Updated: December 13, 2020
By Derek Martin
Getting a new tattoo is an exciting experience.
Except the part where you sit in the tattoo shop for hours while sharp little needles stab you repeatedly in the flesh. That part fucking sucks.
Luckily there are some very effective products to help you conquer the pain, and make the tattooing process a whole lot more pleasant — they’re called topical anesthetics.
Topical anesthetics work by numbing the skin and blocking nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. These products were first used by doctors and nurses to perform minor medical procedures including: stitches, IV insertion, catheter insertion, and even laser treatment.
Over time topical anesthetics began popping up in tattoo shops due to their effectiveness and the fact that most people don’t enjoy being stabbed by needles for hours on end. Go figure.
Nowadays there are a ton of companies that produce tattoo specific topical anesthetics in the form of creams, gels, and sprays. And while it’s great to have a wide variety of options to choose from, it can however get pretty damn confusing trying to determine which numbing products actually work — and which ones don’t.
So in order to help you find exactly what you’re looking for, I created this list of best tattoo numbing creams, gels, and sprays. Each one of these products is specifically designed to eliminate the pain, irritation, and discomfort associated with getting a new tattoo. And the best part is they actually work.
What’s the Difference Between Numbing Creams, Gels, and Sprays?
Before we get into the list I want to talk a little about the differences between tattoo numbing creams, gels, and sprays.
While all of these products are intended to serve the same primary purpose — eliminate pain during the tattoo process — there are some differences in how they are used and the ingredients used to make them.
• Numbing cream
Numbing cream is intended to be applied to the skin for up to 1 hour before the tattoo process. Since numbing cream requires time to actually do it’s thing (at least 30 minutes), it requires a small amount of planning beforehand to work effectively. Most creams keep the skin numb between 1-2 hours.
• Numbing gel
There is little difference between numbing cream and gel in regards to application and effectiveness. Numbing gel should be applied up to 1 hour before the tattoo process because it requires time to take effect. Similar to cream, numbing gel typically lasts between 1-2 hours.
• Numbing spray
Most numbing sprays on the market are intended to be used during the tattoo process. Since the skin needs to be broken for a numbing spray to work, applying it before the tattoo process is usually ineffective because it’s incapable of penetrating the five epidermis layers of the skin.
One of the benefits of using a numbing spray is that they work pretty quickly — between 5-15 minutes after application. Many people like to have a bottle of numbing spray on hand in case the effects of their numbing cream or gel wear off — common during long tattoo sessions.
- Hush – Anesthetic Tattoo Numbing Gel
- Hush – Anesthetic Tattoo Numbing Spray
- Ink Eeze – B Numb Topical Gel
- Dr. Numb – Anesthetic Numbing Cream
- Ebanel Laboratories – Numb520
- Ebanel Laboratories – Numb520 Spray
- Uber Numb – Anesthetic Numbing Cream
- Zensa – Anesthetic Numbing Cream
- Numbify – Anesthetic Numbing Spray
Best Tattoo Numbing Creams, Gels, and Sprays Reviewed
Hush – Anesthetic Numbing Gel
When talking about tattoo numbing products the name Hush is bound to come up. Hush broke onto the scene in 2009 when they began marketing their first and only product at the time: Hush Anesthetic Gel. The concept behind the gel was simple: eliminate pain and discomfort for clients so that tattoo artists could keep them in the chair longer. Not only did Hush live up to it’s goal, but it quickly became one of the most popular numbing products with both clients and tattoo artists. Hush Gel is formulated with the powerful skin numbing agent lidocaine 4%, and it also contains a bunch of natural ingredients that soothe the skin and even promote healing.
What else is great about Hush Anesthetic Gel?
• Skin beneficial ingredients
The primary purpose of a topical anesthetic like Hush is to numb the skin. And while most topical anesthetics offer little benefit beyond that, Hush is a little different. It’s formulated with a bunch of natural ingredients that moisturize, hydrate, and soothe the skin — effectively preparing the skin for the damaging effects of a tattoo needle. Here’s a closer look at what’s inside:
- Aloe – Contains antioxidants, vitamins A & C, and is highly anti-inflammatory. It helps moisturize the skin and sooth redness, irritation, and discomfort.
