What Is Topical Anesthetic Ointment?

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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2020
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The word "topical" refers to a substance that is designed to be placed on the skin or mucous membranes, and anesthetic substances are those which numb sensation, typically during for medical reasons. Various medical procedures or conditions produce pain sensations on the skin, ranging from injections to cosmetic laser techniques. Injections of an anesthetic substance can numb pain in the skin, but a topical anesthetic ointment can also be suitable, and may have the advantage of being easier to use. Unlike a general anesthetic, which puts the whole body to sleep, a topical anesthetic ointment is only used on one small area of the skin at a time.

Ointments are different from other types of external preparations like gels in that they typically have a thick, almost solid texture. A topical anesthetic ointment is always spreadable, and contains the active numbing molecule mixed up with other ingredients that help the consistency or preservation of the product. Examples of active anesthetics that can be present in a topical anesthetic ointment include lidocaine, benzocaine or tetracaine.


Many numbing agents found in topical ointments do not work well on unbroken skin, but for procedures like laser resurfacing of facial skin, the anesthetic effect may be sufficient. Most often, though, a topical anesthetic is used on skin that has been broken or lacerated, to reduce the pain of the injury or the pain of the suturing procedure to fix the damage, and also to save the skin from further pain from injections. After application, the numbing effect takes hold over a few minutes. Burns and skin irritations like allergic dermatitis can also be soothed with anesthetic ointments, and mucous membranes like the oral cavity can also be numbed.

Some side effects can occur with the use of a topical anesthetic ointment. These include a burning sensation when the ointment is applied, a change in skin color at the affected location, and localized swelling. One significant danger of a topical ointment is that the dosage of the drug is not as accurately controlled as in an injection or a tablet. For this reason, only a small amount of skin can be covered with anesthetic ointments, in case too high a dose is absorbed through the skin. Overdoses of the anesthetics can potentially result in heart problems, seizures and even death, especially if the ointment is covered with a dressing that speeds up absorption.


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Post 3

@ddljohn-- My tattoo artist applied a topical anesthetic on my skin before tattooing. He asked me if I want an anesthetic and I said yes. So your tattoo artist should have this option. It might not be a good idea to buy and use a topical anesthetic yourself. Tattoo artists have their own anesthetic ointments and sprays. The products do contain one of the usual anesthetics like benzocaine or lidocaine. But I think it’s better to have the artist use an anesthetic that he or she already has experience with.

Post 2

I will be getting a tattoo next week on my arm. I’ve never gotten tattoo before and I know that it will be painful. Can I use a topical anesthetic ointment before I have the tattoo done to reduce pain? Will this affect the tattooing process? Has anyone done this before?

Post 1

I've been using an ointment with lidocaine for several years now and I'm very happy with it. This ointment is meant to numb pain and reduce itching and irritation due to insect bites, burns and cuts. It works extremely well. In fact, I wouldn't think of using anything else for minor burns.

When I burn myself while cooking, which happens a bit too frequently due to my clumsiness, the first thing I do is hold the burn under running cold water. Afterward, I immediately apply my ointment with aloe vera and lidocaine. I keep the ointment in the fridge for specifically this reason because it works even better for burns when the ointment is cool. Within seconds, the pain from the burn is gone. Aloe vera also speeds up healing. Almost always, I do not experience any further pain with minor burns when I use this ointment. It's just fantastic.

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