Improper Use of Topical Skin Anesthetics Can Result in Serious Side Effects

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today issued an advisory to remind consumers and healthcare professionals that the improper use of topical anesthetics can result in serious and life-threatening side effects.

These topical anesthetics are available in both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription forms. They are commonly used in laser hair removal, tattoo removal, and chemical peels.

These topical anesthetics contain anesthetic drugs such as lidocaine, tetracaine, benzocaine, and prilocaine in a cream, ointment, or gel. They work to numb the skin by desensitizing nerve endings that lie near the surface of the skin.

When they are applied to the skin surface, they can be absorbed into the blood stream. If used improperly, they may cause life-threatening side effects, such as irregular heartbeat, seizures, breathing difficulties, coma, or even death.

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FDA has received reports of adverse events and deaths of two women who used topical anesthetics before laser hair removal.

The FDA strongly advises consumers:

* Do not use a heavy application of topical anesthetic products over large areas of skin;
* Do not use formulations that are stronger or more concentrated than necessary;
* Do not apply these products to irritated or broken skin;
* Do not wrap the treated skin with plastic wrap or other dressings; and
* Do not apply heat from a heating pad to skin treated with these products. The heat applied to the skin can make the amount of anesthetic absorbed into the blood stream unpredictable. This may increase the risk of life-threatening side effects.

Consumers and health care professionals may report adverse events to the FDA's MedWatch program at 800-FDA-1088 or online at www.fda.gov/medwatch/report.htm.

To read the FDA's 2009 Public Health Advisory, go to: http://www.fda.gov/cder/drug/advisory/topical_anesthetics2009.htm

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