- Calendula extract – Contains anti-fungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s commonly known as a healing plant for it’s ability to soothe the skin and promote healing.
- Chamomile – Contains many powerful skin properties including: anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antibacterial, and antiseptic. When used topically it helps soothe the skin and reduce redness and irritation.
- Comfrey – A common ingredient in topical ointments due to it’s ability to promote wound healing, and reduce inflammation.
- Glycerin – A plant derived oil that helps nourish and hydrate by drawing moisture into the skin and locking it in.
- Green tea – When used topically green tea helps moisturize and hydrate the skin and reduce redness and irritation.
- Menthol – Provides a cooling sensation when applied to the skin, and helps calm burning, itching, and irritation.
• Long lasting numbing effect
When using a numbing cream or gel the last thing you want is the numbing effect to wear off prematurely. While there are obvious limitations on how long a topical numbing product will work, Hush impressively pushes the boundaries when compared to most other numbing products. When applied properly you can expect a solid 2 hours of comfortable tattooing with Hush Gel. While some users report the effects of Hush can last up to 4 hours, I can’t personally attest to that.
Hush – Anesthetic Numbing Spray
Hush tattoo numbing spray offers the same powerful numbing agent as their Hush Gel — lidocaine 4% — but is intended to be applied during the tattoo, not before. Since the skin needs to be broken for Hush Spray to effectively work it’s magic, it’s ideal for use during long tattoo sessions when your numbing cream or gel has worn off, or used on it’s own when the pain of the tattoo gets to be too much. Unlike numbing creams and gels that require time to take effect, Hush Spray goes to work almost immediately — eliminating pain and discomfort on contact.
What else is great about Hush Numbing Spray?
• Use it when you need it
Since there isn’t any planning or preparation needed to use Hush Spray, it’s a great numbing product to have on hand when the pain of the tattoo becomes too much. A few quick sprays of Hush during the tattoo process provides roughly 40 minutes to 1 hour of pain numbing goodness right when it’s needed most. It can be the difference between finishing a tattoo in 1 session, or tapping out from the pain and having to schedule another appointment.
INK EEZE – B NUMB Topical Gel
INK-EEZE is known for their high quality tattoo aftercare products, but they also make some really great numbing gel as well. B NUMB is powered by lidocaine 5% and is designed to eliminate pain and discomfort during the tattoo process. INK-EEZE spent over 2 years developing and perfecting B NUMB to offer a powerful, long-lasting numbing effect while being safe to use and gentle on the skin. Since B NUMB is intended to be applied before the tattoo process — not during — it does require some timing and planning before your appointment in order to maximize it’s effects.
What else is great about INK-EEZE B NUMB GEL?
• Long Lasting
Not all tattoo numbing products are created equal. Although most numbing creams and gels use lidocaine as the active ingredient, the most important factor to consider is how well the product actually absorbs into the skin. INK-EEZE B NUMB was formulated to penetrate deep into the dermis layer of the skin which is crucial for a long lasting numbing effect. While results will very between individuals — everybody’s skin is different — you can expect about 2 hours of effectiveness with B NUMB.
Dr. Numb – Anesthetic Cream
If you’re really not looking forward to the pain and discomfort of your upcoming tattoo, I recommend you check out Dr. Numb. While I highly question the medical credentials of “Doctor” Numb (I’m still waiting to see a degree), I will however admit that this numbing cream is pretty damn effective. Dr. Numb is a Canadian company that was founded in 2008 and they manufacture a line of topical anesthetics that are known for their quality and effectiveness. Dr. Numb Cream is formulated with lidocaine 5% and has built itself a solid reputation amongst tattoo enthusiasts for it’s ability to eliminate the pain and discomfort associated with getting a tattoo.
What I like about Dr. Numb Cream:
• Very long lasting
When it comes to numbing products, the duration of their effectiveness can significantly vary between brands. One of the reasons for this has to do with how well the product is actually absorbed into the skin. So while the main active ingredient in one product might be the same as the main active ingredient in another product — in this case lidocaine — it doesn’t mean they will perform the same. One of the great things about Dr. Numb Cream is that it absorbs very well into the skin — allowing the product to be effective for close to 4 hours. Compared to other numbing products on the market, Dr. Numb is definitely amongst the best in regards to duration and performance.
