The Ultimate Guide To Permanent Makeup

Known as permanent makeup, cosmetic tattooing, and/or micropigmentation, modern techniques have transformed the inconsistent results of yesteryear into a subtler, natural look that’s popular with celebs and civilians alike.
Beauty
Written by Krista Smith
07.22.2020
The Ultimate Guide To Permanent MakeupLightField Studios/Shutterstock

When you hear the phrase ‘face tattoo,’ what comes to mind? Post Malone, perhaps? Chances are, you’re not thinking about Girls creator Lena Dunham or Oscar-winner Helen Mirren, both of whom have been public about their life-changing experiences with microblading — one of many trending facial tattoo procedures.

Commonly referred to as permanent makeup, cosmetic tattooing, and/or micropigmentation, modern techniques have transformed the inconsistent results of the 1980s and 1990s into a subtler, natural look that’s captured the attention of celebrities and beauty savvy civilians alike. We talked to two of the foremost experts in the field — Yelena Nesterenko and Dominique Bossavy — to learn everything there is to know about permanent makeup.

Modern Cosmetic Tattooing Techniques

For most of the twentieth century, artists used the same tattooing techniques to create both decorative tattoos (think: forearm snakes and broken hearts) and permanent makeup. Problem was, depositing pigments deep into the skin often created harsh-looking results that faded and turned fuzzy over time.

Over the last few decades, permanent makeup artists have been perfecting an updated approach that combines reformulated pigments with finer blades and a superficial application technique to create a more natural-looking (and temporary) result. This is why today’s cosmetic tattooing is usually referred to as ‘semi-permanent makeup.’

Nesterenko, a Russian-born engineer and artist who has been a permanent makeup technician for nearly three decades, explains that the industry really changed in the early 2000s when new technology emerged. “An American company called SofTap came on the market with very fine-hand tools for microblading that allowed me to give my clients more precise, natural results,” she says.

How Long Does Permanent Makeup Last?

The longevity of today’s cosmetic tattoos varies, but most estimates put the duration of results anywhere between one and three years (hence, why ‘semi-permanent’ is the more accurate moniker). Everyone’s body metabolizes pigment differently, and, since the ink is placed very close to the skin’s surface, it also sloughs away in time. As a result, routine touch ups are required.

You might be wondering: Can the color change over time? Or what if it fades out unevenly? “This was a big issue I personally experienced when my lip liner turned black,” Bossavy shares. “It was horrific as a young girl in Paris, which is what got me into this business.” In an effort to understand what happened, Bossavy ended up developing her own NanoColor Infusion™ line of natural, organic pigments that are specially formulated to break down consistently and evenly.

How to Find a Qualified Permanent Makeup Technician

In addition to proper training, it is also important to find a professional who shares your aesthetic vision. “I see a lot of technicians who train to do microblading for the money,” Nesterenko says. “But they are not artists. They don’t understand what will look best on their clients.” Bossavy agrees. “Pigment and tools are only one part of an artist’s work,” she says. “Just like you never select a plastic surgeon solely based on his laser devices or lipo machinery, you are buying into an aesthetic and an artistry or a technique.”

Finding a well-qualified technician can be tricky since requirements vary from state to state. While most receive a certificate of training, not all training programs are alike. To further confuse matters, most states regulate the practice under ‘artistic tattoos,’ which means licensing requirements can be inconsistent at best and even non-existent at worst.

