If you’re like us, you plucked your eyebrows into oblivion in the 90s and you’re still waiting for them to grow back in. Or maybe like us, no matter how much mascara you apply, it no longer helps lashes look as lush as they did in your 20’s. There may be hope for those and other aging issues thanks to permanent makeup procedures like eyebrow microblading (which helps brows appear fuller), lip blushing (which “plump” the pout) and permanent eyeliner (which can combat the appearance of menopausal eyelash loss).
Permanent makeup, also known as micro-pigmentation or cosmetic tattooing, is growing rapidly — the industry is expected to be worth over $4 billion by 2028. “Most of my clients are over 50 and come in for a couple of different reasons…oftentimes, they are sick of applying makeup every morning just to feel like their younger selves again. It’s time-consuming,” attests Katlyn Waters, a licensed permanent makeup artist in upstate New York.
What is permanent makeup?
”Permanent makeup, such as permanent eyeliner, is basically specially formulated pigments that are deposited into the dermis (skin) using a particular tool and/or technique and, when healed, should permanently mimic the look of applied makeup,” explains Waters. Not all permanent makeup artistry involves a tattoo machine; some procedures, such as microblading the eyebrows and lip blushing, involve depositing semi-permanent ink into the skin using a micro blade in short strokes to mimic natural lines.
Besides adding the appearance of hairs to eyebrows and eyes, permanent makeup can also be used to fill in thinning hair spots on the head, camouflage scars, make cheeks look flushed and even put nipples on for women who’ve lost theirs due to mastectomies.
“Some people have lived 30+ years with big, beautiful, face-framing eyebrows, or big, full, defined lips and then wake up one day, forced to use makeup just to get back a look they spent their whole lives with! Who has time for that?” Waters asks.
Waning eyesight and unsteady hands that pose issues as we age are another reason women are flocking to permanent makeup artists, as they can no longer apply their makeup as precisely as they used to. Instead of struggling daily to draw on that fine, thin line, women opt to do it once and for all.
How is permanent makeup different from tattooing?
Cosmetic ink is made with smaller pigment partials for a more diluted solution than traditional tattoo ink, which makes cosmetic tattooing more of a layering process than anything. “The pigments are also designed to fade over time so that they have a softer look and therefore they don’t last forever, unlike a tattoo which is intended to last,” explains licensed cosmetologist and permanent makeup artist Genn Shaughnessy.
“Another reason is we are working on such delicate skin. The eyebrows, eyelids, lips and face are sensitive, thin areas. Not causing trauma to the skin is important for the best results,” explains Waters.
Permanent makeup also involves using a specialized pen with a lower voltage and shorter needle depth than a traditional tattoo machine. “Because these have a lower voltage, they are not powerful enough to do larger tattoos,” says Shaughnessy.
The anti-aging benefits of permanent makeup
Make lashes look thicker with permanent eyeliner
For good reason, permanent eyeliner put permanent makeup artistry on the map. It’s a great way to emphasize the eyes without worrying about mascara or eyeliner running down your face or smudging.
“Many women start to experience hair loss later in life due to menopause, genetics, diet, stress, health and more, but the permanent eyeliner allows the artist to deposit pigment close to the lash lines to make the lash line appear fuller,” exclaims Waters. “Also, many women start to experience their lids falling victim to gravity. With the right tattoo artist, properly placed permanent liner can make eyes with hooded lids stand out.”
It’s also great if you like to wear eyeliner every day but can no longer apply it as precisely as you’d like. As a bonus, it’ll never wash off in the pool or shower or when you sweat.
Waters says permanent eyeliner can last anywhere from three to five years, but coming in every 12-18 months for a touch-up is always recommended. “Over time, the pigment can oxidize, so coming in to refresh the color and redefine the shape is crucial for longevity,” she adds.
Get fuller brows with microblading
Perhaps one of the most popular procedures of late is microblading. Instead of painstakingly trying to fill in brows using powder, pencils or gels, a permanent makeup artist uses short strokes with a handheld micro blade (or sometimes in combination with a permanent makeup pen) to deposit semi-permanent ink to mimic hairs.
Because this is not a permanent procedure, results can last anywhere from eight months to up to two years, but require touch-ups as brows fade. This can make it both costly and time-consuming as the initial procedure can cost several hundred dollars to up to $1,000, depending on where you live, and take up to two or three hours, and touch-ups can cost around $200-$300.
Also, not everyone is a candidate. Shaughnessy says if you have oily skin, the ink may not set, and you won’t get optimal results. The same goes if you’re on blood thinners (as too much bleeding can affect the procedure’s success), have diabetes, psoriasis near the treatment area or are undergoing chemotherapy.
(Click through to read about one reader’s positive experience with microblading).
Volumize lips with permanent lip blushing
If you constantly reapply lipstick or have to line your lips as they bleed into your creases, then permanent lip color, like permanent eyeliner could be for you. “Over time, we lose collagen causing our skin to be less plump than it once was, and our once-defined lips to lose shape and sometimes symmetry too. Lip blushing allows us to redefine that lip line by depositing pigment back into the lips, creating a more defined, fuller-looking pout,” explains Waters.
This can also be an option for women who want to plump their pout without injecting fillers like Restylane or Juvederm.
Like microblading, lip blushing uses a tiny blade to make cuts into the skin, depositing ink. It can also take multiple sessions to get the desired results and cost upwards of $500-$1,500.
You can camouflage bald spots with scalp micropigmentation
Pattern baldness isn’t just something that happens to men. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, patchy hair loss affects about 40% of women by age 50. Permanent makeup artistry offers a solution to this known as scalp micropigmentation.
“This is a procedure in which we use the permanent makeup pen to deposit pigment directly into the scalp to create density by adding every hair follicle, one at a time,” explains Waters. It does camouflage the bald spot beautifully, she attests, without worrying about a wig or extensions.
Like all other permanent makeup procedures, it can be time-consuming, costly and take several sessions. It’s also not a solution for women who experience large amounts of hair loss, as you can only safely do small areas with this method.
Pros and cons of permanent makeup
Permanent makeup has some benefits and risks, and it’s important to weigh both before deciding to go under the pen (or blade).
Pros can include:
- Saving time doing makeup each day
- Saving money on makeup
- Completely waterproof makeup
- Lack of other options (such as the scalp micropigmentation)
- Puts makeup on more permanently for those with vision or physical impairments
- Self-esteem boost for anyone who’s been affected by cancer, illness or accidents that have caused them to lose their brows, nipples or had massive scarring
Cons can include:
- Pain or swelling at treatment sites
- Potential allergy or reaction to dyes in the ink
- Risk of infection
- It’s expensive and typically not covered by insurance
- Time-consuming (sessions can take an hour or more, and you’ll need to commit to returning for touch-ups)
- Results may not be to your liking
How to select the right technician
As with any procedure you might be considering, you want to ensure that you visit a well-experienced, licensed technician. It’s important to do your research, ask for photos and references and they should also be licensed to practice in your area.
The Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals also has great resources and information on its site to help you find a licensed and qualified provider in your area.
Jené Luciani Sena is a veteran journalist and internationally-renowned bestselling author of The Bra Book: An Intimate Guide to Finding the Right Bra, Shapewear, Swimsuit, and More! and Get It!: A Beauty, Style, and Wellness Guide to Getting Your “It” Together. She’s also a style, bra and beauty expert regularly seen on shows like Access Hollywood and NBC’s Today.
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