Updated: Jul 24, 2020
Today let’s talk about numbing creams. These topical creams and sprays have had growing popularity as they have been marketed for tattoos. They are also widely used in cosmetic makeup and cosmetic procedures, like filler injections, and different facial and laser treatments. In theory, they sound awesome! Just a simple cream you apply to the skin that numbs the area, and makes it much easier to get your work. And as someone who has personally used these products for tattooing and for cosmetic procedures, I can attest to their effectiveness. So it’s no surprise that more and more clients are interested in using these products for their body piercings. And here is where an issue crops up. Topical numbing is not safe and not a good idea for your body piercings. Let’s look at why.
It doesn’t actually “numb” you.
When we think of being numbed most of us envision a trip to the dentist or doctors, where after a few pinchy injections you can’t feel anything. Which is great, because who wants to feel what’s happening at the dentists (not me that’s for sure). But these topical creams don’t numb in that same way. If you’ve used these for tattooing you know they take the edge off, but you still do feel the tattoo. Now tattoos just go into the top few layers of skin. They don’t actually puncture the skin the way a body piercing does. If you’ve ever used topical numbing for say lip injections, you are not numb and you still absolutely feel what’s happening. Thats because the cream partially numbs the top layers of skin, but doesn’t reach or effect the deeper layers. As someone who has had lip injections, I didn’t notice a huge difference between the areas we numbed and didn’t, I still felt the injections and they were still uncomfortable. Many clients go into it expecting not to feel anything, and can jump or move in shock when they still do. And I can assure you, you do still feel things.
It does constrict tissue- this can mean crooked piercings
While topical numbing creams don’t fully numb, they can constrict and change tissue texture and tension. Most of these products work with lidocaine and vasoconstrictors. These are chemicals which constrict blood vessels, which help contribute to the process of numbing. That constriction however also means that the skin moves and shifts. Meaning we can do a straight, perfect piecing on numbed tissue, and then when the cream wears off and the skin relaxes, the piercing is crooked or off. And as we all know, crooked piercings won’t heal, and you’ll end up having to remove the piercing you just got. My favorite story about this came while I worked outside of philly at Fyre Body Arts. We had a client come in who hadn’t informed us they used numbing cream. One of the piercers did a surface piercing in the center of her chest. We spent ages marking and triple checking that everything was centered and perfect! The client was thrilled and left happy. Then returned, 2 days later, with the piercing just off center enough to be obvious. They admitted to using numbing cream, and when the skin relaxed from the cream, turns out the actual center was a few mm over. They were super upset, and ended up removing the piercing. We re redid it for them at a later date, and then it was perfect. And they mentioned it honestly didn’t feel much different without the cream then with.
Piercers are not medical professionals
We aren’t! We aren’t doctors or dermatologists or nurses. We are just piercers. Which means we don’t have any training or licensing to use numbing products on you and know how they can effect you. And many of these products can cause serious side effects if introduced to the bloodstream, or cause serious issues if introduced to the piercing. Now, everyone always goes “but what about tattoo artists using topical products!” These products have very very low percentages of these chemicals, and are marketed and FDA approved to be used OTC for tattooing. And like I mentioned the tattoo products really don’t numb more then the top layer of skin. The the types of strong products people use for piercing, similar to what they use for injections, have much stronger concentrations of chemicals, and this means they can cause more serious side effects. No to mention injections are done by trained and licensed nurses, doctors, and others who know the risks and what to do when things go wrong with these products. That’s not your local body piercer. Numbing creams are way above our pay grade, and we aren’t trained what to do if you do have a serious adverse allergic reaction. Did you know some women have died due to misuse of numbing cream? In 2017 and 2018 over 3 deaths were recorded associated with use of OTC numbing cream. Unless someone is properly trained in these products and the use of them, you shouldn't mess around with them.
Numbing cream in theory seems like a great idea, but in practice is actually an awful one. Not not only can it cause really serious side effects, it can also leave you with a crooked, misplaced, or unattractive piercing. Not to mention, it’s still going to feel almost the same with or without these creams. Most piercings are not painful enough for you to need a cream or anything else. I promise so much of it is just fear or concern in your head. An experienced, reputable piercer will do their best to ensue that your piercing is as comfortable and easy to get as possible! Most of my clients compare piercings to popping a tender pimple, or at worst to a sensitive shot. These are things we do all the time in our day to day life! It’s really not that bad, and as long as you have a great piercer you trust they will guide you through the whole experience: no numbing cream needed!