I am taking a huge risk writing this blog post and I damn well know it. Upsetting the apple cart has to be done from time to time. This has been swirling in my mind for weeks and I have even checked in with my massive international permanent makeup community on it, since I am a relative newcomer to the permanent makeup world (2 years), with permanent eyebrows being the bulk of my business. That said, I have always been intuitive and I learn quickly.
Let’s start this with a question. When you see a tattoo artist creating a fine, crisp, flawless line to edge a tattoo or do a very precise piece, do you see them pulling out a handheld tool with a blade attachment to it so they can use that blade to draw that fine line into your skin?
Okay, the question was rhetorical.
The answer is no. You do not. Tattoo artists use machines, with select needles, to achieve a particular effect in the piece they are working on. The tattoo machine is powerful and the needle is forced to run so quickly that it, in effect, “dances” on the skin, creating the effect with minimal damage to it.
Eyebrow microblading in many ways has brought back the original method of tattooing, which was done with hand tools. There are many good permanent makeup artists who are able to use both manual and machine methods to create the perfect look for your treatment and this applies to permanent eyebrows, permanent eyeliner and permanent lipstick, but it does not mean that these same artists will microblade. Why is that?
The practice of manual tattooing, including manual permanent makeup, goes back centuries. I do not know if microblading is a historical practice but some breathtaking manually applied body art continues to be created by traditionalists who use needle groupings and a pen style tool. For example, look up Tebori Irezumi, a deep rooted Japanese tradition. You will not be disappointed!
As far as I have researched, a historical method of creating individual eyebrow hairs is not typical, but that does not mean my research was complete! In terms of today’s popularity, eyebrow microblading originated in Europe several decades ago, but was made very popular in Asia in the past decade and it is that explosion that spilled over to North America, where we have a tendency to jump on every beauty bandwagon when a celebrity makes it popular. (check out Hanacure as an example of what I mean…..Korea really is the beauty capital of the world!).
To clear the air straight away, Microblading IS TATTOOING; PERMANENT MAKEUP IS ALSO TATTOOING. Microblading is distinct in one single way…it is done with a hand tool with a blade-like attachment that etches, one by one, simulated brow hairs into the skin to replicate or fill in an eyebrow. It is magnificent to behold. The artistry is exquisite. I WILL COME BACK TO THIS.
- Many people in my area (Northern Ontario, Northern Michigan, and areas beyond) have come to equate microblading as different from eyebrow tattoo. Quite a few have never heard about other magnificent eyebrow tattoo techniques that are equally popular and beautiful. These techniques pre-date microblading actually, by decades and continue to beautifully evolve as artists innovate and refine.When I took my fundamentals training for eyebrows, I learned microblading and machine permanent makeup eyebrows…powder brows and nano brows (also known as machine hairstroke brows, or digital microblading) at the same time. It didn’t take me long to realize I preferred the machine methods and I had some good reasons. Read on.
- The most well known permanent makeup artists in the world have either never elected to perform microblading or gave up fairly soon after they began. As accomplished as they are, they did not need to have microblading on their service list to be successful. Many reported the reason they stopped is because the longer term results were too unpredictable. That unpredictability did not bode well for their esteemed reputation.
- Consider what occurs when you cut yourself and keep cutting yourself in the same place over and over. Don’t get me wrong, tattooing itself will always cause some damage to the skin because it is being manipulated by sharp needles. However, more often than not, as long as your artist knows what they are doing, you will not see or feel scarring on the skin. Those needles “dance”, they work quickly, expertly, and precisely so as NOT to damage. However, with microblading (blading being the operative component of the term) done repeatedly over a period of years, scarring is practically unavoidable as it is a clean “cut” into the skin. The skin is a remarkable organ. It works tirelessly to protect our bodies. When it responds to repeated or deep injury, it forms a fibrous matrix called a scar.
- Microblading is permanent makeup. Any enhancement on the face whether it is eyebrows, eyeliner, lips, freckles, etc. MUST BE CALLED PERMANENT MAKEUP for legal reasons. This does not mean that the treatment lasts the same as a body art tattoo. As long as ink particles are tattooed into the skin, whether or not they fade, it MUST BE CALLED PERMANENT MAKEUP. The term SEMI PERMANENT MAKEUP is incorrect. However, permanent makeup does fade. This is a good thing. It is your face. It fades because of exposure mainly, but microblading fades much faster than other forms of eyebrow permanent makeup, which is what prompts clients to seek more frequent touch ups—and, therefore, repeated cuts in their skin.
