Shaving is painless, but it’s short-lived and leaves stubble. Waxing gives a lovely smooth finish, but unfortunately, it’s far from painless! What, however, if you could have the best of both worlds? This is exactly what numbing creams seek to do.
Numbing cream for waxing claims to make the experience – as well as other hair removal methods like electrolysis and epilation, much more bearable. But how effective are these creams? Are they worth it, and are there any downsides?
How Does Numbing Cream Work?
Numbing cream works by blocking sodium channels in the bloodstream. These channels are responsible for sending pain signals from your nerves to your brain. If blocked, your brain won’t be alerted to the fact that something hurts.
Over-the-counter numbing creams for use in home waxing contain the same active ingredients as medical numbing creams like benzocaine and lidocaine (the suffix – caine commonly applies to pain relief). These anaesthetics have been around for decades, are thoroughly tried, tested, and researched, and have been scientifically proven to reduce surface-level pain.
Different ingredient percentages deliver different levels of intensity, but most pain relief creams provide around a 4% to 5% concentration of anesthetic. Bear in mind that a higher percentage doesn’t necessarily mean stronger pain relief if the active ingredient is different. For example, a 20% benzocaine is generally regarded as being weaker than a 5% lidocaine. (source)
Can you numb your skin before brazilian waxing?
Where Can I Use Numbing Cream?
It’s safe to use numbing creams on any area you would get a wax – legs, arms, underarms, bikini line and even for a brazilian. As with any topical product, be extra careful when you get to more intimate areas. Numbing cream should only ever be applied externally, and not near any extra-sensitive bits.
It’s possible to use numbing creams on your face, but you may not need to. If you’re plucking facial hair, it’s good to retain sensation to guide your hand and avoid accidentally pinching your skin. If you do decide to use it facially, stick to a thin layer, and take extra care around the eyes and mouth.
How To Use Numbing Cream Before Waxing
- Always do a patch test 24 hours before using any product
- Numbing cream should ideally be applied 20-30 minutes before your waxing session to allow it to work but check the product directions. Some creams such as No Scream Cream recommend 30-45 minutes.
- Always apply on clean skin.
- How you apply it depends on the specific product. Some are rub-on creams and some are spray-on. Just remember to wash your hands afterward so you don’t end up with numb-fingers!
- It’s better to apply two thin layers a few minutes apart than one thick layer. This helps your skin to gradually and fully absorb the product and can prove more effective.
If you’re heading to a salon for a waxing appointment, a good trick is to wear latex underwear over the cream, which will hold it against your skin without it rubbing off on your clothes.
If you’re waxing at home, you don’t want to overdo it. You’ll still need some sensation to intuitively feel where you’re applying the wax, and to make sure the wax isn’t too hot.
How Long do The Effects Last
This will depend on the product, strength of the active ingredient and your own individual absorption rate. Generally speaking, once applied and left to sink in, the numbing effect should last anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. Water-based creams tend to be quicker acting, but quicker to wear off.
The Longest Lasting Numbing Cream
This will depend on your skin type and constitution, but the longest-lasting creams tend to be the heavy-duty ones like Numbify or Zensa, which can last up to 2 hours or more.
Water-based creams like Ebanel may wear off within 1. Ebanel is great if you want something to start working quickly. On the other hand, Zensa tends to be slower-acting, but longer-lasting.
See our Top 6 numbing creams below for some info on different brands.
What is the Strongest Numbing Cream?
The strongest numbing creams you can buy over the counter usually contain either one of two active ingredients – lidocaine or benzocaine. If you’re looking at benzocaine creams such as No Scream Cream (see below for more information), the percentage should be at 20%.
With lidocaine creams, which are the most common, 5% is usually the strongest you can find, at least the strongest approved by the FDA in topical creams. Either one should be more than enough to dramatically reduce pain on the surface of your skin. In this case study, it was found that the effectiveness of both at these percentages were similar.
Some of the strongest numbing creams combine three anesthetics – benzocaine, lidocaine, and tetracaine, commonly referred to as BLT cream. This is only available from a compounding pharmacist and is mostly used by dermatologists, estheticians and other medical professionals
You’re unlikely to need this maximum strength for waxing – this is used more commonly in medical procedures.
Are Numbing Creams Safe? What Are The Risks?
As with any drug or medicine, there is always a risk and potential side effects associated and numbing cream is no different. Although available to buy with or without prescription, caution is advised.
There is nothing harmful or irritating in these numbing creams themselves unless you have a specific allergy to the active anesthetic. For this reason, a patch test is always recommended 24 hours before use. Possible local skin reactions such as redness, swelling, burning or itching can be identified this way. This is an important step, after all, allergic reactions can be serious.
Another potential risk is using numbing cream in large amounts. Product instructions should always be followed as active ingredients used in large amounts can enter the bloodstream and prove toxic according to US health officials.
