Numbing creams such as Emla are licensed for topical anaesthesia before needle insertions for example before an injection, commonly used before children’s immunisations, or to numb the area before superficial skin procedures. Numbing creams became a popular choice for the off-license use as tattoo numbing creams. In this post, I will discuss over the counter availability of numbing creams and a numbing gel from the pharmacy, their age restrictions, and pricing. Always read patient information leaflet for detailed advice on methods of administration, special warnings, and other important information related to each numbing cream.
Numbing creams: the main active ingredients
Numbing creams available from the pharmacy contain local anaesthetic as the main active ingredient. Local anaesthetics used in topical anaesthetic creams include:
- Prilocaine (used together with lidocaine)
Topical anaesthetic creams temporarily block signals sent from the nerves located in the skin, which leads to numbing of the affected area. Numbing creams are generally effective at relieving pain, however, they require an early application before any procedure take place (Alster, 2013).
Where can you buy a numbing cream?
Numbing creams are licensed as pharmacy only medicines (P). P medicines are sold only in the pharmacy. Numbing creams are usually kept in the dispensary and not displayed to the public. Topical anaesthetic creams can also be purchased online from registered pharmacies.
What numbing creams can be purchased from the pharmacy?
- Emla numbing cream
- LMX4 numbing cream
- Ametop gel
Emla 5% numbing cream (2.5% lidocaine, 2.5% prilocaine)
Emla cream is the most popular numbing cream requested by the public and prescribed by GPs.
Emla numbing cream is licensed for newborn infants 0-2 months and all other age groups of children and adults. EMLA cream should not be used at less than 37 weeks gestational age (eMC, 2019).
Emla cream is available as a individual 5g tube or as Emla OTC cream pack containing 5g tube and two occlusive dressings. Two dressings included in the OTC pack are 3M Tegaderm dressings (6 cm x 7 cm). Some pharmacies may be able to supply Tegaderm dressings separately when non-OTC Emla cream is purchased.
Individual Emla numbing cream is slightly cheaper than the OTC pack. The price will vary between pharmacies, but you should pay around £4 for individual numbing cream, and around £5 for the Emla OTC pack.
How and when to apply Emla cream?
- It is recommended to apply Emla cream at least 60 minutes before insertion of a needle. Check product information leaflet for applications before other procedures.
- ½ of the tube is applied to the area. Emla should not be rubbed in.
- Adhesive Tegaderm dressing should be applied to the area.
- The dressing should be left in place for at least 60 minutes.
- After 60 minutes (and a maximum of 5 hours, depending on the age), the dressing should be removed, and the area cleaned with alcohol before the procedure.
LMX4 numbing cream (4% lidocaine cream)
LMX4 contains lidocaine as the main active ingredient. LMX4 numbing cream is licensed for children over 1 month of age.
LMX4 cream should be applied at least 30 minutes before skin procedure.
It costs around £5 per 5g tube without dressing.
Ametop gel (4% Tetracaine)
Ametop is available in the gel formulation add comes in a 1.5g tube.
Ametop is licensed for infants over 1 month of age, children and adults. Ametop numbing gel is not recommended for infants under 1 month of age.
Ametop gel should be applied 30-45 min before skin procedure. Longer applications are not necessary.
Ametop gel is kept in the fridge, although it may be stored for up to 1 month at 25°C before the use.
Ametop gel is cheaper than above numbing creams with a price of around £2 per tube (keep in mind Ametop’s smaller size).
What is the best numbing cream?
A systemic review of 25 randomised controlled trials (over 2000 patients) concluded that Emla cream may be effective as non-invasive topical anaesthesia. This research paper also concluded that other numbing products such as LMX and Ametop are as effective (Eidelman et al, 2005).
Can you use a numbing cream before children’s immunisations?
Topical numbing creams can be used before children’s vaccinations. Numbing cream will decrease the pain of needle insertion but will not take the pain completely away.
Can you buy numbing cream for a tattoo procedure?
Licensed use of all above numbing products is associated with medical procedures. Customers requesting numbing creams for applications before tattoo procedure will most likely be refused the sale as this is unlicensed use of the product.
Alster Tina (2013). Review of Lidocaine/Tetracaine Cream as a Topical Anesthetic for Dermatologic Laser Procedures. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107876/ Accessed on 16/07/2019
Eidelman Anthony (2005). Topical Anesthetics for Dermal Instrumentation: A Systematic Review of Randomized, Controlled Trials. Annals of Emergency Medicine, Volume 46, Issue 4, 343 – 351 Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annemergmed.2005.01.028 Accessed on 17/07/2019
eMC (2019). SmPC: Emla cream. Available at: https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/product/871/smpc Accessed on 17/07/2019