- Microblading and, for that matter, any permanent makeup treatment, is not placed in the upper portion of your skin, known as the epidermis. I have read this claim in articles and it is incorrect and misleading to you as the client. Any tattoo placed in the epidermal layer of the skin will be gone in about one month. The reason for this is that the upper layer of the skin, known as the epidermis, is entirely regenerated over the course of about 28 to 45 days, depending on your age. Each cell at the base of the epidermis, gradually works its way up toward the surface of the skin as “dead” skin cells get sloughed off and replaced by those waiting at the next layer. This cellular turnover is constant and occurs throughout our lives, it just slows down as we age.So to be accurate, all successful permanent makeup treatments are tattooed into the uppermost layer of the DERMIS…the layer of skin BENEATH THE EPIDERMIS. It is this area of the skin where all sorts of really fantastic things exist and occur. It is this and only this that permits your treatment to last months to years. Done too deep and the colour will appear off. Done too shallow and there is nothing left in a month’s time.
I am simplifying this for the sake of comprehension but I am also issuing a word of caution. If you are contemplating any kind of tattoo, cosmetic or otherwise, please research the training and experience of the artist. Are they accessing routine continuing education? Do they have a gallery? I implore you to ensure you are dealing with someone who doesn’t just know how to tattoo, but who understands the skin and so much more. Most do complimentary consultations. You will quickly learn who knows their stuff and who doesn’t. First you must arm yourself with education. A blog like this is an example, but there are many other blogs like this, along with articles and testimonials.
- Microblading does not last as long as other techniques of eyebrow permanent makeup, primarily because it is not placed into the skin by a powerful and fast machine. It is also because it is placed in a single line that replicates an eyebrow hair and not in a dispersed way that a machine can accomplish. More important than that, microblading heals different from other forms of eyebrow permanent makeup. Again, if anyone tells you that it is the depth of the ink or pigment placement that causes it to fade faster, they are incorrect…this is not the reason.
- Going back to point #1, microblading is an exquisite art. When a client leaves the studio after a successful microblading treatment, what they see are crisp, very thin simulated brow hairs, etched into the skin following the natural growth pattern of the brow. The hair strokes are truly barely distinguishable from the real thing.However, over time, as that treatment heals, it often changes, and for some clients it changes in ways that render the treatment not what they were seeking or what they paid for–after all, you probably looked at pictures and liked what you saw, right? Most of those pictures were taken immediately after the session, not a year later.
Examples of healed changes are blurry hair strokes where the ink seems to have “spread” beneath the skin. Others are uneven fading and often hair strokes that wind up looking like dots and hyphens. Another yet is a spread of the ink throughout the entire brow so that the individual brow hairs entirely disperse and the colour appears like a solid pencilled eyebrow. In some cases one brow hair may appear darker than others. What I am meaning to say is that the healed results are exceedingly difficult to predict. There are some skin types that remain flawless looking for months and months and others that do not hold the same look of the treatment they left the artist’s studio with.
- The best artists are able to determine whether a client is a good candidate for microblading. However, as I mentioned above, even the most elite artists in the industry aren’t always able to make long term healed predictions. It is for that reason that many refuse to risk their reputation or the satisfaction of their clients. I respect that. There can never be any guarantees of full retention of colour with any cosmetic tattoo treatment, but a good artist is pretty intuitive about what can and cannot be expected in the longer term.At my studio I am very cautious about the treatment I agree to perform because if I am able to see that a client may not be the best candidate I won’t risk my reputation or your money doing something I don’t feel confident will look great on you in a year’s time. Furthermore, if I look at your skin under my bright lights and magnifiers and see scarring, I will take a hard pass on microblading your eyebrows. I see this very often.
If you loved your microblading treatment a year ago and it has faded, please do your skin a favour and give it a break with a beautiful powder brow. Done intermittently, microblading is fine as long as you are okay with it not lasting as long. Having said this, once you have a beautiful powder brow treatment, that has lasted on your skin double or more the time your microblading treatment lasted, I don’t think you will go back! Just sayin.
If you really loved the look of those crisp hairstrokes and they held well for you, consider nano brows/machine hair stroke brows/combination brows/hybrid brows (same thing, different terms!). This is a treatment wherein you get a lovely powder filled permanent makeup eyebrow which is topped up with individual hairstrokes done with the tattoo machine instead of a blade cutting your skin. This treatment lasts longer, and looks just the same. A few microbladed hairstrokes to fill in a small gap or placed at the front of the brow are just fine. A full brow of them may not be your best permanent makeup investment.
Permanent makeup continues to change lives. It is no longer a luxury service exclusive to the wealthy. Women and even men are accessing permanent makeup to either get back the look they had when they were younger, to find a solution for poor eyesight or shaky hands, to address a skin sensitivity to cosmetics, or to mitigate the visible signs of a medical journey. I predict that microblading will fizzle out in this new decade, as more and more artists and clients see the advantages of other techniques.
Katie Mohamed, PMUA, Esthetician, B.SC., B.ED., M.A.