Ebanel Laboratories – Numb520
Ebanel is a California based company that offers a long line of skincare products known for their quality and effectiveness. Some of their products include: face wash, acne treatment, chemical peels, lotions, and of course topical anesthetics. Their Numb520 skin numbing cream contains lidocaine 5% and is extremely popular amongst tattoo collectors (over 5,000 reviews on Amazon) due to it’s effectiveness at eliminating pain and discomfort. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s formulated without harsh chemicals, it’s safe for all skin types, and it’s full of skin nourishing and healing ingredients.
What else is great about Ebanel Numb520?
• Skin beneficial ingredients
Numb520 is designed to eliminate pain and discomfort by blocking nerves in the skin from sending pain signals to the brain. And while it does it’s job really well, that’s not all it’s good at. It’s also formulated with skin beneficial ingredients that help nourish and protect the skin, and even promote healing. Here’s what’s inside:
- Aloe vera – Derived from a plant species that originates from the Arabian Peninsula. It’s commonly used for medicinal purposes do to it’s skin soothing and nourishing properties. It also contains antioxidants, vitamins A & C, and is also highly anti-inflammatory.
- Vitamin E – A fat soluble compound that helps protect the skin, moisturize, and heal. It also helps strengthen the epidermis layer of the skin which helps lock in moisture.
- Lecithin – An emollient that softens and hydrates by attracting moisture to the skin and locking it in.
• Lasts between 1-2 hours
On average you can expect Ebanel Numb520 to last between 1-2 hours (some users report longer) when used properly. Proper application requires it to sit on the skin wrapped in plastic wrap for at least 1 hour to achieve peak performance.
Ebanel Laboratories – Numb520 Spray
Just like Ebanel Numb520 gel, the spray version is powered by lidocaine 5% and is highly effective at eliminating pain and discomfort during the tattoo process. While the gel version is intended to be applied before the tattoo appointment, the spray is intended to be used during the appointment. Since it’s effects are almost immediate after application, it’s great to have on hand while getting a tattoo in case the pain becomes too much to handle. It’s also commonly used in conjunction with a cream or gel after the effects of those products have worn off. Expect roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour of effectiveness with Numb520 Spray (can be reapplied if needed).
What else is great about Ebanel Numb520 Spray?
• It contains skin beneficial ingredients
While most tattoo numbing sprays are simply designed to eliminate pain and discomfort, Numb520 spray offers a bit more. It contains a few skin beneficial ingredients that work well in preparing the skin for the damaging effects of a tattoo needle. Here’s what’s inside:
- Allantoin – Extracted from the root of the comfrey plant, allantoin helps soothe and protect the skin, moisturize, and it also heals the skin and stimulates the growth of new tissue.
- Arginine – An amino acid that is known for it’s ability to promote the healing of flesh wounds.
• It contains phenylephrine
One of the things that is unique about Ebanel Numb520 Spray is that it contains phenylephrine 0.25% which is used to reduce swelling and bleeding wherever it’s applied to the skin. This constriction of blood flow helps keep the anesthetic from being carried away by the blood vessels — essentially prolonging the effectiveness of spray.
Uber Numb – Anesthetic Cream
Uber Numb is manufactured in the USA and is an extremely popular topical anesthetic amongst tattoo collectors (over 2,000 reviews on Amazon) due to it’s effectiveness and affordability. Just like most tattoo numbing creams, Uber Numb contains powerful lidocaine 5% and is intended to be applied to the skin at least 1 hour before a tattoo appointment. For maximum effectiveness it’s recommended that Uber Numb is applied very thick and heavy to the skin and wrapped in plastic. It’s available in two sizes —2oz and 4oz— and is definitely worth consideration if you’re looking for the best tattoo numbing cream but don’t necessarily want to spend a ton of money.
What I like about Uber Numb Cream:
• It contains vitamin E
The process of getting a tattoo is obviously very damaging to the skin. One of the things that I really like about Uber Numb Cream is that it contains vitamin E which helps prepare the skin for the tattoo process by infusing it with moisture and hydration. Vitamin E is also known to promote wound healing when applied topically.
