattoo is between you and your artist. Should you choose to use it, make sure to follow the instructions and give your artist a heads up that you plan to show up with the numbing cream already applied and ready to begin.