Eyebrow Microblading: The Definitive *Allure* Guide
By now, you’ve probably heard of—or even considered—the latest semipermanent eyebrow procedures, which got a boost of publicity when Bella Thorne got her brows tatted in a series of Snapchat videos last month. (If not, we’ll wait for you to catch up: A quick Instagram search for #eyebrowtattoos, #3Dbrows, #archaddicts, or #browsonfleek brings up a never-ending stream of close-up #browspo pics.) The world of brow tattoos is a baffling place. It’s easy to get lost in the jargon: eyebrow embroidery, micropigmentation, tattooing, and microblading; methods include hair strokes, feathering, etching, powder-fill, 3D, 4D, even 6D eyebrows. Hundreds of pics later, you still may not be sure what exactly you’re signing up for. Here’s what you need to know before you go under the needle. (Or microblade? Don’t worry, we’ll get to all that in a second.)
Call them what you want, but they’re all tattoos.
The only difference between a semipermanent tattoo and a permanent one is how deeply the ink is injected into the skin. The deeper you go, the longer it stays. Traditional body tattoos are meant to last, so artists use electromagnetic coil machines to implant the ink deep into the dermis. Semipermanent brows are expected to fade, so artists use a digital pen or microblading tool to implant ink more superficially into the skin.
What is microblading, exactly?
In this procedure, you get a manual tattoo made with a dedicated tool that looks like a slender Exacto knife but isn’t a blade at all. Artists arrange tiny needles so they can make small incisions in the skin with the tool’s tip depending on the thickness and depth of hair strokes they want to etch. “I dip the needles into pigment when I make each hair stroke, and I ask clients to sit and let the color sink in for a few minutes after I’m done drawing,” says NYC cosmetic tattooer Bethany Wolosky. “When you wipe it off, you’ve got eyebrows.”
Price: $400 to $1,400 (depending on your location and the artist’s expertise)
Touch-up required: Yes, usually four to eight weeks after your first appointment. “Generally it takes two sessions to get the full effects,” says Wolosky. There are a number of factors that affect how well you retain pigment. (Oily skin doesn’t hold onto ink as well as dry skin; if you’re anemic, your body may use iron oxide in the pigment as a supplement and the tattoos will fade faster, she says.) On your second appointment, an artist might go over original strokes to darken them for a client, tweak the shape, or build up sparse brows by layering thinner strokes in between.
How long it lasts: One to two years. “If you don’t touch them up again after 12 to 18 months, they’ll eventually completely fade away,” she says.
Insider tip: Repeat microblading can cause scarring, which is difficult to tattoo over. “At each yearly touch-up, you re-create your incisions,” says NYC permanent makeup artist Emilia Berry. “So it’s likely that scars will form over time.”
So what’s an eyebrow tattoo (a.k.a. micropigmentation)?
A hand-drawn tattoo using a digital pen, which has needles for injecting ink at the tip. It looks sort of like a vaporizer attached to a medical-looking console by a wire. Depending on the artist, results can vary from scary Sharpie brows to very natural, thin hair strokes. “The digital pen allows you to use a single needle, three needles in a row, all kinds of configurations,” says Berry. “When I tattoo brows, I create hair strokes one by one with a single needle, which looks identical to microblading.”
Price: $400 to $1,400 (depending on geography and the artist’s expertise)
Touch-up required: Yes, usually four to eight weeks after your first appointment.
How long it lasts: Two to five years.
Insider tip: Once you’ve had your eyebrows tattooed, you’re not a candidate for microblading. The ultrafine lines won’t be visible through the ink you already have.
What’s with all the different names?
The first generation of permanent eyebrows in the ’70s and ’80s was much less natural-looking than the eyebrow embroidery we see today. Fear of looking like a Boca Raton grandma with stamped-on brows shaped the way people wanted their brows etched—so instead of thick, solid lines, cosmetic tattooers began hand-drawing thin hair strokes, mixing inks that didn’t fade to unnatural shades, and using thinner needles and a lighter touch. They don’t last as long, but that’s what people find appealing this time around, since you can update them as beauty trends change or your face sags with age. All the terms defined in the glossary below are different words for the same thing—eyebrow tattoos. Since there’s no regulation, an artist can call their method of tattooing whatever they want.
Wait, what do you mean they’re not regulated?
No matter what anyone says, eyebrow tattoos are not FDA-approved. Cosmetic tattooers tend to use cosmetic-grade pigments in their inks, which they will often say is FDA approved. And it is—for topical cosmetics you wear on the skin. Just FYI, zero tattoo pigments have been approved for implanting in the skin. It just hasn’t historically been the FDA’s thing. (They do, however, occasionally investigate adverse reactions from tattoos, permanent makeup, and temporary tattoos, as well as problems with tattoo removal.)
This lack of oversight means it’s doubly important to find an artist who has a state license—some states grant permanent-makeup licenses through their board of cosmetology and others require tattoo licenses—as well as certification from a reputable professional organization like the Society of Permanent Cosmetics Professionals or the American Academy of Micropigmentation.
OK, why is it so expensive?
Consider it back pay for all those hours your artist spent perfecting their ink-slinging skills on unsuspecting grapefruits or brave friends and family. Call me crazy, but anyone who can freehand a tattoo on someone’s face—that they’ll want to walk around with afterward—is a fine artist and probably a national treasure.
What else should I keep in mind?
The most important thing after making sure your artist is legit is that you like their work. Look through artist portfolios until you fall in love—don’t just go to the first person you hear about. The absolute best way to vet an artist is through a recommendation from a satisfied friend who has already used them. That said, remember, all tattoos are kind of a crapshoot. There’s no real way of knowing how well you’ll retain color until you do it. One final caveat: “Semipermanent” or not, these are tattoos—so there’s no 100 percent foolproof way to remove them. (Lasers don’t always work, as iron oxides in the ink may actually turn darker and become resistant to further treatments.)
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BROW TATTOO GLOSSARY
3D, 4D, or 6D BrowsAny brow tattooer worth their latex gloves uses multiple ink colors to add dimension to their hair strokes. 3D usually refers to the artist using three ink shades or needles to draw multiple hair strokes with depth. Same idea with 4D and beyond.
Just as typical tattoo artists avoid tattooing over each other’s work, brow artists hate working on non-virgin skin. Not only is it difficult to see their fine line drawings over old ink, but when you tattoo over already-inked skin, results become much less predictable. Know this: If it’s not your first time under the needle, the artist you choose may not want to touch you. If they do, you’re likely getting charged extra for color correction—it can be a huge pain in the ass to match ink colors, mask discoloration and blurring, and still get a good result. (Sometimes, though, it’s just a way to charge more. “If you go to a different place, even if you’re happy with your eyebrows, they’ll usually call it a correction,” admits Berry. )
This is another word for microblading.
The feathering technique is a combination of hair strokes and shading (to add a little depth when someone has very little natural hair), usually applied with a digital pen, Berry says.
By injecting or microblading individual hairs to bulk up the natural brows, this method gives a no-makeup makeup look. “You still have the option to pencil them in when you’re wearing dramatic makeup,” Wolosky says.
This is Berry’s addition to the brow lexicon—she uses a very fine needle to draw each hair stroke’s varying widths. “They start thin and then get a little thicker, and at the ends they get much thinner again,” she says.
This colored-in look is meant to mimic made-up brows and is thought of as outdated by most people. It’s best for people who have brow hair but want a filled-in look. Without definition or individual hair strokes, “it’s just one solid color from one side of the eyebrow to the other,” says Berry.