• Lasts about 1 hour
While everybody’s skin is different, I find that Uber Numb typically lasts about 1 hour if properly applied. For best performance I recommend applying it to the skin very heavily and wrapping it in plastic wrap for 1 full hour before your tattoo appointment.
Zensa – Anesthetic Cream
Zensa claims that their anesthetic cream is the most natural numbing cream on the market, and after looking at the ingredient list — it’s hard to argue with them. In fact Zensa prioritizes the use of natural ingredients in all of their products whenever possible. That being said, Zensa Anesthetic Cream’s primary purpose is to reduce tattoo pain and discomfort and because of that it contains lidocaine 5% to numb the skin by preventing nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. Aside from it’s popularity amongst tattoo enthusiasts, Zensa is commonly used in the health and beauty industry to reduce pain during procedures such as: piercings, microblading, botox, waxing, laser treatments, tattoo removal, electrolysis, and even shots.
What I like about Zensa Anesthetic Cream:
• Natural ingredients
Eliminating pain and discomfort isn’t the only thing that Zensa Anesthetic Cream is deigned to do. It also reduces inflammation, moisturizes the skin, and promotes healing thanks to it’s list of natural ingredients. Here’s a closer look at what’s inside:
- Lecithin – Acts as an emollient that nourishes and hydrates by attracting moisture to the skin and locking it in.
- Propylene glycol – A humectant that moisturizes and conditions the skin by attracting moisture from the air and drawing it into the skin.
- Vitamin E – Helps keep the skin moisturized and hydrated, and also speeds up wound healing.
• Long lasting
One of the great things about Zensa Cream is that it absorbs really well into the skin which helps make it one of the longest lasting numbing creams on the market. When applied properly, users can expect between 2-4 hours of numbing power. While this time frame might seem kind of broad, it’s important to understand that not everybody’s skin responds to lidocaine in the same way. The more sensitive your skin is to lidocaine, the longer the effects will last.
• Fast acting
While most tattoo creams and gels can take up to 1 hour to take effect, Zensa starts to kick in within 20 minutes of application. This is great for two reasons. 1. It requires less timing and planning before a tattoo appointment. 2. It can be applied/re-applied during a tattoo session if the pain becomes too much — not a viable option with most creams and gels that take too long to start working.
Numbify – Anesthetic Numbing Spray
The company that makes Numbify is based out of Salem, Oregon and they specialize in a premium line of skin numbing products including: numbing cream, numbing gel, and or course numbing spray. All of their products are formulated with lidocaine and also contain a bunch of all-natural ingredients that are beneficial for the skin. One of the benefits of using Numbify Spray is that it was developed and tested with the help of tattoo artists and is designed to be safe and gentle on the skin. If you’re looking to make it through your next tattoo appointment with as little pain as possible, you might want to check out this tattoo numbing spray from Numbify.
What else is great about Numbify?
• Natural ingredients
One of the things that I really like about Numbify Spray is that it’s formulated with a bunch of natural ingredients that help prepare the skin for the tattoo process. Here’s what’s inside:
- Kava Kava – An herbal remedy that’s derived from the roots of the piper methysticum plant. It serves as a natural painkiller and even promotes wound healing.
- Chamomile – Contains powerful skin properties including: antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial. It’s known to soothe the skin, reduce redness, and inflammation.
- Arrow root powder – Promotes natural healing in wounds.
• Reasonably priced
One of the things that sucks about tattoo numbing products is that they can be pretty expensive. Numbify however is priced very reasonably and is definitely worthy of consideration if you’re on a tight budget.
Does Numbing Creams, Gels, or Sprays Affect Tattoos?
If you’re considering using a numbing cream, gel, or spray for an upcoming tattoo you may be wondering if it will negatively affect the tattoo ink or the overall quality of the work.
While I am personally not a tattoo artist (just heavily tattooed), I have however spoke with many tattoo artists about numbing creams/gels/sprays and the consensus is that they don’t negatively impact ink or the quality of the tattoo.
While this is good news for anyone that’s considering using one of these products, I do want to discuss with you a few good points that were brought to my attention while doing research.
• Use a high quality product
One of the things that I kept hearing over and over again from tattoo artists while doing research was that numbing creams, gels, and sprays are fine as long as the client uses one that is trusted and of high quality.
