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Numbing Cream: Everything You Need to Know

Many people have had a topical anesthetic at one point or another. Joint pain, non-invasive dental procedures, muscle aches and several other common ailments are treated with numbing creams or gels. These pain relievers are extremely common; however, like many over-the-counter solutions, there is debate to whether these products actually work, or if people are just being sold on the possibility of pain relief.

Numbing creams are available in a pretty wide variety of compounds. Not only are the several different chemicals used in the different numbing creams, there are different delivery vehicles, such as patches, gels and creams. There are many common uses for numbing cream, but how does it work – and to what extent? Pay close attention to the information in this guide for the real, science-backed information on numbing creams, how they work and if they’re a product that could be useful to you.

How numbing cream works

Numbing cream is a topical anesthetic used to relieve pain. That way that this happens is by the cream penetrating the skin, finding free nerve endings and stopping them from conducting (operating). When your nerve endings that control sensation are blocked, you get the sensation of numbness. Creams and gels that have lower melting points (generally those that are less “solid”) will penetrate the skin better and provide more pain relief. There are several over-the-counter numbing creams available, and there are also several more that have to be prescribed due to their strength and penetrative abilities.

Common uses for numbing cream

Now that you have some general information about numbing cream, you may be wondering what we can use it for. There are several uses for numbing cream, probably more than you would have thought. Here are a few of the most popular uses for numbing cream, and how to implement numbing cream in these specific instances:

Tattoos

One of numbing cream’s most popular uses is for tattoos; however, not just any numbing cream should be used for tattoos. Tattoos take one to several hours to complete, so the numbing agent must last a long time. Use a numbing agent with epinephrine for long-lasting pain blockage, otherwise it might not be strong enough and you could get a nasty surprise halfway through your session.

Waxing

If you’ve ever had a wax before, or known someone who has had one, you’ll know how much it hurts. Numbing cream can help reduce the pain. Unlike tattoos, however, waxing doesn’t take several hours and is a relatively quick procedure. Because of this, and because the pain is in the upper levels of the skin, you won’t need a super deep-penetrating numbing cream that’s extremely strong. Apply to the area to be waxed (make sure to pay attention to all labels regarding sensitive areas), let set and go in for the wax. No sweat!

Piercing

Piercing is a quicker process than both tattoos and waxing, so very limited duration of the numbing effect is required. However, since piercing is a procedure that goes through the skin completely, you will want a numbing cream that penetrates deeply into the skin.

Muscle or joint pain relief

Products like Bengay and Icy Hot may not come to mind as “numbing creams”, but they work much in the same way. Nerve endings are targeted to produce a response to lessen sensation; which, in turn, can offer pain relief for those with sore muscles or sore joints.

Popular brands to try

Although there are a wide variety of numbing creams out there, there are a few specific brands that have been the most popular among consumers. Many of these effective creams are either recommended by medical authorities or have been proven effective through clinical trials, in addition to having a large audience of dedicated users. Here are some popular brands:

Over-the-counter numbing creams

• LMX
• Dr. Numb
• Vasocaine
• Blue Gel
• Orajel
• Bengay
• Dermal Source

Prescription numbing creams

• BLT Compound Cream
• Biosense
• EMLA Cream

Frequently asked questions

If you’ve never used numbing cream before, you probably have questions. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions for those who are new to this type of topical medicine.

Does numbing cream actually work?

With all of the misinformation and unregulated advice given on the internet, it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Rest assured, numbing cream does actually work. Just ask the doctors, laser hair removal specialists and estheticians who use topical anesthetics and numbing creams on a daily basis. Ingredients used in commonly available numbing creams are the same used in clinical applications, just at lower concentrations that can be used over-the-counter.

How long does numbing cream last?

There is a pretty huge gap in the shortest-lasting and longest-lasting numbing creams. Some may only work for 15-20 minutes, while other numbing creams can work for hours. What it comes down to is the ingredients, preparation and the compound used as the vehicle for delivery. Stronger anesthetics will be effective for longer, delivery compounds with lower melting points will penetrate more deeply and sensation can be further decreased by prepping the skin before application by cleaning it with a non-alcoholic compound or various other methods.

How much should I apply to my skin?

Since numbing creams and sprays work by penetrating the skin, you only need to put enough to cover the area you wish to numb. You can put more on as it wears off, but putting a lot on at once will result in waste or accidental spread. A thin layer of gel or spray is enough to start, with re-application optional as sensation returns.

Wrapping it up

Numbing cream is a great way to manage nasty arthritis pain, or prep for your next big tattoo if you have a low pain tolerance. There is a wide variety on the market, but several are extremely effective in numbing the skin throughout whichever procedure you may be having – or simply to provide a bit of comfort from swollen joints or sore muscles. Use the information in this guide to get the lay of the land and determine which numbing cream, if any, is right for you. Make sure to read the appropriate usage labels and always consult a health professional before use if you’re unsure.

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