Here’s a checklist to help you get started in your search for a permanent makeup technician:

  • Ask about training, certification(s) and license(s). Don’t solely rely on a framed piece of paper. Nesterenko says that it’s not enough for a tech to take a certification class and call it a day. “Every client educates me and makes me better,” she explains. “I learn from them, but I also never stop reading and doing research.”
  • Research the salon. Third party review sites (like Google and Yelp), along with a pre-procedure visit, can tell you a lot about the potential calibre of work. Some technicians, like Nesterenko, work exclusively in the clinics of dermatologists and plastic surgeons — a great sign that they know their stuff. If a technician has one or more frequently booked locations, like Bossavy with clinics in New York, Los Angeles, and Paris, that’s another plus.
  • Talk to other clients. Word of mouth drives much of the permanent makeup business. “My work is my advertising,” says Nesterenko. If the clientele includes satisfied customers who were botched elsewhere, even better. A technician known for correcting the work of less experienced technicians (like both of our experts) is often a safe bet.
  • Check out before and after photos. Before and after photos aren’t just for plastic surgeons and cosmetic dermatologists, and our experts caution people to look critically. “People see a beautiful model with her eyebrows done, and they think they will look like that,” Nesterenko says. “But they need to look at pictures of people with similar features to know what will work best for them.”

When in doubt, Nesterenko recommends people find a technician with knowledge and experience working with clients who share their ethnicity, since it plays such an important role in how your skin will react to different techniques and pigments.

The Most Popular Permanent Makeup Options

In addition to eyebrow microblading and shading, modern cosmetic dermal pigmentation options include services that mimic eye makeup, lip color, lip liner, and even freckles. Here’s an overview of the most popular permanent makeup options:

1. Microblading

  • Technique: Pigment is pressed into hand-placed, hairlike cuts to fill in and/or extend and shape eyebrows
  • Procedure Time: 2 to 3 hours for the first treatment (with numbing cream); 1 to 2 hours for a follow-up
  • Healing: Flaking and scabbing for a week to 10 days
  • Restrictions: Keep area completely dry and apply no pressure for one week
  • Cost: About $500 on the low end, several thousand dollars with premiere technicians
  • Results: Lasts anywhere from 1 to 3 years
  • Risks: Fuzzy lines, premature pigment fade, infection, allergic reaction, scarring, granulomas (inflammatory bumps surrounding the pigment)
  • Best Candidate: Someone with sparse or patchy brows seeking a fuller shape with natural looking hair strokes

2. Permanent Eyeliner

  • Technique: Pigment is hand-placed above the lash line to mimic eye pencil or liquid eyeliner, with or without a winged corner
  • Procedure Time: 1 to 2 hours for the first treatment (with numbing cream); 1 to 2 hours for a follow-up (if needed)
  • Healing: Minor swelling, some flaking and scabbing for a week to 10 days
  • Restrictions: No makeup, keep area completely dry and apply no pressure for one week
  • Cost: About $700 on the low end, upwards of $2,000 dollars with premiere technicians
  • Results: Lasts anywhere from 1 to 3 years
  • Risks: Fuzzy lines, premature pigment fade, eyelash loss, infection, allergic reaction, scarring, granulomas
  • Best Candidate: A daily eyeliner wearer who wants a permanent solution and does not plan to get eyelid surgery (as this will distort the look of the tattoo)

3. Permanent Tightline

  • Technique: Pigment is hand-placed within (or just beneath) the lash line
  • Procedure Time: About an hour (with numbing cream) for the first treatment and any follow-ups
  • Healing: Minor swelling, some flaking and scabbing for about a week
  • Restrictions: No makeup, keep area completely dry and apply no pressure for one week
  • Cost: About $700 on the low end, upwards of $2,000 with premiere technicians
  • Results: Lasts anywhere from 1 to 3 years
  • Risks: Fuzzy lines, premature pigment fade, eyelash loss, infection, allergic reaction, scarring, granulomas
  • Best Candidate: Someone looking to subtly emphasize the eye area

4. Permanent Lip Tinting

  • Technique: Also called permanent lipstick or lip blushing, pigment is deposited into the entire lip area to create a wash of color and/or the illusion of fuller lips
  • Procedure Time: 2 to 3 hours for the first treatment (with numbing cream); 1 to 2 hours for a follow-up
  • Healing: Flaking and scabbing for a week to 10 days
  • Restrictions: Keep area completely dry and apply no pressure for one week
  • Cost: About $800 on the low end, upwards of several thousand dollars with premiere technicians
  • Results: Lasts anywhere from 1 to 2 years (fades faster than other areas)
  • Risks: Fuzzy lines, premature pigment fade, infection, allergic reaction, scarring, granulomas, herpes flareup (if present)
  • Best Candidate: Someone looking for a slight color enhancement and the illusion of fullness

