Topical Anesthetics

Topical anesthetics are skin-numbing products, usually in the form of creams, lotions, gels, or ointments. They are generally thought of as safe, but improper application can lead to dangerous and even deadly overdose. Topical anesthetics are used in medical and cosmetic procedures, and sometimes for burning, itching, and discomfort caused by medical conditions.


Common ingredients found in topical anesthetics, which can cause harm, include:

  • Benzocaine
  • Lidocaine
  • Prilocaine
  • Tetracaine


Topical anesthetics are used to minimize discomfort caused by procedures such as:

  • Mammogram
  • Laser hair removal

They numb the nerve endings close to the surface of the skin, and are applied before procedures to help prevent pain.

Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) topical anesthetics are also used to relieve pain, burning and itching in some medical conditions.

Dangers of Topical Anesthetics

When applied improperly topical anesthetics can enter the bloodstream causing dangerous side effects including:

  • Irregularheartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Coma
  • Death

In a clinical setting, these products should be applied under a doctor’s supervision, but sometimes patients apply them themselves in preparation for procedures. Sometimes topical anesthetics are used at home.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns consumers to avoid the following:

  • Applying large amounts over large areas of skin
  • Applying to irritated or broken skin
  • Using products that are stronger or more concentrated than necessary
  • Wrapping the area in plastic wrap or other dressings
  • Applying heat, such as using a heating pad on the treated area


The FDA has received reports of at least two deaths in young women who used topical anesthetics in preparation for laser hair removal. The women were 22 and 25 years old. After applying the anesthetic cream they wrapped their legs in plastic, which they had been instructed to do to increase the numbing effect. The creams used these two cases contained high concentrations of lidocaine and tetracaine.

If you have experienced injuries from topical anesthetics, or if someone you love has died from using these products, you may be entitled to compensation. Please find a topical anesthetic injury lawyer in your area right away to learn more.