Will Numbing Creams Work For Me? Which Ones Work Best? Your Guide to Numbing Creams for Hair Removal
Alright, so you have picked out a great epilator and are finally ready to have a hair removal experience that doesn’t involve having to repeat every 3 days (like shaving) or having to worry about ruining your bathroom countertop/floor by spilling hot wax everywhere. But when you turned on the epilator and tried your first swipe on your hair… ouch! It hurts!
Is it supposed to hurt this much, you wonder? Can I do anything about it?
Enter stage left: numbing creams for epilators, laser hair removal, and even for getting tattoos
Wait, I thought you said that epilators don’t hurt?
Remember, high quality epilators hurt far less than their cheaper counterparts because they do a better job of getting all of your hair with far less passes over the same hair and do not break hairs. If you’re using a cheaper model, we recommend upgrading to a better epilator because you try numbing creams.
Most people have no trouble when they use a high quality epilator on their legs, underarms, or even face. However, some may find that they have extra sensitive skin all over their body or you might find that you can easily epilate your legs, but not your face or bikini area. For you, a numbing cream can help alleviate some of the discomfort so that you can use the epilator for ALL of your hair removal as it was intended.
You can also read more about epilator pain in our article on epilator pain on legs, underarms, and face.
Generally some areas of our body are slightly more sensitive than others. Whether or not you can use an epilator really depends on your personal pain tolerance level, but if you’re worried that yours is too low, try a numbing cream.
What are numbing creams? How do they work?
Numbing creams are topical creams or solutions that help temporarily numb the surface of your skin.
Your skin surface is made up of 2 top layers – the epidermis and below that is the dermis. You feel pain when the pain receptors in your skin’s dermis are activated by trauma (like pulling out a hair) and that pain travels from the pain receptors which are actually nerve endings, up the attached nerves, and then to your spinal cord and then to your brain, and you think ouch!
Numbing creams act on the dermis and its embedded pain receptors so that for a short while, the receptors do not send pain signals to the brain. The effect is short lived and works really well for epilators and hair removal.
There are many numbing creams that promise results, but not all of them work well enough to counter epilator pain. Some of them are meant for general non direct muscle pains or other similar issues and not for the specific sharper pains you feel when you yank out hairs. So what are your options?
Which numbing creams can I use to reduce epilator and hair removal pain?
Here are our recommendations for OTC (over the counter) numbing creams that work well when you use them with epilators or another type of hair removal that can hurt, like laser hair removal.
This the best over the counter topical LMX 4 Topical Anesthetic Cream anesthetic cream for temporarily numbing your skin. There are 2 versions that are widely available – LMX4 Topical Anesthetic Cream and LMX5 Topical Anesthetic Cream. LMX4 has 4% Lidocaine and LMX5 has 5% Lidocaine.
Lidocaine is clinically proven to temporarily deaden the nerves endings in skin and surrounding tissue, so it’s great for desensitizing skin just before using your epilator or laser hair removal to minimize pain. You can also use it to numb skin before tattoos, tattoo removal, and skin piercings.
LMX Anesthetic Cream also comes highly recommended by the Department of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, USA as an effective anesthetic for numbing skin and reducing pain during skin treatments. In a 2012 medical journal article, “Anesthesia Methods in Laser Resurfacing”, two Baylor College of Medicine doctors mention LMX as a viable noninvasive OTC topical cream that showed effective results for reducing pain in skin resurfacing treatments, a skin procedure that is also painful. They also wrote:
“Topical anesthetics have a long history of use and proven efficacy in decreasing pain with common dermatologic procedures such as shave biopsies, punch biopsies, curettage, and electrosurgery, allowing their easy introduction during laser procedures. Studies have already shown that commonly used lidocaine preparations reduce discomfort associated with … (Nd:YAG) laser hair removal. Topical lidocaine has also been successful in reducing intense sensation during Q-switched laser tattoo removal, and the discomfort associated with the laser treatment of vascular and pigmented lesions.” [source: Sergio Gaitan, Ramsey Markus. (2012) Semin Plast Surg.]
So LMX is a scientifically endorsed numbing cream that can be used for several skin treatments and hair removal procedures that can be painful.
