How Do I Choose the Best Numbing Lotion?

Lidocaine is the strongest numbing cream available over the counter.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Kathleen Howard
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 10 April 2014
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Choosing the best numbing lotion is largely a matter of identifying exactly what you want the product to do, then matching that goal with something that is available in your area. Different locations have different rules about the types of creams that can be sold over the counter and how concentrated they can be without a prescription. In general, though, three distinct ingredients make up most numbing lotions, either individually or in combination; these are lidocaine, tetracaine, and benzocaine. Understanding these and how they work will help you make the best choice, whether you’re looking to dull pain from an injury or prep a swath of skin for a tattoo. If you aren’t sure, worry about adverse reactions, or just aren’t getting results from anything you’ve tried it may be worth it to make an appointment with a medical professional. Experts can prescribe you something specific to your situation, and may also have advice about different options to try.

Identify Your Goals

The very first thing you should do is think about why it is you need a cream in the first place, since this will shape your decision. You’ll want a slightly different product if you’re trying to ease pain that already exists than if you’re hoping to ward off feeling for an upcoming procedure, for instance, and if you’re trying to numb your gums or teeth you’ll probably want something designed for oral use.


Some creams are better suited for certain skin types, too, and you may want to pay attention to additives if you’re going to be using the product for something like a tattoo. Greases and oils are sometimes used in these sorts of lotions to help them glide on the skin, but this can make it harder for ink to adhere and can also make the artist more likely to slip. Hair removing wax may not adhere to oiled skin, either, which can make these types of procedures virtually ineffective.

Research the Options

Numbing lotions typically work through the use of topical anesthetic drugs that are absorbed into the blood vessels of the target area through the skin, temporarily dulling sensations felt there. Although most of the drugs used in these products are generally considered safe, governments still sometimes control their availability. This may mean that you can’t find many numbing creams for sale without a prescription, or it may mean that your options are wide and virtually limitless — a lot depends on where you live.

Local laws sometimes also limit the strength or potency of creams that can be sold. A good way to see what’s available in your area is to visit a pharmacy or drug store. If you aren’t sure what you’re looking at a pharmacist or staff member will usually be available to help explain the options.

Understand Ingredient Differences

Once you have a sense both of what you’re trying to do and what’s available, knowing a bit about the differences between the main ingredients may help you identify the one that is best for you. Lidocaine is an anesthetic that works by inhibiting nerve impulses. If you need a strong lotion, it’s generally recommended to look for a product that contains around 5% lidocaine. These are some of the most commonly used products before minor cosmetic procedures like laser treatments, tattooing, and waxing.

Tetracaine is another topical anesthetic that temporarily numbs the skin. Lotions containing this ingredient are usually less intense than those containing lidocaine, but they can be used to reduce pain caused by sunburns, insect bites, and other minor injuries. If you need a cream to reduce itching or mild pain, one containing benzocaine may be the best choice. It’s usually the weakest of the three, but can be effective for minor complaints. Benzocaine numbing gels are also commonly used to help fight toothaches.

Professional Advice

If you’re having trouble deciding between your options or just aren’t sure what is best for your situation, it might make sense to talk to a medical expert who knows more about your health and what’s available in your area. Doctors and nurses can often make recommendations for specific scenarios, and will often write prescriptions if the best product for you requires one. They may also have advice about skin sensitivity, allergies, or other risks, as well.


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