Permanent Make-up

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 | Tags: , , , , ,

When most people think about tattoos, they picture skulls, roses, and other skin art. Permanent make-up also falls into this category, however, and is an art form unto itself. We find out more about permanent make-up, and put it to the A&K test.

The Basics

Make-up is something most women use everyday. A more permanent solution is permanent make-up, or tattoos that mimic make-up, which has been around for a few years. It’s also referred to as permanent cosmetics, derma-pigmentation, micro-pigmentation, and cosmetic tattooing.

But many people shy away from the whole idea of permanent make-up. The main reason we’ve heard: “Is it safe around your eyes and on your eyelids?” and “What if I don’t like it?” All are valid concerns. 

Application of pigmentation for cosmetic purposes is typically done around the eyes (eyebrows, eyeliner, eyelashes) and lips (lip lines, full lip colour). While the obvious reasons for getting permanent make-up include convenience, it’s is also frequently applied for health reasons, including:

  • as a way to cover surgical scars

  • to aid in reconstructive surgery

  • to cover beauty marks

  • to simulate hair 

  • to add cosmetic touches for those losing hair (eyebrows and eyelashes) due to chemotherapy treatments

  • as a make-up alternative for those who are easily irritated by regular make-up products

  • to aid people with medical conditions such as arthritis, Parkinson’s, or paralysis, who would normally have difficulty applying make-up

  • to even out skin discolourations due to skin disorders, genetic traits, and deformities like scars and cleft lips.

Micropigmentation done by an expert is also a natural cosmetic look, resolves smearing problems, and can be a cosmetic boost as you age, enhancing positives and masking negatives.

Permanent Make-up is Permanent

Well, almost. Because the pigment is implanted into the upper layers of the skin and can’t be washed off, cosmetic micro-pigmentation should be considered permanent. However, like regular tattoos, the colour will fade in time and will require touch-ups, usually every 3-5 years depending on your lifestyle and exposure to the sun.

Removal is possible through laser therapy, but it can be problematic and may not actually work since the colours often used in the application are some of the hardest to remove. Some even turn very dark upon exposure to the laser, which can be permanent. Also, using lasers around eyes to remove eyeliner can be dangerous and damaging to the eye.

Risks, Safety Concerns, and Side Effects

People who are sensitive to cosmetics and other skin problems may have a reaction to the procedure and may require a longer healing process. Sensitive people should have an allergy test done in an inconspicuous spot to gauge reaction to the dye, and should also run the dye ingredient list past a dermatologist who can flag anything of concern.

Side effects can include infection (due to non-sterile conditions), granulomas (hard nodules in your skin that form around foreign materials), keloid formation (a scar that grows beyond its boundaries), MRI complications (though rare, includes swelling or burning at the pigmentation site, but without lasting effects), and possible reaction with Botox or collagen (consult with your doctor if you’ve undergone these treatments).

Another side effect is dissatisfaction, which is more or less preventable if you do your homework!


Fees vary by location and by technician, but here is a list of average costs for a variety of procedures:

Full lip colour: $600
Eye shadow: $445 (or $100/hr)
Nipple/Areola pigmentation: $443 (or $183/hr)
Eyeliner: $419
Eyebrows: $407
Lip liner: $394
Blush: $257 (or $100/hr)
Scar camouflage/re-pigmentation: $50/sq cm
Tattoo lightening: $164/hr
Touch-ups: usually a percentage of the original price, but in some cases, free (included in the original price)

Since cosmetic micropigmentation not cheap, and of course, it’s permanent, it’s super important to choose a technician that comes highly recommended. Ask friends, family, and your doctor for references. Check the technician’s credentials (and do your homework on those associations), make sure they’re current, ask about their experience and request to see before/after photos of their work. Make sure the facilities are clean and well-kept, and ask about payment policies and touch-ups. Also check the Better Business Bureau to ensure there are no complaints about the business.

What to Expect

Once you’ve decided on a technician and location, you will have an initial consultation to discuss the procedure, including exactly what you’re looking for, and the type of anaesthetic to be used.

At your actual appointment, this is how it will generally go:

  • The local anaesthetic will be applied to minimize or remove the discomfort of the procedure. 

  • The technician will wear medical gloves and apply the pigment using a pen-like instrument or a tattoo gun. 

  • The procedure can last anywhere from 1-3 hours, depending on what is being done.


It takes a little time to recover. At first, the pigmentation will appear darker and deeper, like all tattoos, and will fade over several days.You may experience crusting and swelling, which usually last 2-5 days.

You will be instructed to avoid steamy areas and contact with chlorine, and you’ll be reminded not to rub or pick at the areas, or use cosmetics on the areas until the skin is healed.You will be given topical antibiotic ointment to use for a few days. Typically your skin will recover within 5-10 days.


Fair-haired Beauty Call volunteer Kate is an avid swimmer and scuba diver who is tired of reapplying her make-up every time she gets out of the water.

Kate wanted her very light eyebrows darkened and some permanent eyeliner applied to her upper eyelids to help enhance her otherwise light brown lashes. She did her homework and went to see Shauna McGrath at BeautyInk Gallery in Vancouver.

The Procedure

Kate’s consultation with Shauna at BeautyInk included a mock-up of what she was looking for. Once Kate approved, they continued on with the procedure.

Shauna applied the anaesthetic, then “grazed” the skin, which opens the skin cells, making them ready to accept pigment.


She first started with Kate’s upper lid eyeliner. She hugged the pigment into Kate’s lash line, where the pigment itself is unnoticeable, but it accentuates Kate’s upper lashes.

Shauna then went onto Kate’s brows. Kate said the anaesthetic numbed her skin completely so she didn’t feel a thing.

The Results

Kate was really happy with the results. She felt the application didn’t even look like a tattoo, and that it looked very natural. 

A month later we checked in with Kate again and she couldn’t say enough good things about her permanent pigment.

We’re happy to report that permanent make-up gets the A&K Stamp of Approval. (But remember to do your homework!)

Photos in this article are used courtesy of our brave volunteer Kate.


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