Cosmetic tattooing

Posted on July 15th, 2011 by Gina

I went on a vacation once with a group of people who were mostly strangers to me.  Organized by a friend, our journey occasionally took us away from the normal hotel amenities like blow dryers and decent mirrors, yet many of the women on the trip looked suspiciously well made up first thing in the morning.  I learned so much during that trip – new cultures, historical perspective, exotic flora and fauna, geographical anomalies.  But nothing compared to the lessons I learned about cosmetic tattooing.

Let’s get the snorts and guffaws over with: Cosmetic tattooing, or micro-pigmentation, does involve someone sticking inked needles into your face. And, in the spirit of full disclosure, this will be a pro-permanent makeup article.  I immediately went home and had it done.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

The process has many names, but it is the same technique that produced pin-up girls on the forearms of WWII veterans, skulls on the biceps of bikers, and little butterflies on the shoulder of your underage daughter – electric needles are used to inject permanent dye into the skin.  Cosmetic tattooing is used to help with reconstructive surgery, simulate facial hair lost through chemotherapy or alopecia, cover scars or, in my case, address laziness.  I like to wake up with makeup.

Micro-pigmentation uses extremely small pigment granules for coloring on the face or other sensitive areas of the body, because it is for esthetic enhancement rather than art.  Estheticians apply permanent eyeliner, lip liner and full lip color, eyebrow enhancement, beauty marks, areola recreation, as well as scar camouflage.  The dyes used for makeup are different than the ones used for a Grateful Dead logo and the procedure is relatively quick and mostly painless. Depending on the size of the area, it takes around 40 minutes to an hour, and two sessions are needed with a couple weeks in between treatments.  There is mild discomfort, but most specialists use a topical anesthetic to numb the skin.  The cost varies – anywhere from $300-$500 for eyebrows, up to $2,000 for areola work and it is likely that the work will fade after a few years, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun.

The bad news is that while there are lots of different colors and pigments, “none, including the hair dye henna, are actually approved by the FDA for skin injection,” says  Risks include infections, inadequate sterilization of the needles, allergic reactions, scarring, and bleeding of the dye into surrounding skin.  The American Association of Blood Banks requires a one-year wait between getting a tattoo and donating blood because of the risk of hepatitis or HIV contamination.  Most states now heavily regulate and inspect tattoo parlors, but consumers should be sure to do their research, check references and above all, make sure the environment is clean.

Having said all that, the results can be fabulous (I told you this was a PRO article.) Tattooed eyebrows, when done correctly, are indistinguishable from real ones.  Faded lips have new color and scars disappear.  I have worn thin eyeliner since I was 12 years old, but sight problems were making it more and more difficult to apply well.  Two sessions and two years later I have positively no complaints and awaken, like the women on my trip, suspiciously well made up.  Now if I could just tattoo out the wrinkles…

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A short history of cosmetics

150BC Romans use yellow eye shadow.

The Romans preferred to use gold-colored eye shadow which was made from saffron and painted onto the area around the sides and under their eyes. Then they used powdered wood ash to color their eyelids black. This gold color was quite significant at the time because they saw themselves as the rulers of the Mediterranean.