Getting tattooed is like a mini-Birthday in my mind. I feel all special and am genuinely excited to get in the chair and settle down for a long, slow, painful session. But wait! What if being in pain on a scale from “ouch” to “OMF Gawd Arrrrgh!!!” wasn’t a forgone conclusion? What if tattoo pain relief was easily available? Now before you get all up in arms about how the pain is part of the process and you have to earn your tattoo by sufferer through it etc. let me just stop you right there.
First off pain is part of the process. No matter What. Even if you seek sweet relief the product will not make you dead – just numb, so you still get brownie points for living through the experience.
Second – if you have a low pain threshold or you are getting tattooed in a particularly gnarly spot like the ribs or back of the knee then the pain could potentially cause you to tap out. This means your tattoo will be unfinished, will require a second session (plus potentially more time off, travel etc.), and a second healing session. It will also make your artist sad/frustrated because they blocked out their day for you and you had to bail. Tattoo pain relief is your friend – believe me.
True story – I was at Unkindness Art last month getting my worked on by Teresa Sharpe and across from me were a lovely young couple getting tattooed by Erin Chance and Jessie Rae Brennan. Both tattoos were sizable and covered areas that are notoriously painful. The young woman was getting her first tattoo ever – on her ribs – and it was a big beautiful beast of a tattoo – probably 18″ long at least – a real rib-spanner. She sat great for the first couple of hours but by hour 3 she was wobbling. She tapped out long before Jessie was able to finish. This couple had taken time off of work and traveled for their appointments so now they have to do it all over again (husband hung on a bit longer but eventually tapped out as well). Tattoo pain relief would have saved the day!
Now there is no shame in tapping out. But it doesn’t have to be like that! There are products that will help you manage the pain and persevere so that you and your artist can have a very productive session. And if you are paying a day rate you want to be able to sit for as many hours as possible – that just makes sense financially!
Here are a few great products that tackle the tattoo pain relief / numbing situation from a variety of angles; Swipe – If your artist has ever used bacitracin spray while tattooing Swipe is a souped up, more effective version of that. The cooling effect of Swipe on your sore parts while in the middle of a session can not be overstated. Instead of wincing at the next paper towel pass you will breathe a sigh of relief. Here is the manufacturers description: Swipe® is a very effective product providing quick numbing during the procedure. Swipe® contains the powerful local anesthetics 2% lidocaine, 1.5% tretracaine, and 6% benzocaine. Swipe® acts usually within 90 seconds and will provide effective skin deadening lasting up to an hour. Swipe® can be used continuously throughout the procedure, since it does not contain epinephrine. Swipe® is an incredibly easy product to use, just ‘swipe and go’ for numb skin! Super Trio – This bad boy is the super hero of the numbing world. When you KNOW that shit is going to hurt and you don’t even want to go there (hello elbow ditch, ribs, foot etc.) let Super Trio swoop in for the rescue. Super Trio is applied BEFORE your session so you start numb and stay numb. Think that makes you a big ol baby? Think again. The highest compliment an artist can give a client is the coveted, “She sat like a stone”. How do you achieve that rareified state? Numb beforehand so you don’t tap out (see unfortunate young lady in previous story). Super Trio requires planning ahead and reading instructions – do your homework! From the manufacturer: Super Trio® is our most powerful pre-procedure topical anesthetic for numbing.
This 4% lidocaine, 2% tetracaine, 12% benzocaine cream topical anesthetic is for use BEFORE A SENSITIVE PROCEDURE.
This topical anesthetic is effective for the initial outlining of a tattoo or the first pass on a permanent makeup or for pre-laser procedure or piercing.
This anesthetic is applied to the skin before a procedure.
It is specifically designed for laser, body piercing, and thicker skin applications.
Sustaine Blue Gel – I’ve talked up this great product before but I’ll do it again – Sustaine can be the difference between hanging tough and going home. Sustaine comes to the rescue on broken skin that requires multiple passes (think shading). You apply it mid session so your artist can continue to work and you can stop feeling like someone is rubbing ground glass into your skin. It’s a win win. Side note – when the aforementioned young lady with the huge rib tattoo started wobbling I offered her my Sustaine. I told her it would make it way more bearable. The poor thing was so tattoo sick by that point that you could clearly see she was done. If she had started with a numbing product and used it throughout I have no doubt her artist could have finished. That is the difference a comprehensive pain management plan for a tattoo can have on the outcome. From the manufacturer; Sustaine Blue Gel® is an incredibly powerful during procedure numbing product.
When used after outlining a tattoo, during permanent makeup application, electrolysis or other sensitive skin procedures to desensitize the area for completion of work.
This powerful topical anesthetic contains 4% lidocaine and 2% tetracaine for numbing, as well as .02% epinephrine to reduce the swelling, bruising and bleeding.
Sustaine’s speed and effectiveness in reduction bruising and swelling makes it popular for sensitive work such as inner armbands, eyeliners and the inflammation often associated with other sensitive areas.
Having a pain management plan and using the best products to help you stay out of the red zone while getting tattooed does not make you a wussy.
It makes you smart and it makes your artist happy. Then you can enjoy the tattoo experience and walk out of the shop with a solid session behind you and your artist’s praise ringing in your ears, “You sat like a rock.”
Note: Face and Body is a long time advertiser and supporter of my tattoo habit (plus a generous contributor to P.Ink Day 2016) Thanks Guys!! Needless to say I love them and I LOVE their amazing products – but they don’t pay me to say nice things. I say them because I mean them. In short the opinions in this article are mine and are not paid for.