What is Permanent Makeup?

N.F. Mendoza

There is little question that beauty has always been prized, currying favor for whatever the beautiful desire. In terms of historically iconic beauty, Cleopatra generally comes to mind. And what is most closely associated as Cleopatra’s defining beauty mark? Her dark eyeliner.

Permanent lipstick is a cosmetic tattoo applied to the lips.
Permanent lipstick is a cosmetic tattoo applied to the lips.

Although Cleo’s style is considered exaggerated for today’s makeup sensibilities, a subtle, but notable eyeliner is still standard for makeup artists, and for many women for whom makeup is a daily practice. Still, applying eyeliner regularly, and doing it well, takes a steady hand. Someone rushing around in the morning might find, while essential, that applying eyeliner can be a major pain. Enter permanent makeup.

Eyeliner is the most popular permanent makeup.
Eyeliner is the most popular permanent makeup.

Eyeliner may be considered the most requested permanent makeup, but it’s only the top of the cosmetic kit. Permanent makeup is used for the eyebrows, to line and color the lips, as well as disguise scars and mask imperfections due to illness, genetics or personal psychology.

What exactly does "permanent" makeup mean? Simple: it’s tattooing.

This cosmetic technique uses tattooing, permanently pigmenting the dermis, and is called, dermapigmentation, micropigmentation, and cosmetic tattooing. The latter is entirely accurate. But note: permanent makeup can also refer to practice of permanently dying light-colored eyelashes.

In the U.S., the inks used in permanent makeup are subject to FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval. But regulations vary country by country; in the U.S. it can vary from state to state, county to county or city to city. Permanent makeup is generally promoted and performed by cosmetologists, who in turn, must, in the US, pass Department of Health and/or Board of Cosmetology requirements.

Experts are more apt to recommend permanent makeup when there is an illness or accident involved. For example, permanent eyebrows are becoming increasingly popular for alopecia patients — patients that have partial or full scalp/facial hair loss.

But, if you’re looking to permanent makeup to make your life easier and your makeup regime more streamlined, then you should consider the possible risks. It’s not an entirely inexpensive procedure and it is likely to take more than one session. Permanent makeup, like other types of tattooing, can be an uncomfortable, if not painful procedure, especially since the practitioner will be working in a very delicate and high-profile area — the face.

Most cosmetologists or tattoo artists will use a cream anesthetic to numb the area, but they'll also consider that the eyelids, lip line and the lips themselves are fairly sensitive. A person having the procedure done faces many risks including infection, ink allergies, scarring, skin cracks, peeling, blisters, swelling, and burning. Most certainly, a person receiving permanent makeup will experience redness and some discomfort right after the procedure — which will fade in a week or so.

But here’s the rub: permanent makeup may not be as permanent as you may think. While those who get traditional tattoos are plagued with notion that it will always be there, their mantra before and probably during the tattooing process is likely, “are you sure you want to look at/have that there for the rest of your life?”

Because of the area where most people have permanent makeup is their face, sunlight can cause pigmentation loss. This is most likely the case for the fair-skinned with light colored hair. In general, permanent makeup will last about 10 years before needing a touch-up, but some people with light coloring or high sun exposure may need a reapplication of ink within two years.

Alopecia patients are increasingly opting for permanent eyebrows.
Alopecia patients are increasingly opting for permanent eyebrows.

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