We have used both with great success. It has a non greasy, non oily feel and works for about 2 hours. You can use it anywhere on your body except around your eyes. And it’s easily accessible over the counter and online.
Ebanel 5% Lidocaine is another over the counter lidocaine topical cream that has a similar percentage lidocaine as LMX5 but is about half the price, so it’s our pick for most economical numbing cream.
Like LMX, Ebanel has an elegant cream feel, isn’t greasy or oil, and can be used anywhere except near your eyes. It lasts for about 2 hours and is made in the US. It can be used to reduce pain before hair removal, for getting tattoos or piercings, and has a wide range of other pain reduction applications.
So if you’re looking for a cheaper option than LMX, you can try Ebanel 5% Lidocaine instead.
Don’t like how lidocaine creams feel? Relax & Wax’s No Scream Cream is a topical anesthetic cream that relies on 20% Benzocaine to numb your skin. It works similar to lidocaine but is much gentler. 20% Benzocaine is about the equivalent of 2% Lidocaine.
No Scream Cream is marketed as a numbing cream for waxing hair removal but it can be used for laser hair removal and for epilator hair removal. It takes about 20 minutes to start to work and lasts for about 2 hours.
How to Use a Numbing Cream
Numbing creams are great for numbing small areas like your upper lip, under arms, or bikini/brazilian area. You do not want to use it in large areas like full arms or legs. According to the FDA, lidocaine is not safe to use in large quantities so you do not want to use it in large areas like full arms or legs. Lidocaine is absorbed into your blood via your skin. It is still safe to use in small quantities but too much of it at once can have adverse effects. We do not recommend that you do not use more than one 15g tube of LMX or Lidocaine cream at a time.
Here is how to use a numbing cream:
1. Clean your skin
Before applying any numbing cream, make sure your skin is clean and dry. You don’t want any lotions or moisturizers or any other kind of skincare or makeup on your skin. If you have anything on your skin, wash with warm water and soap and pat dry. Lidocaine needs to make complete contact with your skin so that it can numb your skins epidermis and more importantly, numb the layer right below called the dermis because that’s where your pain receptors live.
Remember, use numbing cream only on skin that is intact. If your skin has any cuts or rashes, do not use numbing cream until your skin heals.
2. Put on gloves
We recommend also putting on a pair of clean disposable gloves before you start applying numbing cream. (We like to use these biodegradable disposable gloves, but you can use any kind you have.) Some people report that their finger tips also start getting numb or start tingling and you don’t want that to happen especially if you’re going to be doing your own hair removal shortly.
3. Apply a thin layer
Apply a thin layer in the direction AGAINST your hair growth and begin rubbing it into your skin for about 30 to 40 seconds. This first thin layer helps the cream penetrate the first layer of skin.
4. Apply a thick layer
Now, apply a thick layer to cover the previous thinner layers. You should layer it on about ⅛ inch to ¼ inch thick.
5. Cover with clingwrap
Usually in a hospital setting, a medical professional will cover lidocaine cream with a medically dressing called Tegaderm or a similar bandage. However, you can just use clingwrap at home. You can also use these wound dressing bandages if you want to make sure it stays sanitary in case your clingwrap is in use in your kitchen and you’re not sure where it’s been.
When you’re covering the cream, make sure you dont flatten it. It should stay thick on your skin.
6. Wait for it work
Now you wait for 30 minutes. At this point, you’ll start notice some numbing and you can remove the cream if you want to. However, you can also wait up to 60 minutes if you want to get the full effects of the numbing cream.
After 60 minutes, you’ll have reached peak numbess. At this point, there is no benefit to leaving the cream on for longer. Also, rubbing the cream in will not increase its effect on your skin.
7. Wipe the area
You can now wipe the cream off your skin with a wet paper towel or wash it off gently. Obviously, you don’t want the cream on your skin when you attempt hair removal.
The numbing effect will last another 60 minutes.
8. Continue with hair removal
You have an hour to continue with hair removal with an epilator, laser hair removal device, or waxing while only feeling minimal pain.
Want to learn more about reducing epilator pain? Check out our article on 10 Tips for Reducing Epilator Pain.