Why do people numb their skin?

There are two primary reasons you may want to temporarily numb your skin:

  • to relieve current pain
  • in anticipation of future pain

The primary causes of pain from which you may want to temporarily numb your skin include:

  • Sunburn. With sunburn, your skin is burned from overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
  • Dermatitis. Your skin’s inflamed after coming in contact with a substance that irritated it or caused an allergic reaction.
  • Skin injury. Your skin’s injured but not penetrated to the point blood appears.

Reasons you might want your skin temporarily numbed to prepare for future pain are:

  • medical procedures such as getting stitches to close a wound and before you undergo a skin surface procedure such as dermabrasion
  • cosmetic procedures such as ear piercing, tattooing, and hair removal procedures, such as waxing

For local numbing and pain control, doctors typically use local anesthetics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Many of these are also available in over-the-counter strength for home use:

  • lidocaine (Dermoplast, LidoRx, Lidoderm)
  • benzocaine (Solarcaine, Dermoplast, Lanacane)
  • pramoxine (Sarna Sensitive, Proctofoam, Prax)
  • dibucaine (Nupercainal, Rectacaine)
  • tetracaine (Ametop Gel, Pontocaine, Viractin)

There are number of natural products that can effectively numb your skin to relieve pain or to prepare for anticipated pain, including:

  • Ice. An ice pack or cold compress can numb the pain of minor injuries, sunburn, and other conditions. Ice can also numb your skin prior to a procedure such as an ear piercing.
  • Patting. Patting your skin sharply a few times can have a very short-lived numbing effect.
  • Aloe vera. The gel from aloe vera leaves can ease the pain of sunburn and other skin injuries.
  • Clove oil. This can be applied to your skin as a counterirritant for pain with early research suggesting that it can act on the skin similarly to benzocaine.
  • Plantain. A fresh poultice made with plantain — the weed, not the fruit — may fight inflammation while soothing the skin.
  • Chamomile. A 2010 study showed that chamomile essential oils effectively penetrate below your skin’s surface into the deeper layers as a topical anti-inflammatory agent.

Whether you’re numbing your skin to alleviate pain or to prepare for pain, you have both natural and medical options. Before using any numbing agent, check with your doctor and discuss the safety concerns and the best options for your particular needs.