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When Bella Thorne documented her entire microblading tattoo procedure on Snapchat this week, she definitely raised a few eyebrows. After all, the actress was letting the world into a process — tattooing with semipermanent makeup — that most celebrities keep extremely private and hush-hush. Angelina Jolie and several Kardashians have long been rumored to have tatted-on arches, but have never confirmed the whispers.
But Thorne’s shameless videos are shining new light on a practice that has gained popularity recently. It is nothing new: PermaLine Cosmetics founder Emilia Berry (whose celebrity clients have all insisted she sign NDAs) learned the craft in Germany 16 years ago and offers both options: one method uses a digital pen with a single super-thin needle that moves up and down faster than the eye can follow, depositing pigment into the skin, while the other is microblading, which is hundreds of years old and uses a number of needles to create an extremely sharp “blade” to distribute pigment.
But even though she’s in the business, the Manhattan-based permanent makeup expert is straightforward about the risks. Microblading, she says, “does create beautiful hair strokes, but it’s a blade and you’re injuring the skin a little more than with the digital pen. There is a big chance of scarring with microblading. I offer both techniques, but I think it’s absolutely very important to explain to the client what is going to happen when you get this or this.”
The reason it’s so critical is that this procedure can quite easily go south. The signs of a bad brow tattoo job are glaring: “Common complications related to the procedure itself include infection (bacterial or viral), difficulty healing after the procedure, excessive scarring and allergic reaction to tattoo ink (this can occur immediately after or years later),”says Dr. Nancy Samolitis, the cosmetic dermatologist behind West Hollywood’s new Facile Dermatology + Boutique. “I also see people who desire removal of their tattoos due to changes in personal style preference, tattoo regret, poorly done tattoos with the wrong shape, color or location — yes, wrong eyebrow location! — or change in color over time,” she says.
Indeed, says Berry, “For corrections I’ve seen purple, blue, green, pink — all the colors of the rainbow, and it is sad because if you do use high-quality pigments, and there are very good pigments out there at this point, then you have a really long-lasting result and when it starts fading, it’s going to fade nicely without making you look awful at the end.”
She uses only pure mineral pigments from a German company, and says it’s crucial that clients ask questions before going under the needle. “If they are produced in China they are most likely not good products because there’s no one overseeing or regulating production. Ask what the ingredients are and if there’s something chemical in it, stay away,” she says.
Also, look into the technician’s experience, Berry advises, and make sure they have a health department certificate. It’s important they have an artistic eye, she says. “You can’t just learn techniques, because every face is different — bone structure has to be taken into account, and how the hairs grow and color.”
She always tries to give her clients a bit of an anti-aging lift by elevating the arch. “I absolutely do not use stencils; I find that horrifying.” The use of stencils is a good sign to steer clear. As Kelley Baker, Venice-based brow guru to Zendaya, says, “If you don’t find the right person to get tattooed by it’s a very bad trend to follow in my opinion. Make sure you do your homework on your brow tattoo artist by asking to see photos before you book your appointment. You don’t get a second chance on the look you’ll receive, plus your face (and trends) change all the time, so be careful when following a trend that involves your face.”
Though semipermanent, there’s a significant commitment involved in brow tattoos. The longevity of Thorne’s microbladed brows is around one year to a year-and-a-half, says Berry, while those done with the pen last from two to three years, eventually fading away completely if they’re not touched up. Fixing a botched job can be extremely time consuming and expensive: Berry cites one particularly extensive correction client who had to come for nine sessions over the course of six months to finally achieve perfect arches.
Dr. Samolitis says that to remove tattoos, even with newer laser technology, it’s difficult and can require six or more sessions, one month apart, with a short healing period after each. That said, she allows that she’s “happy to see the results of the procedure looking more natural in the past year with new techniques.”
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