PMU Numbing 101 – Basic Info + Special Tricks

By Emily M.| Last updated on April 29, 2024
PMU Numbing 101 - Basic Information and Special Tricks
⏱️ 6 min read

PMU procedures imply breaking the surface of the skin, and while the needles or blades don’t go too deep into it, it can still be quite painful. Yes, the industry has evolved and the tools used today are much gentler on the skin than they used to be, but the trauma is still painful, especially when skin gets irritated halfway through the procedure.

So, numbing is a must. You don’t want your client being uncomfortable because a) they’ll tell all their friends how awful it was and b) they’ll squirm and wince and make your job impossible.

That’s why you need to know your numbing! Today, we’re going over the basics of PMU numbing and sharing some pro tips on how to use different numbing creams for maximum results.

How Does PMU Numbing Work?

Topical anesthetics come in the form of creams and gels which can have different consistencies. When they are applied over the skin, they get absorbed, and they block the nerve endings from sending signals to the brain.

This causes a numbing sensation. As a result, your client will not feel pain, although they will still feel the pressure of a tool penetrating the skin.

The effects are temporary, and topical anesthetics work a relatively short time, as they are not administered into the blood vessels, like injectable anesthesia. The effects of numbing unbroken, intact skin usually don’t last long (about 45 minutes), since the absorption through intact skin is quite low.

That’s why 2 types of numbing are usually combined.

How Does PMU Numbing Work?Image source: Instagram @ahead_brooklyn

What Types of Topical Anesthetics Are There?

Since 45 minutes is hardly enough time to do a whole PMU treatment, 2 types of topical anesthetics are usually combined:

  • primary – used on unbroken skin
  • and secondary – used once the skin is broken.

Not all formulas can be used in both ways. Make sure an anesthetic is suitable for use on broken skin before you apply it.

When primary numbing wears off, a secondary formula is applied, which works faster and more intensely, since the openings in the skin maximize absorption.

How Long Does PMU Numbing Take?

Primary numbing takes a relatively long time – 25-30 minutes – while secondary numbing works very fast – 1 minute. Take into account the time it takes for primary PMU numbing to kick in when you’re booking clients.

Leave some extra time, because some clients take longer to respond to numbing and might need a few additional minutes.

Bear in mind that you can only leave primary numbing on for a bit longer, not secondary numbing. If you leave the secondary anesthetic on for longer than 1-2 minutes, the skin will become very tough and hard to work on.

How Long Does PMU Numbing Take?Image source: Instagram @802pmu

What Should I Look For in a Topical Anesthetic?

Both types of PMU numbing contain lidocaine, and this is the staple ingredient. It’s a powerful anesthetic, and PMU numbing creams contain up to 5% lidocaine. PMU artists are not medical practitioners and are not allowed to use stronger anesthetics than this.

The more lidocaine a formula contains, the stronger the effects will be.

Apart from lidocaine, many formulas also contain tetracaine and benzocaine. Different clients respond differently to these ingredients, so if you want to make sure your client numbs, find a formula that contains all 3.

Secondary numbing formulas usually contain vasoconstrictors – usually epinephrine – which shrink blood vessels in the skin and constrict blood flow, meaning less bleeding during the treatment, and less redness and swelling.

Consistency of the numbing is another factor to consider. Some formulas are thicker and oilier, while others have a more gel-like, or even a liquid, watery consistency. Which formula you’ll choose depends on your preference, but also on the treatment you’re performing.

What’s the Best Numbing Cream?

How Do I Maximize the Effects of Numbing?

You want the numbing to work as intensely as possible so your client feels as little pain as possible. Here are a few tricks you can try to achieve maximum numbing in minimal time.


You can’t use primary numbing once you cut into the skin with a blade or poke it with a needle, and the same goes if you do moderate exfoliation to remove a portion of dead skin cells from the skin’s surface and increase the absorption of the numbing.

You can:

  • Rub a spoolie against the client’s skin
  • Take a microblading blade and poke the skin with it

and then apply the secondary numbing.

This way, you can skip primary numbing altogether and get a much quicker numb.

Plastic Wrap

Once you apply the numbing, take a strip of thin plastic foil and cover the area with it. The wrap will seal in the moisture and heat, and maximize the effects of the PMU numbing cream.

Petroleum Jelly

Alternatively, you can put a coat of petroleum jelly over the layer of numbing cream. This will work in much the same way, only it can be messier to remove.

Numbing Tips for Every PMU Treatment

Here’s a collection of special numbing tricks for numbing the brows, eyelids, and lips:

For Brow PMU

  • Creamy, oily anesthetics can make the skin softer, less firm and tight. This is fine for machine PMU, but if you’re doing microblading, you want it to be as firm as possible, so it’s better to find a watery formula.
  • Thorough cleaning is the prerequisite for intense, even numbing. The hairs of the brows catch all the unwanted residues, so they need a very thorough cleanse. Clean the area with a disinfectant to remove the residues and allow the PMU numbing to get absorbed equally. Straight-up alcohol actually works well, since it dries out the skin a little bit and makes it a bit firmer, which is especially useful for microblading.
  • You don’t have to wipe the numbing off of both brows at the same time. You can clean 1 brow and work on that, while leaving the numbing a while longer on the other brow. This will additionally diminish the discomfort in the other brow.

How Do I Maximize the Effects of Numbing?Image source: Instagram @shapedbyshi.pmu

Extra tip

If you’ve ever wondered how artists manage to take pitch-perfect after photos without any redness around the results, the answer is secondary numbing. After you’ve finished the treatment, apply a layer of secondary numbing with epinephrine. This will minimize blood flow into the area and create a white halo around the results, letting them stand out.

For Permanent Eyeliner

  • For eyeliner tattooing, don’t use runny formulas that can get into the client’s eyes. Find a thick formula that doesn’t melt.
  • Also, find a pH-neutral formula if you’re doing eyeliner that won’t be aggressive on the eyes.

For Lip Tattoos

  • Numbing the lips is notoriously problematic, but the solution is as simple as stretching the skin well before applying the anesthetic. Lips are not a smooth surface – they have many creases and wrinkles. If you just swatch PMU numbing cream across them, the cream can’t get into the creases, and those areas won’t numb. So stretch them as much as possible when you’re applying the numbing.
  • Exfoliation is especially important for lip PMU. If there’s dead, dehydrated skin on the lips (as there often is), the numbing won’t be able to penetrate the lips and your client will be in pain.

For PMU Removal

If you’re doing PMU removal, do not get a numbing cream with vasoconstrictors in it. With saline and glycolic acid removal, you actually want there to be bleeding, as that’s what will push the pigments out.


All numbing formulas need to be stored in a cool, dark place, but some have to be stored in a fridge after they’re opened. Check the instructions.

Numbing Tips for Every PMU TreatmentImage source: Instagram @labmuffinbeautyscience

Final Note

It is essential you only buy your PMU numbing from reliable suppliers. There are many, many counterfeit products out there which may contain potentially dangerous ingredients and will not give the desired results, so don’t get blinded by bargains and only buy from suppliers you are sure you can trust.

Cover image source: Freepik



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