As the trend of “natural” bushy brows grows, so does the cosmetic tattooing industry.
Microblading, powder, ombre — the before and afters are all over social media and selling the promise of brows like actress and model Cara Delevingne.
And if you are after a full look that is beyond your natural reach, it’s tempting to get it sorted once and for all (for a couple of years, at least) to avoid a daily brow application.
But it’s clear people have received, or at least are concerned about, bad ink jobs.
“How to remove eyebrow tattoo at home?”, “How to erase eyebrow tattoo?” and “Can eyebrow tattoo be corrected?” were just some commonly searched questions I found while researching this story.
Here are some things you might like to know before seeking out new inked brows.
How does eyebrow tattooing work?
When cosmetic tattooing first gained traction in the 1980s, it was often performed by body tattooists using regular tattoo tools.
“Most of the tattoos from the early ’80s were harsh colours and with fuzzy edged lines that, with time, developed further hazy edge. There was no subtlety in colour or application,” says Samantha Eisman, a dermatologist based in East Melbourne.
These days you are more likely to see subtle transformation using techniques known as microblading and microshading.
“Body tattoos are permanent as the tattoo ink has bigger particles that don’t get cleared by the body,” Dr Eisman says.
“With cosmetic tattoos, a pigment rather than an ink is used … and generally does not last for more than five years.”
Both are deposited into the layer of skin known as the dermis.
She says the cosmetic tattoo pigments comes in soft colours, allowing for a subtle result.
Eyebrow tattooing requires a minimum of two treatments.
The beauty trend is popular with all nationalities and can also be used for medical reasons, explains Paula Reali, president of the Association of Cosmetic Tattoo.
“It can help people with alopecia … and anyone undergoing cancer treatment can still have it done — they just have to be under a doctor’s supervision.”
Powder or microblading technique?
Microblading, or feathering, is a technique where hair strokes are created by manually etching pigment into the skin.
It’s performed by hand with a manual tool and has a softer finish.
Because the pigment is deposited more superficially, it may require more frequent touch ups and is not as suitable for oily skin, Dr Eisman says.
Microshading, or powder and ombre brows, are suitable for all skin types. A digital device is used, creating a more solid and defined look, Dr Eisman says.
Touch-ups are required less often than with microblading.
Some artists use a combination of both techniques.
Healing time and how long it lasts
Eyebrow tattooing takes seven to 10 days to heal, and generally lasts about 18 months to two years, fading over time.
How quickly that happens will depend on genetics, sun exposure, if you exfoliate with retinoids and hydroxy acids, and how oily your skin is, says Dr Eisman.
Your health can also play a role, Ms Reali says.
“If you have people who suffer from immune problems like diabetes, the retention [of the pigment] will be less.”
What are the risks of eyebrow tattooing?
The main risks associated with eyebrow tattooing are allergic reaction, scarring and infection.
“Anything that breaks the skin can predispose to infection, but reputable tattooists will ensure complete sterile technique and good hygiene as is required by the Department of Health regulations for skin penetration,” says Dr Eisman.
To reduce the risk of allergic reaction, she recommends finding out what type of pigment is being used.
“Organic is more likely to cause allergic reaction and fade faster. Inorganic is synthetic, and made from iron and zinc oxide with less chance of allergy,” she says.
If you have known allergies you can request a patch test, but some reactions can be delayed.
Swelling and granulomas (reaction to pigment where a mass of tissue forms around a foreign substance) are other associated risks.
Dr Eisman recommends avoiding anti-inflammatory medication (aspirin, ibuprofen, alcohol) one week prior to treatment.
Eyebrow tattooing is not advised while pregnant or breastfeeding, Dr Eisman warns, due to the infection risk, as well as others including skin being more susceptible to pigment darkening during this time.
Who is qualified to perform the procedure?
Billie Kubeil is a cosmetic tattooist from Narre Warren in Victoria.
She says tattooists should be qualified and registered for skin penetration with their local shire.
“Clients should also be able to see their certificates of qualification and insurance. Technicians will not be able to gain insurance without having a certificate of course completion.”
She says referrals from others who have used the tech are important because photos on a website can’t be verified as their actual work.
The environment is a good indicator of their standards, Ms Kubeil says.
“If a client goes to a clinic or salon and the tattooist is not wearing the appropriate attire and using safe international hygiene standards, they should not go ahead with this procedure.
“Maintaining infection control is extremely important … as we are using needles and penetrating the skin.”
After-care advice should be offered, as well as recommendations for hygienic healing products.
Ms Reali says you can also contact Fair Trading to see if a technician has had complaints.
How much does eyebrow tattooing cost?
The average cost for a brow tattoo service is between $600 and $750, says Ms Kubeil.
Ms Reali says it can vary from $400 to $1,500.
“It can depend on their location and therefore rent costs,” she says.
Often a service provider will include the follow-up appointment for touch-ups in the total price, but check there isn’t an additional cost.
Does eyebrow tattooing hurt?
Accredited cosmetic tattoo technicians use topical anaesthetics, but they need to be supplied by the client as tattoo artists and laser technicians are not authorised to sell or supply scheduled medicines.
The technician can help you organise the sourcing of anaesthetics from a compounding pharmacy.
“The topical anaesthetics work really well. Some people might feel a bit of discomfort, but it’s not a pain that’s traumatic or one needs to get nervous about.”
What if I don’t like the result?
Fear of an undesired result is understandable when having something semi-permanent inked on your face.
Dr Eisman advises it’s better to start light then go darker if unsure, as removal is tricky.
“Most cosmetic tattoos can be removed with specific tattoo removal lasers but it can be difficult and many treatments may be needed,” she says.
“Laser treatment to remove the tattoo come with their own complications.”
This is general information only. For detailed personal advice, you should see a qualified medical practitioner who knows your medical history.
Editor’s note: Originally this story stated that ink from body tattoos is deposited into a deeper layer of skin than pigment for cosmetic tattoos. They are deposited into the same layer of skin.
Authored by: Kellie Scott
Original article published on ABC Life.