Where Have All Your Eyebrows Gone?
A new semi-permanent tattoo called microblading can bring them back
Microblading, a semi-permanent solution for filling in sparse eyebrows (that have resulted from over-plucking, age, illness or hair loss), is one of the hottest trends in the beauty world. The treatment creates dozens of tattoos that mimic the look of natural brow hairs. Unlike brow pencil or powder, microbladed brows can withstand the wear and tear of both water and sweat. And unlike permanent tattoos, these wear off within one to three years.
The technique is performed by a trained technician using a small “blade” composed of a line of ultrathin needles. The technician dips the microblade tip into a densely pigmented ink, then draws the blade across the skin, creating thin, surface-level cuts; the dye enters the cuts and stains the skin. How long it lasts depends on the darkness of the color chosen and the degree of care you give the tattoo at home. In contrast, traditional tattoo guns are motorized and inject ink deep into the skin (more than three millimeters down), which is why real tattoos last a lifetime.
If the words “tattoo” and “blade” set off your “this is going too far for beauty” alarm bells, know this: “The good news is there is very little risk [for microblading],” says New York dermatologist Dendy Engelman. “The ink is inserted at such a superficial depth [that] there is a very small risk of scarring or keloiding.” Plus, the color eventually fades. Engelman recommends microblading over permanent eyebrow tattooing. “With tattooing I’ve seen green or blue eyebrows when the ink oxidizes,” she warns. “With microblading the coloring is much more natural, and even when the ink fades, it never gets to the point where it is changing colors.” Many inks can change their hue over years as they oxidize but, because microblading is so shallow, the dye fades away before a shift happens. That said, it’s important that your technician understands how the exact ink blend being used will develop over time—so make sure you ask.
As with any treatment, however, there are serious potential downsides. A qualified technician is essential; someone without enough training or experience might use the tool incorrectly or not take the proper hygienic precautions, which could put you at risk for infection or scarring. You must also avoid working with a technician who simply has the wrong taste level for you. We asked Engelman and the county’s top microblading technicians to explain exactly how the treatment works and how you can find the most qualified professional.
What to expect
Step one: the technician tries to find the perfect brow shape for you by applying makeup and examining it in a mirror with you. Once you both agree on the right shape, the technician uses a surgical marker to map out the arch. Next she applies topical numbing cream and, after it kicks in, lays you back on a table. The technician then “scratches” tiny cuts that look like brow hairs into each of your brows. “I apply more numbing cream throughout the process,” says New York and Miami aesthetician Piret Aava. Says New York cosmetologist Kim Horgan, “Most people comment how little they feel and no one I’ve worked with has ever needed to stop because of pain.”
Safety tip: Blades should never be re-used, so make sure your technician shows you a brand-new blade or handpiece before she begins her work.
Healing times vary based on the precise technique used, but typically fine scabs will form and must be kept dry and covered with Aquaphor or Vaseline for the first week. That also means avoiding exercise and sweating for the first two weeks. After scabs disappear, the color may look light as the skin heals; after four to six weeks, the results are fairly set and that’s when most practitioners will have you come in for a follow-up appointment to see if you need a touchup that will add more depth.
How permanent is the look?
Microbladed brows “last about a year to three years and we usually do touch-ups once a year,” says Aava. Because the staining is shallow, the ink fades as your skin exfoliates, eventually shedding the color completely. For that reason, you are advised to keep facial cleansers, as well as mechanical and chemical exfoliators (such as retinol) away from the treated area. “My lightest blonde clients last a year to a year and a half, and brunettes last two to three years,” says Dominique Bossavy, who works out of Los Angeles, New York, and Paris and is recommended by Engelman.
Achieving the most natural look
“[Microblading] is going to be slightly less natural-looking on someone starting with absolutely no hairs at all, but it looks much better than drawing [your brows back] on with makeup,” says Horgan. A technician with an artistic hand can make each mark as thin as a real hair. Color choice is key, too; sometimes multiple, subtle colors work best to create the most natural look. How to know what you’re getting? Examine the technician’s before-and-after images (you can usually find them on the technician’s web site) and, says Aava, ask to see pictures taken a few months or a year after treatment so you can see how the long-term results look.
Assuring you get the right shape
Bossavy, Hogan, and Aava book two-hour first-time appointments in order to give them enough time to amply discuss your desired look and your concerns. All three pros say they deliberately go slightly lighter and sparser on the first application; all require a follow-up appointment four to eight weeks later. “You want to give yourself room for adjustment,” explains Bossavy. “We do it very lightly at first, so I can see how [each woman’s] skin takes the pigment and [then we] touch up appropriately [at the follow-up].”
Prices vary dramatically. For example, Horgan starts at $650, Bossavy at $2500. Prices include the first two-hour appointment as well as a second appointment with a touch-up round.
Choosing the right technician
First, do your safety due diligence. “Be aware that in some states you don’t have to have a cosmetology license to do microblading; you just have to take a class and you’re certified,” warns Horgan. She recommends finding a technician who has, at minimum, a cosmetology license, and, ideally, years of experience with eyebrows. “Make sure the procedure is performed by a trained specialist in a sterile environment, as otherwise you can risk infections and other complications,” says Engelman. “Follow the same precautions as you would if getting a permanent tattoo.”
Make sure you share your treatment provider’s aesthetic. “Find somebody with the same vision and maybe who even looks like you in her style and skin tone,” says Aava. “You don’t want to wake up every morning looking like you’re going to a black-tie [event] when you’re in your pajamas with your family at brunch.”