BACKGROUND. Topical anesthetics remain a powerful, new advance for pain relief prior to cutaneous procedures. They are frequently used by dermatologists to decrease the pain associated with laser pulses, surgical procedures, or soft tissue augmentation. EMLA is the most commonly used agent, however, several new topical anesthetic agents have been released recently that claim increased efficacy and a faster onset of action. OBJECTIVE. We review and compare the efficacy of several commonly used topical anesthetics and provide a look into the future. CONCLUSION. EMLA remains the most widely used topical anesthetic given its proven efficacy and safety by several clinical trials. There has been a recent release of several new topical anesthetic agents with some demonstrating efficacy after a 30-minute application time. A reservoir of anesthetic is located and stored in the upper skin layers during application, providing additional anesthetic benefit 30 minutes after removal. As the options for the practitioner continue to grow, the demand for faster onset, comparative efficacy, and safety trials will continue to be of paramount importance.
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