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Permanent Makeup

November 17, 2010 Reviewed by admin 10 Comments
A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned that her sister had just gotten her eyebrows permanently tattooed on her face. As surprised as I was, dermapigmentation actually made sense for the fair-haired sister; she really had no noticeable eyebrows before the procedure and was forced to draw them on each morning before starting her day. In fact, I can think of a lot of people who would benefit from permanent makeup: anyone with very light eyebrows, people who rely on makeup each day but don’t have the time for it, women who can’t draw a straight line with eyeliner to save their lives (me, for example) and really anyone who likes the convenience of never having to wake up bare-faced again.

The more I read about cosmetic tattooing, the more I liked it. Many people use permanent makeup as a solution to scars and conditions that cause skin imperfections, such as vitiligo. If performed correctly by a licensed esthetician, the tattooing shouldn’t even hurt, as the area is numbed sufficiently. And though the permanent makeup costs upwards of hundreds of dollars (depending on factors like how many areas you want tattooed), it is a permanent fix and, therefore, a good investment for many.

Still, there is a laundry list of things to consider before running out and getting injected with ink. First and foremost, this is a tattoo we’re talking about, even if it is related to makeup. All of the usual tattoo precautions need to be taken, including making sure that proper equipment is used to avoid the spread of disease. Most important, perhaps, is to make sure that you really want to have your eyebrows shaped a certain way forever or that you want eyeliner on everyday for the foreseeable future.

The FDA does not exercise its power over tattoo inks, meaning that it’s up to you to be vigilant about what exactly is being injected into your skin. In fact, many pigments aren’t suitable for skin at all and are actually intended for car paint and printer ink – though they are often misused. There have been over 150 reports of adverse reactions to permanent makeup, though the number is probably greater, considering that with one quick Google search I found dozens of negative reviews for the procedure. On one site, people complained about everything from their eyebrows being too dark, harsh, and mismatched, to chronic eye infections, discoloration (tattoos oxidize and rust), scarring and more.

According to the Director of the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of Northern California and Associate Clinical Professor at UC Davis Medical Center, more serious issues can arise. Allergic reactions, granulomas, keloids, and needles slipping and penetrating the eye have all been documented by those who have elected to undergo dermapigmentation. There have even been reports of people with permanent makeup experiencing swelling and burning during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures, as the magnet may react with the metallic tattoo ink.

Although permanent makeup comes with many associated risks, there are plenty of people who swear by it and as long as you are careful, ruling the procedure out is not necessary. It seems that the two most important preparation steps are to make sure that you are educated about both the benefits and hazards of dermapigmentation, and to go to a well-reputed, licensed esthetician. Don’t be afraid to ask your esthetician questions about her professional background, knowledge of the procedure and quality of ink, as the more queries you have the more information you will receive and the less likely a bad tattoo will result.
  • March 8, 2012

    by Eileen

    I know this thread is old, but I just have to comment. First to Christine-I overplucked at 12 yrs old, and it never grew back. A pencil thin line of light brown/blonde is all that is there, and barely visible. I tried tinting, and all that gave me was a darker pencil thin line. It didn't look any better than before the tint.
    To everyone else-I have happily had my eyebrows and upper and lower lids permanently inked. It is up to YOU to do your research before you go get a procedure. Don't just pick someone out of the phone book! Check out before/after photos-you will be able to weed out anyone unworthy of your time immediately. Some so called experts were blatantly obvious they have no clue what they are doing. Talk to the person you are considering using in person or on the phone. If you feel uncomfortable at all, walk away. I feel completely comfortable with my permanent makeup specialist. It is just like any other ink, it will fade over time, and you will need a touch up. My eyebrows faded, and I've had a touch up. My eyeliner has hardly faded at all. My specialist gave me a tip, since sunlight WILL fade your ink-apply a lip balm with an SPF in it directly on your eyebrows. It will help block UV rays. Less is best, and massage into skin or else you will walk around looking "waxy". I've also used sunblock when I didn't have any lip balm, but I don't use that often because I don't know if anything in the sunblock would cause the ink to fade.
    Again-do your research on the person you are considering to go to.
    One final note-I wasted over 30 years of my life avoiding being in the sun, sweating, swimming, etc. because I didn't want anyone to see me without eyebrows, or to avoid the stares I would get when people would look at me and saw I had no eyebrows. I can't tell you how much confidence I have now. I feel like I can live a full life and not worry. Vain? Maybe. No more than anyone else applying makeup every day...