When it comes to choosing a numbing product, don’t settle on the cheapest one you can find simply because it’s cheap. Like with most things in life — you often get what you pay for. My advice is to choose a product that is well reviewed, well trusted, and well respected. And if you do happen to find one that is cheap and well reviewed, great. Let me know about it in the comments section so I can check it out too.
The problem with an inferior numbing product is that it can have an adverse effect on the skin. Many of the off brand companies that manufacture cheap numbing products cut corners and use cheap additives and ingredients that aren’t exactly safe for topical use.
One of the tattoo artists that I talked to mentioned a client that used a cheap “no name” numbing product that didn’t actually numb as intended, but instead caused the clients skin to become very red and bleed much more than normal during the tattooing process.
His advice? Don’t sacrifice on quality just to save a few bucks.
• Discuss it with your tattoo artist
When in doubt don’t be afraid to talk to your tattoo artist about it. One of the most commonly asked questions tattoo artists receive from clients (particularly first timers) is about numbing creams, gels, and sprays.
While I have heard some “tattoo purists” claim that people who use numbing products are “less tough” or “less committed” — I want to point out that those people are idiots. If you’re someone with a low pain threshold or simply don’t like experiencing pain, why the fuck should you endure hours of pain and discomfort when you don’t have to? At that point I wouldn’t be questioning your toughness or commitment — I’d be questioning your intellect.
Another reason why you should talk to your tattoo artist about it is because he/she might be able to recommend a specific product to you. It certainly never hurts to seek the advice of someone who knows what the hell they are talking about.
How to Apply Numbing Cream Before Getting Tattooed
When it comes time to apply a numbing cream, gel, or spray my advice is to read the product label and follow the instructions.
I know that’s a boring answer, but it only makes sense that the product manufacturer would know best how to use their own product in order to achieve maximum efficacy, right?
With that being said, most numbing products have pretty similar instructions when it comes to their use. Minor details may vary between brands, such as how much product should be applied to the skin and how long it should be applied for, but the general rules are often the same.
While I do recommend keeping specific manufacturer instructions in mind — here’s the most common method of applying a tattoo numbing cream or gel in order to achieve the most effective result:
1. Thoroughly Wash the Skin
Before applying any numbing product to the skin it’s important to make sure the area is squeaky clean. Use soap to thoroughly cleanse and scrub the site of your soon-to-be tattoo. This will remove any dirt, oil, grime, and dead skin cells — allowing the numbing agent to fully absorb into the skin and do it’s thing.
2. Wear Gloves
The goal here is to numb the site of your soon-to-be tattoo — not your fingers (unless you’re tattooing your fingers ?). I recommend getting yourself a cheap pair of dishwashing gloves, or if you plan on making this a regular thing — a box of disposable nitrile gloves.
3. Apply Cream or Gel
When applying the numbing cream/gel it’s recommended to really lay it on thick. As much as 1/4 inch. If you’re getting a large tattoo done or you intend to use the cream/gel again in the near future, I recommend purchasing a larger size bottle (or multiple small bottles) to ensure you have enough.
4. Wrap it up
Once the cream or gel is thoroughly — and thickly — applied, carefully wrap the area in plastic wrap. While this might sound kind of odd, it actually helps serve multiple purposes.
- It helps keep the numbing product exactly where you want it.
- Body heat will help activate the product, open the pores, and help improve absorption into the skin.
5. Remove Wrap
I recommend following the manufacturers instructions to determine how long you should keep the product on the skin. Generally speaking most people keep it on for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Anything beyond 1 hour isn’t going to improve the product’s performance, but it may have an adverse effect on your skin’s responsiveness and it’s ability to take ink.
Where and when you remove the wrap is up to you. Some people choose to remove it at home and thoroughly wash the area themselves. Others choose to wear the wrap to the tattoo shop and have the artist remove it and wash the area for them. The latter option is definitely the way to go if you plan on maximizing the duration of the numbing effect. Just make sure it’s cool with your tattoo artist first.
Thanks for checking out my list of best tattoo numbing creams, gels, and sprays. If you found this article helpful, I recommend you check out my list of best SPF sunscreens for tattoos. As always if you have any comments or questions, feel free to drop me a line in the comment section below.