Do they really work? How do they work? What makes for a good choice of tattoo numbing creams?
Some people say that getting a tattoo is all about the pain–that they feel most alive when tattoo needles are puncturing their skin. There are also many tattoo artists who believe that the pain of getting a tattoo is a core part of the process and shouldn’t be downplayed. However, there are plenty of people who desperately want a tattoo, but hesitate because they’re concerned about their ability to handle the pain factor. Fortunately, there’s a solution that levels the playing field and makes it so that even those with low pain thresholds can get tattooed more comfortably: tattoo numbing creams.
Do tattoo numbing creams really work? If so, how do they work? Is there an ideal combination of tattoo numbing creams that provides maximum pain relief during the tattooing process?
Tattoo numbing creams (a.k.a topical anesthetics) work by blocking neuronal (nerve) impulses of pain that go to the brain. The exact mechanism of action for the “caine” (amino benzoate anesthetics) based tattoo numbing creams:
Amino benzoate class anesthetics (both amino esters – such as benzocaine and tetracaine and amino amides such as lidocaine and prilocaine) alter signal conduction in neurons by blocking the fast voltage-gated Na+ channels in the neuronal cell membrane responsible for signal propagation. With sufficient blockage, the membrane of the postsynaptic neuron will not depolarize and will thus fail to transmit an action potential leading to the mitigation of pain signals.
Why do some tattoo numbing creams have a faster onset of action and increased efficacy as compared to others? Many tattoo numbing creams are simply lidocaine, benzocaine and/or tetracaine in a base cream or gel form, while others have drivers included that temporarily alter the barrier layer of the skin (stratum corneum) thereby allowing improved permeability. This improved temporary permeability of the stratum corneum allows the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) to more rapidly and deeply penetrate the skin. Some examples of the more effective (while remaining safe) drivers are: ethoxydiglycol, propylene glycol, MSM, Isopropyl myristate and DMSO. These drivers singly and to a larger extent, in combination, can significantly improve the delivery and therefore, efficacy of tattoo numbing creams.
Those that do not contain one of more of these drivers will not have the physiological mechanism necessary to fully penetrate the skin where they exert their fullest effect.