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Perpetual Beauty: What is Permanent Makeup?

Apr 27, 2016 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Becca Newell

Tattooed eyebrows might seem unnatural, but for those suffering from a thinning or non-existent brow line, they are a practical—and natural-looking—solution. Unfortunately, the horror stories associated with Sharpie-like swooshes or mismatched arches still abound, but, when done correctly by a licensed practitioner, the results can be unnoticeably realistic. And permanent makeup isn’t just for the brows. Many women seek tattooed eyeliner or lip color for convenience. A subtle touch of makeup that’s hassle-free, water- and smudge-proof, and guaranteed to make that morning routine a little less tedious.

How Does it Work?

Permanent makeup, also called micropigmentation, is a non-surgical technique that involves injecting pigment between the upper layers of the skin. A digital machine consisting of disposable—one-time use—needles that fit into a pen-like instrument implants dyes into skin in a similar fashion to tattoos. To develop a more natural-looking eyebrow, many practitioners employ a feathering technique, drawing individual hair-strokes along the brow line using different size needles and two different shades of pigment for added dimension.

How Long Does it Last?

“Permanent” is a misnomer entirely, since the pigment can last anywhere between six months to a few years. “It’ll leave a permanent mark, but if you want the color to stay true, you’re going to have to touch it up,” says Aesthetician Kathleen Staffini, at Chesapeake Plastic Surgery in Annapolis. “Sometimes the pigment fades to a lighter color and sometimes it disperses completely.” When it comes to application, the best approach is a conservative one, beginning with a small amount of pigment on the first visit and adjusting or layering the color during follow-up treatments.

What To Expect?

In an initial consultation you will discuss the shape and color of the desired procedure. Some offices, Chesapeake Plastic Surgery included, stay away from executing trending styles, like cat-eye liner. “I’m not afraid to say ‘no’ or try to talk someone out of something because I have to put my name on it,” Staffini says. Before implanting the ink under skin, the practitioner will mark the design with a makeup pencil to serve as a stencil. Immediately following the procedure, the implanted pigment will look very dramatic, but this will fade. “About 30 to 50 percent of that pigment can be expelled in the healing process,” she says. The rate of healing varies per individual, but it typically takes between three to seven days and requires a little petroleum jelly and a few cold compresses. For some, a little redness and flaking will subside within a few days; for others, recovery can be a little longer and more extensive. As for pain, Staffini describes the procedure as a strange sensation, rather than an uncomfortable experience. A topical numbing agent is applied to the area about 20- to 30-minutes prior to application to help to cut down on any discomfort. The procedure, Staffini says, shouldn’t be painful.


What’s The Cost?

It ranges. For example, the cost for an eyebrow or eyeliner procedure at Chesapeake Plastic Surgery costs $600 (including two visits—initial application and touch-up). Lip liner or full color treatments run around $300, and future touchups cost between $150 and $300. Since it’s a cosmetic procedure, permanent makeup isn’t covered by insurance. “A lot of people are very motivated by the price,” Staffini says. “But it costs a lot more to fix it, then to get it done right the first time. And I can’t always fix it.”

Is It Dangerous?

Like getting a tattoo, the procedure can be dangerous if it’s not performed by a trusted, licensed practitioner in a professional, sterile environment. Meet with the practitioner for a consultation to discuss your expectations and whether or not they can be met, and request to see photos of their previous work. “Buyer beware,” Staffini says, referencing the dozens of corrective procedures she’s performed over her 15-plus years in the field. “The stories are unnerving.” Allergic reactions to the pigment are possible, particularly for those with metal allergies, so be sure to request a scratch test if one isn’t readily available. These quick tests involve a small scratch in the hairline, which won’t leave a permanent mark. Additionally, when it comes to healing, all skin-types react differently. Sun-damaged skin, for example, bleeds more easily during application and might not heal as well as healthier skin, resulting in less pronounced ink strokes, Staffini says.

FDA Approval

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not approve any inks for injection into the skin. Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the pigments used in these inks are “subject to premarket approval.” On its website, the FDA states: “However, because of other competing public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety problems specifically associated with these pigments, FDA traditionally has not exercised regulatory authority for color additives on the pigments used in tattoo inks.” The agency does monitor problems associated with tattoos and permanent makeup and will investigate issues and take action, if appropriate, to prevent consumer illness or injury.

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