Furthermore, there’s the problem of a cream working too well. If you’re using hot wax, and your skin is very numb, you may not be able to feel the temperature, risking burns to the skin. Numbing cream should never be used on broken skin either.
Article: Is Laser Hair Removal Permanent?
Top 6 Numbing Creams For Waxing
The Numb Master numbing cream for waxing is a product you’ll see popping up time and again on ‘best of’ lists. It’s a non-oily, no-nonsense formula with 5% lidocaine as its active pain-dulling ingredient. It’s powerful, but many find it starts to wear off after an hour which is fine if you’re waxing at home but not so great if you’ve got to travel far to a salon.
AT A GLANCE
- 5% lidocaine
- Fast-acting – starts working in just a few minutes
- Formulated with aloe vera and vitamin E which can help soothe the skin
- Numbing effect lasts 1 – 2 hours
- 2 sizes available – make sure to check what you are buying
This 20% benzocaine solution was 15 years in the making – developed by American waxing specialist Deborah Merhar, who used her experience and years of research in her mission of alleviating pain for her clients.
Although the percentage is higher, benzocaine is weaker than lidocaine in comparison, and some find it wears off more quickly. The flip side of this is that it can be applied or topped up more frequently. It might be worth experimenting with or alternating between benzocaine and lidocaine creams to see which provides the maximum pain relief for you.
AT A GLANCE
- 20% benzocaine solution
- 30- 45 mins to absorb
- Should be left on thick and not rubbed in
- 1oz tube (28.4g)
Greencaine Blast comes with a slightly lower concentration of lidocaine at 4%. Ideal if you want a gentle introduction to numbing creams, and even better for those using hot wax at home, who still want a little bit of sensitivity so they can ensure the temperature doesn’t reach harmful levels.
It comes in a large 4oz tube which is better value than some of the other creams available.
AT A GLANCE
- Large 4oz tube (113g)
- 4% lidocaine
- Anesthetic gel as opposed to cream
- Requires an hour for maximum absorption
- Backed by a 100% refund policy guarantee if you’re not happy with results
- Can be used for microblading, tattooing, microneedling and permanent makeup too
Ebanel’s 5% lidocaine cream is similar to Numb Master, but it comes with some bonus ingredients to soften your skin and help it recover post-hair removal. Infused with aloe vera, vitamin E, lecithin, and allantoin, this is an all-around number and nourisher that will allow you to be slightly more relaxed with your waxing aftercare. It’s also water-based, meaning it’s faster absorbing than some other creams.
AT A GLANCE
- 5% lidocaine anesthetic
- Water-based – non-oily cream
- Numbing effect lasts around 1 hr from peak – takes 20-25 mins to absorb
- Contains additional hydrating ingredients, aloe vera and vitamin E
- 1.35 oz or 38g
- Also available in a spray
Numbify Numbing Cream is another full-strength product with a lidocaine concentration of 5%. This one’s popular amongst tattoo aficionados, as it comfortably lasts for an hour-and-a-half to a two-hour session.
Similarly to Ebanel’s version, the Numbify cream comes with soothing natural ingredients such as kava kava and chamomile to soothe any irritation or redness caused by waxing, and a fruity fragrance to make it even more enjoyable. It’s available in a cream or spray and in different sizes.
The Gigi spray version of numbing cream is a little less potent at 4% lidocaine, but it makes up for it with sheer convenience. The ability to spray it on means no sticky fingers and no risk of numb hands. This one is more of a pain duller than a complete eradicator, but it’s certain to make the experience much more pleasant. It smells great, too.
- Anesthetic numbing spray
- 4% lidocaine
- Contains other soothing ingredients and is suitable for sensitive skin
- Leave on a bit longer than the 2-3 minutes advised by the manufacturer for better results
Can Numbing Cream Be Used for Anything Else?
Yes, a whole host of things! These formulas are so mild, they can be used with relative freedom. Many people apply them before getting tattoos, tattoo-removal procedures, and piercings, as well as visits to more high-level hair removal appointments like electrolysis and epilation, and skin treatments like microneedling.
They’re widely used in the application of dermal fillers, where the needles are so small and the procedure is so quick that injected anesthetic is not necessary. They can also be used in post-surgery pain management, and for surface-level aches, pains, cuts, and bites.
The best counter against painful hair removal is often time and exposure – in other words, getting used to it! Every time you wax, it’s likely you’ll build up a resistance to the pain which is part physical, and part psychological in that you’ll know what to expect!
That said, some people find a numbing cream really takes the edge off when used correctly particularly for a brazilian wax. It won’t take your pain from a 10 to a 0, but many people say it can make it more like a 2 or a 3. Much more manageable and much more pleasant.
Pay attention to container or tube size when shopping for numbing cream as products can vary from 1oz to 4oz creams with not very much in the difference cost-wise. You could even find similar strengths in the active ingredients.
Study on absorption rate of lidocaine – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22452841/
Review of Lidocaine/Tetracaine Cream as a Topical Anesthetic for Dermatologic Laser Procedures – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107876/