Permanent Makeup Is Back — And It Looks Nothing Like It Did 20 Years Ago

When I told my parents last year that I was getting my eyebrows microbladed, they barely reacted. "OK, what’s that?" they asked.

"It’s basically tattooing tiny lines on my face that look like a perfectly sculpted eyebrow," I answered.

And then they started to panic a bit. For my parents, and most people, the idea of tattooing makeup on your face immediately conjures images of ’90s and early ’00s permanent and semi-permanent makeup. But what this type of procedure was 20, and even just 10, years ago is not what it is today. Still, make no mistake — this type of makeup is back, and it isn’t going away any time soon.

When it comes to tattooing makeup on your face, the misconceptions that stem from what permanent and semi-permanent makeup was in the past are understandably hard to let go of. The tattoo guns and paper-thin eyebrow tattoos that existed in the past have now been (mostly) replaced with microblading — a semi-permanent procedure that involves a tiny, tiny, tiny blade digging into your skin so that ink can fill the tiny cut and tattoo you. The result is a completely natural-looking eyebrow when it’s done correctly.

Kaitlin DiDominica is a microblading expert at New York’s Boom Boom Brow Bar, where she has been an semi-permanent makeup expert for two years and an medical esthetician and makeup artist for 10 years.

"I think some people are scared to have microblading done because they do associate it with tattooed eyebrows," DiDominica tells Bustle. "They don’t realize that it is a two- to three-time procedure where [the ink] is matched to a client’s natural eyebrow color as closely as possible. It’s not like permanent make up of the past that would fade and unfortunately turn green."

According to the New York Times, permanent and semi-permanent makeup has been around since the early 1980s, and was first used as a way for those with alopecia to have something that looked like eyebrows where there was no hair.

Since then, permanent makeup has evolved to include not just eyebrow shaping and lining, but lash line enhancement and eyeliner, and lip lining and pigment as well. While eyebrows are one of the most common permanent makeup procedures, this doesn’t mean that you can simply walk into any salon and expect your eyebrows to come out perfectly.

Piret Aava, who has been microblading brows for four years, tells Bustle that the popularity of microblading in particular has risen, especially in the past two years — and with that comes many people who think they can go anywhere and achieve flawless results.

While the permanent makeup craze may have started from people’s desire to have makeup that lasted forever, Bray explains that this simply isn’t ideal for any consumer — and that’s why it’s important for people to know that almost all "permanent" makeup applications done today aren’t exactly permanent — at least not how they were in the past.

"In the years past traditional carbon-based tattoo ink was used for permanent makeup. It lasted much longer and usually aged to a very unflattering color," Bray explains, noting how not only have pigments advanced a great deal today, but there are specific pigments made for the permanent makeup industry — and specifically for the face as well. In the past, carbon-based ink was used on the face for permanent cosmetics, according to Bray, which is what lead to the eventual green tint of some tattoos.

This paired with the fact that most popular permanent makeup today is formulated to allow the skin to change over time. What works on your 25-year-old skin is probably not what works on your 50-year-old skin. The use of new pigments that still last for months and years at a time but ultimately do fade, has led to a results that look much softer and natural than in the past. And, as Bray importantly notes, it’s also something that can be tweaked as years go on.

This flexibility is something that the permanent makeup industry simply hasn’t been able to offer before, and a huge reason why the popularity of the industry is on the rise — and, as Bray explained, exactly why inexperienced technicians are easier to find than the opposite. So, while permanent and semi-permanent makeup isn’t exactly as scary or, in fact, permanent as it may have been in the past, a healthy level of caution when it comes to your brows, lashes, and lips is probably still called for.

As Aava says, your eyebrows are in the middle of your face — you should probably be a little scared, or at least cautious. But, if you do your research and find someone qualified, it doesn’t have to be scary. "Just don’t try to cut corners on pricing or settle for someone unless they are qualified," she says.

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