Video created by the BBC

Tattooing has come out of the closet and into the mainstream. Once considered the "consequence" of a night of heavy drinking while on shore leave, tattoos have gained popularity as works of body art. Nearly 40 percent of all people--men and women--from age 18 to 40 have at least one tattoo.

Many of those already inked would like to get more work done but do not want to experience the uncomfortable "pain" often associated with tattooing. Others would like to get their first tattoo but shy away from inking for the same reason.

Inking does not have to extremely painful. In fact, depending on the tattoo artist, the size of the tattoo and the use of a few recommendations, some tattooing can be virtually painless.

Look at images and decide what you want tattooed and where. Start with a small image. You can always add to it later. Tattoo removal is expensive, painful and not always 100 percent effective.

Make an appointment with your regular health care provider (MD, NP, PA). This person should know your medical condition best and can advise you if getting inked will negatively affect your health.

Request from your health care provider some "numbing cream." Be clear that you are asking for this medication because you are getting a tattoo. This will help the nurse or physician make a better clinical decision and provide you with the correct amount. You will also need instructions on how to use it. (Note: Most insurance carriers will not cover this medication, so take that into consideration. Cost varies, but a general rule of thumb the cream is about $50 to $75 per tube. A tube may last for several "small" tats or just be enough for one "big" inking.)

The "numbing cream" consists of lidocaine (like the numbing medication you get at the dentist) and prilocaine (another type of numbing medication). If you have ever had an adverse reaction to these medications, never use them for tatooing or for any other reason.

Apply the numbing cream as directed by your health care provider. Generally, it is applied in a thick layer as opposed to a cream that is rubbed in. Cover the area with clear plastic wrap with the edges taped around the wrap. This should be done at least one hour before your inking.

Remove the dressing and wash away the numbing cream just before your inking session. Let your tattoo artist know you used the cream.


Always wash your hands before and after applying ANY medicated cream. Always ask your tattoo artist his opinion of numbing cream. (Some may object.) Have a friend drive you after you apply the numbing cream. While the cream is topical, a little amount may get absorbed throughout the body and lead to drowsiness.


Never use numbing medications if you are allergic to any component of the cream. Consult your health care provider before using cream and getting a tattoo if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or are nursing.