Topical anesthetics for dermatologic procedures: a review

Dermatol Surg. 2012 May;38(5):709-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.2011.02271.x. Epub 2012 Jan 13.


Background: Practitioners are increasingly using topical anesthetics to decrease the pain associated with superficial dermatologic, aesthetic, and laser procedures. Numerous lidocaine-containing products are available, but comprehensive reviews are lacking regarding their relative safety profiles and appropriate dermatologic uses.

Materials and methods: A literature review of currently available topical anesthetics, their safety profiles, and dermatologic uses was conducted.

Results: Factors that should be considered to reduce the risk of side effects associated with the use of topical anesthetics include the amount of product used, body location, size of the surface area, and duration of product application. Many case reports document adverse outcomes associated with the use of compounded products that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved that have inappropriately high anesthetic concentrations and from the use of topical anesthetics on excessively large skin surface areas during laser treatments.

Conclusions: Lidocaine-containing products play an integral role in cutaneous anesthesia by providing patient comfort with minimal side effects. Careful attention must be paid to the particular anatomic location, the total surface area covered, and the duration of anesthetic skin contact.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Local / adverse effects
  • Anesthesia, Local / methods*
  • Anesthetics, Local / administration & dosage*
  • Anesthetics, Local / adverse effects
  • Body Surface Area
  • Cosmetic Techniques
  • Dermatologic Surgical Procedures*
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laser Therapy / methods
  • Lidocaine / administration & dosage*
  • Lidocaine / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / prevention & control*


  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Lidocaine