How to Prepare for Permanent Makeup

Any reputable dermal pigmentation expert will take the time to determine if you are the right candidate for your desired procedure. For our experts, that means an extensive consultation two weeks prior to your appointment. “I ask them all kinds of questions about their medical history, what kinds of medications and supplements they’re taking,” Nesterenko explains. “There are so many things that can affect healing and results, like the acidity of your blood and the oiliness of your skin.” Vitamins, supplements, and medications (think: fish oil, turmeric, Accutane) can all impact the process, so don’t skip any disclosures.

If you’re allergy prone, your technician will need to take additional precautions. Typically this involves a patch test a few days before your appointment. A tiny amount of pigment is applied in an inconspicuous spot to determine whether the client can tolerate the dye. Red dye, which is (obviously) used for lip enhancement but also frequently added to eyeliner and brow pigments, is most likely to cause adverse reactions.

Who is not a good candidate for permanent makeup

Those who are allergic to any of the substances used during the process — from numbing agents to pigments — should avoid permanent makeup. Clients who can’t take a break from blood thinning medications or those who have problems with blood clotting or healing can’t get cosmetic tattoos. “Someone who scars poorly or has a tendency to keloid is not a good candidate for this procedure,” Bossavy says. People with compromised immune systems are not well-suited either.

Since hormonal changes can affect the healing process, pregnant women are generally advised against getting permanent makeup. Additionally, Nesterenko says that younger patients may want to wait before having any permanent makeup procedure. “I prefer not to work with very young women because this is going to be with them for the rest of their lives,” she says. “They need to be sure.” Nesterenko also points out that those planning to have cosmetic surgery need to be mindful of their dermal pigmentation choices, as surgery can alter the shape of a tattoo.

Can Permanent Makeup Be Removed?

The short answer? Sometimes. Depending on how long you’ve had it, there are options for both accelerating the fading process and getting rid of the pigment altogether — though there are no guarantees.

  1. Wait: If you’re unhappy with your immediate results, remember that the pigments will settle in time. Your cosmetic tattoo will begin fading as soon as it’s healed, and it will continue to fade over subsequent months and years.
  2. Sweat: Tattoos that are brand new will fade if you don’t follow the proper aftercare protocol. Swimming in salt water, sweating during exercise, and sitting in a sauna will all jump start the fading process.
  3. Slather: Topical creams and solutions claiming to fade tattoos are abundant online but beware. These products are largely unregulated, which means that they may be ineffective at best and damaging at worst. Simple skin exfoliants have been shown to safely accelerate tattoo fading, but check ingredient lists and avoid bleaching agents like trichloroacetic acid (TCA).
  4. Seek Professional Help: Sometimes, permanent makeup can be removed by a technician who injects a saline solution into the skin to draw out the pigment. This process can take multiple sessions.

“If a patient does not want to maintain the brow or area with color, it should be reversible,” Bossavy says, adding that one common form of tattoo removal is not suitable for micropigmentation. “Do not attempt to have the area lasered, as it may cause further damage,” she cautions. “Depending on the pigment used, it can turn it darker or even black.”

The Takeaway

When performed skillfully on the proper candidate, permanent makeup can be a low-maintenance time saver for beauty lovers and minimalists alike. As Bossavy says, “it is just the right amount of pretty to start the day.” But when planning any dermal pigmentation procedure, “people should be prepared for it to last forever,” Nesterenko says. In other words, don’t take this lightly. After all, you are tattooing your face.

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KRISTA SMITHis a freelance writer for AEDIT.
tagsMakeupExpert OpinionEyebrows
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