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EMLA Cream - Uses, Side Effects And Bizarre Controversy

Updated on July 24, 2013

When the pain is just too much...

EMLA cream is used for a wide variety of procedures where where is a need for pain relief or skin numbing.

Unlike taking pills, or necking a bottle of whiskey, it is simply applied to the surface of the skin.

So for example it is often used as a tattoo numbing cream, or when having a needle inserted for medical reasons.

My personal experience was with inserting needles during chemotherapy. I found the numbing effect was helpful at a time when my skin was particularly sensitive.

And during extended chemotherapy your veins tend to go on holiday and can be hard to locate.

So EMLA cream helped deal with the discomfort of being stuck several times before the shy vein was located.

Some facts - what's in EMLA cream?

EMLA cream is a topical anesthetic made from an equal mixture of Lidocaine and Prilocaine. It's unusual in that respect as most numbing products tend to use just one or the other, or benzocaine instead.

This is therefore where the name 'EMLA' comes from: Eutectic Mixture of Local Anaesthetics. Eutetic meaning a mixture of two substances which has a lower melting point than the substances do individually.

Not very interesting, I know, but it's not often you hear the word 'eutectic'. So I thought I'd bring those who don't know it a new word for the day.

The actual cream contains 2.5% of Lidocaine and 2.5% Prilocaine. Note that you can also get an EMLA patch, but it is most often used in the cream form.

Please take a moment to contribute to this poll:

What have you used EMLA for?

See results

Controversial uses of EMLA cream

EMLA cream has had its fair share of controversial uses. It's not surprising really, considering how many different ways we humans can experience pain.

And how many different circumstances we might find a use for a skin numbing product.

Let's have a look at 2 main areas the cream was not intended for originally, but has since found a place.

1. Tattoo numbing cream and body modifications

When it comes to body modification there is a very wide spectrum of potential pain awaiting you. Now the argument many tattoo and piercing lovers put forward is that the pain is part of the process.

Arguments such as 'it's a right of passage', 'beauty is pain' or 'if you can't take the pain, you shouldn't get one' are often heard.

However, there are those who like the final look, but are not so keen on the process. Queue stage entrance EMLA cream.

And there are of course those who like the idea of getting tattoos or piercings in particularly sensitive areas.

Finally there are creative and experimental people who take part in 'play modifications'. I remember in Barclona several years ago witnessing one of the most bizarre performances of my night.

One person pierced another on stage and then threaded string and bolts through all the piercings until they had transformed their back with some kind of kinky alien spine look.

This kind of play was a reason EMLA numbing cream faced heavy criticism a few years ago when it fetched a high price on the 'black market'.

Though I'm not entirely convinced it deserved that attention considering how many different numbing products people use for this kind of activity anyway.

EMLA cream can cause a severe rash in some people. So think very carefully where you put it...

2. Enhancing a guy's performance in the bedroom

Over 30% of guys will experience a problem with self-control in bed at some point in their lives. Learning to last as long as you and your partner would like you to can be a tricky process.

So many guys turn to quick fixes for the problem. And with the problem often being caused by over-sensitivity, you can see where this is going...

Using a numbing spray or cream is a common solution, and there are many options specifically designed to help guys. But some men still turn to medical grade product such as EMLA numbing cream for help.

Whether they believe the fact that it is a medical product means it is stronger, or they just don't trust the branded delay products is unclear.

What is clear though is that EMLA cream was not originally designed for this purpose. And what is even more apparent is that it is not a great solution to this particular problem for a few reasons:

  • It is too strong
  • It is too greasy and so risks 'transference'
  • It takes a long time for the numbing to take effect

If you are interested in something that does work well for this purpose, then have a read of this article about the best delay sprays instead. There are plenty of good alternatives to be found there.

Standard uses for EMLA cream

So other than those unusual uses for EMLA, the numbing cream is of course used for a wide variety of medical and cosmetic procedures, including:

  • Removal of birth-marks with laser therapy
  • Circumcision (only effective in children over 3 months old)
  • Blood testing
  • Inserting a cannula or intravenous catheter
  • Wart removal
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Skin biopsy
  • Laser hair removal
  • Electrolyis
  • Superficial surgery
  • Cleaning leg ulcers

Possible side effects of using EMLA cream

As with all pharmaceutical products, there are a range of possible side effects associated with EMLA cream.

Most importantly there are places and ways EMLA should not be used. In should not be applied into the ear, specifically the middle ear.

It is not advisable to put it up your nose or rubbed into the eyes. It should definitely not be eaten. And it is for external use only.

So if it is used as advised on the surface of the skin, what other problems should you look out for? The following are some possible EMLA cream side effects:

  • Swelling of the skin
  • Redness of the skin
  • A rash
  • A burning or stinging sensation
  • Bruising or the skin turning a purple color
  • Paleness of the skin
  • Difficulty breathing - slow or shallow breathing
  • Hives
  • Swelling in the face, throat, lips or tongue
  • Dizziness
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion

There are also a range of physical and mental health disorders which would lead a doctor to advise you don't use EMLA cream. You can find more information about those here.

You should also be staying well clear of the cream if you have a known allergy to either Lidocaine or Prilocaine.

This video demonstrates the exact process in using EMLA as a tattoo numbing cream

So should you use EMLA cream?

Whether you choose to use EMLA numbing cream is of course your choice. If you are having a medical procedure you will of course be given the chance to talk to a medical professional about it.

If you are thinking about using it for one of the more do-it-yourself activities I mentioned earlier then there are a few things to consider:

  1. It is really expensive. It sells online for between $25 and $50.
  2. It will add to the price if using it as a tattoo numbing cream. This is because you need to go in an hour or more earlier to have it applied and wrapped.
  3. If using it as a performance enhancer in bed, there are much better options which have been created especially to help you.
  4. It is still a good idea to talk to a doctor before using this product. Particular if you plan on using it on sensitive areas or have certain medical conditions. For example any heart, lung, kidney or liver problems.

What do you think?

Please leave a comment below with your thoughts and opinions on using EMLA cream or any other numbing product. Here are a few questions to think about:

  • Have you tried it before? If so what for, and did it help at all?
  • Have you tried any other numbing products, and if so which ones and what effect did they have?
  • What's your attitude towards using a tattoo numbing cream? Do you think people should just take the pain?
  • And finally what about guys using it in bed? Good idea, or are there better options?


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      chamathka 3 years ago

      Hi Dr,

      Can you let me know a place to buy delay sprays