Ask a doctor

What Type of Numbing Cream Can Be Used for Tattoo Removal?

I was offered cream, but at $90 so I opted out. I was wondering if there was a certain cream I could buy cheaper online and use at home before I go in for treatment. I wasn't sure if all creams would work or not or which ones worked best. I can't pay $90 on top of the fees i'm already paying. I also read that not all creams will let lasers through. Is that true? Any help is appreciated!

Doctor Answers 3

Numbing Creams: Buying tips from a Dermatologist

Creams that reduce the pain of skin procedures are known as "topical anesthetics". There are many brands that are currently available, so it is important to know some basic facts: 1. There are many chemicals, all ending in "-caine" that are designated as topical anesthetics, and are potentially capable of numbing the skin. Lidocaine is the one that has been proven most effective. Therefore, when choosing a numbing cream, choose a brand that has lidocaine as its active ingredient. 2. Benzocaine, another topical anesthetic, is capable of numbing pain on mucous membranes,such as inside your mouth. It does NOT numb up the skin. Do not by a numbing cream that uses benzocaine as its active ingredient. 3. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits the amount of lidocaine in products sold over-the-counter to 4% and 5% depending on the site of application. Products with higher concentrations of lidocaine exist but require a doctor's prescription. 4. The OTC products I recommend to patients are those that contain lidocaine 4%and 5%, are manufactured in the U.S., and pass all requirements for good manufacturing practices (GMPs). The best are LMX (formally Ela-Max), SOPERFECT Numbing Cream, and Lidocream. They come in tubes of different sizes. SOPERFECT comes in handy single use throw-away packets and in a pump. None are capable of completely eliminating the pain of getting a tattoo or of having one removed by laser. But studies confirm, they definitely, and consistently, reduce the level of pain for skin procedures compared to a cream with no lidocaine (placebo). 5. I advise you buy a numbing cream on-line. Most drug stores carry either their private label brand or ones that contain inadequate concentrations of lidocaine. They generally sell for around $30 for 1 oz. (30 gms) or $60 for 2 oz. (60 gms). They are worth it. If the numbing cream sells for cheap, there's a reason.



Los Angeles Dermatologic Surgeon

Numbing creams and tattoo removals

It is not recommend for you to use numbing cream before tattoo removal.  Icing the area before and after the treatment is recommended.  Numbing creams may inhibit the treatment to be successful

Ariel Ostad, MD
New York Dermatologic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 15 reviews


Most physicians, including this one, do not like patients to apply prescription strength topical anesthetics outside of their office. There were two deaths I know of, due to this ill-advised  practice. We find the combination of Benzocaine 20%, Lidocaine 6%, and Tetracaine 4% prepared by a local pharmacologist to be very effective. Like most physicians, we do not charge, for this extra surface ( I am always amazed at the number of stoical and brave patients who forgo this little lagniappe) so I am a bit surprised at yours. Maybe the doctor is mixing it at home and is throwing in his/her labor costs.

If the tattoo is small, or a limited area is to be worked on, you might try LMX cream. This contains 4% Lidocaine. I would recommend calling the physician who will be removing the tattoo to be sure this is agreeable. 

I am curious when the tattoo fad will end and tattoo removal facilities will outnumber tattoo parlors. Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? Who knows.

Arnold R. Oppenheim, MD
Virginia Beach Dermatologist
4.5 out of 5 stars 12 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.