Is OTC Numbing Cream Going to Help Ease Pain?

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice. It is important to always consult a medical professional for any health issues.

Nerve pain is a serious and debilitating condition, no matter what its cause is. This type of pain can be experienced during certain procedures, like getting a tattoo or undergoing electrolysis in spas, to name a few. But there are also some people who experience nerve pains due to medical issues, such as arthritis, which also causes joint inflammation, stiffness, degeneration, or pain. Mostly, those who suffer from nerve pain require help from doctors who prescribe pain relievers and other medications.

In addition to prescription medications, there are also nonprescription treatments for neuropathic pain that can help relieve its symptoms. These are over-the-counter numbing creams that you can apply on your skin topically to ease the nerve pain that you are experiencing. These creams are mostly used for mild nerve pain, particularly when undergoing minor skin procedures. But some of them may also help in more severe conditions when used along with prescribed treatment. 

However, the question of most people is how effective over-the-counter numbing creams are when it comes to easing pains. How do you think they compare with prescription numbing creams? If you have the same questions in mind, you’re in the right place. In this post, we are giving you more information about how OTC numbing creams help ease the pain. 

What are Skin Numbing Creams?

person putting cream on his finger

Skin-numbing creams are medications that work like a local anesthetic. They reduce sensitivity to pain in the parts of the body they are applied to. They work by blocking nerve signals in the body. These creams are commonly used for a wide variety of purposes, such as prior to medical procedures or cosmetic procedures. Aside from that, numbing creams can also be used to treat pain from minor injuries.

There are numbing creams that are available over the counter (OTC), while others are prescribed by doctors. But in both cases, it is important to use them under the guidance of a healthcare provider.[1]  

Below are the different uses of skin-numbing creams:[1]

  • Minor surgery
  • Mammograms
  • Childhood vaccinations or other injections
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Filler injection
  • Waxing
  • Body piercing
  • Tattoo application
  • Sunburns
  • Scrapes
  • Cold sores
  • Rashes
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Sore throat
  • Insect bites

OTC vs. Prescription Numbing Creams

person selecting a product on a pharmacy shelf

Over-the-counter numbing creams may differ from those prescribed by doctors when it comes to strength and concentration. For instance, a prescription-strength lidocaine cream may contain 5% of the active ingredient, while an OTC lidocaine cream only has 4% of lidocaine. In addition to that, most OTC lidocaine medications are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But they are marketed as “compliant” when the manufacturer follows the applicable regulations imposed by the FDA. 

There are also numbing creams that are only available with a prescription, such as those that are mixed with hydrocortisone, which is a type of cream for itching, redness, and swelling.[1] This means that the main difference between OTC and prescription numbing creams is their strength. 

If you need to numb part of your skin for minor procedures, OTC numbing creams may be enough to alleviate the pain. However, if a larger part of your skin needs to be numbed, consulting with your doctor is important in order to be prescribed a stronger numbing cream. 

The Different Types of OTC Numbing Creams

person applying cream on an arm

There are several OTC topical anesthetics or numbing creams that you can buy, which can help numb the pain of certain medical procedures. They may also help alleviate the pain of minor discomforts and itching. They are not as powerful as prescribed numbing creams, but they are easy to find at local grocery stores and pharmacies. Below are the different types of OTC numbing creams to give you more ideas:

Lidocaine Creams

Lidocaine is a local anesthetic that aids in softening the nerve endings in the skin, causing temporary numbness in the area where it is applied. You can find lidocaine as the main ingredient in many over-the-counter skin-numbing creams. When using lidocaine creams, ensure that you only use a small amount of it, depending on the area where you need to apply it. It is usually applied to smaller areas of the body. After application, wash your hands thoroughly.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Strong Lidocaine Creams for more options.

Benzocaine Creams

Benzocaine is also a local anesthetic, and it works by blocking nerve signals in the body. It is usually in a gel form that is often used to numb the skin within the mouth. But even though it is marketed as a gel, you can also find this medication available in a cream form. Unlike lidocaine creams, benzocaine works faster, providing rapid pain relief. When applying this OTC cream to your mouth, ensure that your hands are clean. Also, do not swallow any cream or medication that contains benzocaine.

Bengay Creams

Bengay is a popular pain relief cream that contains three active ingredients, which are camphor, methyl salicylate, and menthol. Bengay creams can be applied and rubbed directly into non-broken skin. It is usually used for relief from arthritis and muscle pain. The unique ability of Bengay is not just numbing the skin but as well as the area beneath the skin.

The methyl salicylate provides a warm sensation. And when it is countered by the cooling sensation of the menthol and the natural analgesic properties of camphor, it provides minor pain relief. However, you shouldn’t use more than the recommended dose of Bengay because methyl salicylate is highly toxic.

Topracin Creams

Topracin is a cream that contains herbal ingredients like echinacea and belladonna instead of chemical pain relievers. According to the company, the medication of their creams is a homeopathic topical remedy that is thought to work by helping the body balance its own healing chemistries.

How to Use Skin-Numbing Creams

When using skin-numbing creams, whether OTC or prescribed by a doctor, it is very important to follow the advice of your healthcare provider or the label or product insert of the cream. When you are ready to apply the cream, you should make sure that the area to be applied has been cleaned with soap and warm water and dried using a soft cloth. Apply only a thin layer of the cream, as directed.[1] 

In addition to that, it is important that you know how much you need to apply, where you should not apply the cream, and how long it should be on your skin. If in case you are using a skin-numbing cream for medical procedures like cosmetic surgeries, it is best to know when to apply the cream before the procedure. 

For example, before a micro-needling session, your dermatologist may apply numbing cream to your face. When the cream takes effect, it will be wiped off, and the skin will be cleansed to remove the remaining residue. This will ensure that the cream will not enter the skin during the procedure.[1] 


Keep in mind that, as with any OTC product, you may experience side effects when you use them on your skin. But if you have any concerns prior to using an OTC cream, make sure that you talk with your doctor. 

Remember that these OTC numbing creams are used just to help lessen and alleviate the pain. They are not completely medicines that can cure nerve pains. If you are in constant pain that is no longer bearable, don’t suffer and get help from a medical professional that is an expert in treating nerve pains, like a neurologist. We hope the information we shared helped you further understand how OTC numbing creams help in easing the pain.

If you are looking for more information about pain relief creams, you may check out our Guide to Selecting Pain Relief Creams for the best tips and recommendations.


[1] Christiansen, S. (2022, November 22). What to know about skin-numbing cream. Verywell Health. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from