  • May 1, 2011

    by Christine

    For my clients with "invisible" eyebrows, either blond/gray or overplucked, I always recommend they try brow tinting first. The tint compound I like to use is a vegetable - based cream and the color lasts for about six weeks. Sometimes even seriously overplucked individuals have enough vellus hair (peach fuzz) in the brow area for the tint to grab and give the impression of eyebrows. This in my opinion us almost certainly preferable to the risks of tattooing. As an esthetician, I havehad the chance to see many examples of permanent makeup up close. Some look very nice, but many have faded to a pinkish or blueish hue by the time I see them.

  • January 19, 2011

    by L

    Any ideas on putting henna to outline the lips so
    It wouldn't be permanent?
    I need something temporary.

  • January 19, 2011

    by patrice

    BTW my website is FYI.

  • January 19, 2011

    by patrice

    I've been a cosmetic tattoo artist for 15 years and have never, ever had a problem at all with infection, 'rust'? (never heard of rust) and for that matter never a disgruntled client. I tell them all it is permanent in that it will always be there but not the intensity that it was when first done. All tattoos, body or facial need freshening after so many years. Especially with the face being exposed to the elements of sun, snow which all cause pigment fade. The skin is living tissue, and in constant exfoliation and of course pigment is going to go along with that process.

    Before I even put a needle into a client, she/he knows what it is going to look like because it is discussed in detail with the client. So there are NO surprises. He/She always has a mirror with them to observe as we go along. A client's face is measured for proper pigment placement for lips, liner and brows. A good technician will never just draw lines but design a look for a client based on face structure. In many cases I prefer a hairstroke effect, in some it isn't possible, so we go with an encapsulated brow, which means pigment to look like it was filled with a brow pencil.

    I have several plastic surgeons refer clients to me for scar breakdowns, camouflage, brows for alopecia, accident scars, burn victims, hair transplant scars, etc. There are many situations wherein an individual will benefit from tattooing due to some disfigurement. If a practitioner has the philosophy to underdo rather than overdo, there will never be a problem. For one can add, but removing is very expensive and time-consuming.

    Regarding discomfort, there are topicals out there that completely eliminate discomfort. As to concern about having eyeliner done because of pain and all depends on the technician and how she holds that eye. There is a definite technique to doing eyeliner.

    I know there are people out there who have permanent makeup parties in their homes. They line up clients and have a 'friend' from out of town who will do eyeliner in their kitchen or wherever w/o benefit of proper sanitation, license, medical history. I've had many of these clients come to me with horrible procedures and correcting is not always 100% surety. So buyer beware!

  • November 18, 2010

    by VickyL

    My sister had permanent makeup eyeliner done. It looked beautiful for several years. Now, about 10 years later it has faded a lot but looks fine. The makeup artist told her that the eyeliner would not be forever and need to be re- applied. While it lasted I thought it looked great. I just am too chicken to let someone that close to my eyes with needles.

  • November 18, 2010

    by Sunday

    I almost did get my eyebrows done, in my addiction apparently I believed I didn't deserve eyebrows ~ HA! ~ and after years of plucking they didn't grow back. What was suggested to me was to keep in mind that my forehead & browline won't always sit where it is now. That was the reason I decided against it...and then I was in a horrible car accident. My face hit the steering wheel and split my left brow open and severed the main nerve, I'm all healed per se, but now my left brow is basically in 2 parts. I used to hate having to apply my brows every morning, but now I am soooo grateful that I can. I use Bare Minerals brow powder and I get to fill in the gap myself...if it were a tatoo who knows how it would have turned out. I'm just grateful someone else had to foresight to think in different terms and gave me pause.

  • November 18, 2010

    by Steph

    For more information on permanent makeup why not visit Karen Bett's site - - over 15 years experience at all levels and one of the worlds most trusted PM technicians and trainers, Karen runs her own UK permanent makeup academy and trains hundreds of technicians every year. A real ambassador for this industry.

  • November 17, 2010

    by SarahK

    I was given the same advice, Angela! I still want a tattoo and I've always been thoughtful about the design - but now I'm definitely being cautious about its placement, as well.

  • November 17, 2010

    by Angela J

    Thanks for another great post, SarahK. Years ago, when I was first contemplating getting a [decorative] tattoo, a friend said "just make sure you get it where gravity won't wreak havoc." Excellent advice! And that's something to keep in mind with cosmetic tattoos - our faces sag -- in asymmetrical ways -- it would be awful to have a tattooed eyebrow sliding down ones face.

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