Pain is undoubtedly part of the tattooing process
For many it is essential, since being willing to endure the pain to have a work of art permanently on your skin shows your commitment to your decision. Not getting a tattoo for fear of pain can be a sign of not being sure you really want to do it. However, for others it is preferable to avoid pain altogether, and they use numbing creams such as topical anesthesia.
But, is this type of cream recommended?
First, let's talk a little about the reason for the pain. To make a tattoo, the tattoo artist injects ink into the middle layer of your skin (dermis) with a machine or by hand (handpoke technique), and this naturally causes a sensation that can range from slight discomfort to real pain.
But, why is it not recommended to get a tattoo during pregnancy?
Although it is safe to get a tattoo with a professional in a good studio, this process always has its risks. Even more at a time of as many changes as pregnancy is. First, many inks contain heavy metals that can cause an allergic reaction. Even if you already have other tattoos and have never had this problem, the hormonal change that a pregnant woman experiences can mean that her body reacts differently to the same materials. It is worth noting that black ink is the least allergenic, and red ink is the most allergenic.
But beyond the obvious, why do tattoos hurt? And why do pain levels change?
There is something we know as a pain threshold, and it describes individual pain sensitivity in general terms. The pain threshold varies from one person to another, so the same tattoo in the same area by the same artist can be more painful for some than for others. In addition, there are areas of the body that are naturally more sensitive than others: The ribs, for example, are one of the areas where tattoos cause more discomfort and pain, along with the chest, head, inner thigh, etc. On the contrary, areas such as the arms (away from the armpits and the elbow) and the back of the calves are usually more bearable.
In general terms, the "meatier" areas tend to hurt less than the areas closer to the bone, but it is not a definitive rule and there are always exceptions. Besides the placement, the design can also affect the level of discomfort the tattoo causes. There are two main reasons why the design is decisive for the level of pain: the size, and the needles used to tattoo. A large design with a lot of filling is more prone to pain than a small, thin design. This is due not only to the amount of time required to finish each job, but to the needles your artist must use to do it.
The fineline or single needle designs are made with smaller needles, which are less intrusive and feel less on the skin. Large-scale or heavily filled tattoos require larger needles, which cover more skin at higher speeds but are also more painful. So we can summarize the why of pain in these three points: pain threshold, placement, and design.
And what about topical anesthesia?
The use of anesthetic creams is a topic that has been debated in the tattoo world for years. Some artists have no problem with its use, and even recommend it in some cases, but most tattoo artists prefer not to use it. But why? Anesthetic creams are high in lidocaine, which causes numbness of the skin. They are commonly used for dental procedures, some types of surgeries, etc. In more recent years, many brands of anesthetic creams specifically marketed for tattoos have emerged, which has been a source of joy for those who did not dare to get a tattoo for fear of pain.
However, these creams are not liked by a large part of the community of tattoo artists. For some, pain is part of the experience, like a kind of rite of passage that goes back to the origins of the practice of tattooing, hundreds of years ago.
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Our suggestion as a studio is to wait
For your health and that of your baby, we recommend that you wait until after delivery to get a tattoo. Meanwhile, you can do a good research of the place or artist that you like, think your idea in detail, collect references, etc. Enjoy the creation of your tattoo while you enjoy the formation of your baby.
If you can't cope with the anxiety, custom semi-permanent tattoos, or even henna, can help you pass the time and try different designs without putting your health at risk. You will see how quickly those nine months go by!
For those who do not agree with the idea that pain is an important part of the experience, there are also other reasons why the use these creams is not recommended, and they have nothing to do with equating pain with strength:
First, it is important to talk about how effective these creams are. Most topical anesthesia must be in place an hour before starting to tattoo for them to be effective, and even with the correct application their level of effectiveness depends on the thickness of the skin, and how each individual reacts to the ingredients. All this to say that in many cases the cream does not cause any effect on the client. And in the cases where it does work, the effect of these creams usually lasts about an hour, which in most cases is much less than it takes to get the tattoo. When the effect of the cream wears off, the pain may feel even worse.
Even if there is the possibility of numbing the area for hours, it is not advisable to do so for the simple fact that the skin is receiving the impact of the needle even if your brain does not register the pain. Pain is the body's way of communicating its limits, and if it cannot be felt it is much easier for the tattoo artist to accidentally injure the skin, as there is no way for the client to warn them if they feel it’s too much. It's the reason you don't get large tattoos in one sitting, since the skin is expected to heal between sessions.
The numbing cream changes the texture of the skin. This is something that cannot be seen, but the artist can feel it with the needle. Typically, this change in texture makes it difficult for the skin to absorb the ink, and can be particularly uncomfortable for line jobs, where clean, fluid results are the goal.
Matter of personal opinion
At Cucu Studio, like many other tattoo studios, we do not recommend or use anesthesia for the reasons we shared above. However, at the end of the day, it’s a personal decision. If it is your first tattoo and you feel that you will not be able to deal with the pain, you have the option of looking for a tattoo artist who has no problem using these creams, but remember that there is always the possibility that it will not work, or that it will affect the final result.
Finally, and although it cannot be denied that getting a tattoo is painful, many times it’s more fear than pain, and once you know how it feels you will realize that it’s not as terrible as you had imagined. A good idea, if the pain scares you, is to start with a small tattoo in a sturdy area, to familiarize yourself with the feeling before moving on to larger projects. And if you have already tattooed yourself with anesthesia, tell us how it was! Have you also gotten tattooed without the cream? Did you feel any difference? Your story interests us!