Permanent Makeup: Lasting Beauty or Beauty Risk?

Permanent Makeup: Lasting Beauty or Beauty Risk?

Imagine never needing to apply eyeliner, mascara, or lipstick again. What if your makeup never smeared or ran, and you could get up every morning with your face already “fixed.” These “dream” situations can come true if you choose permanent makeup-or can they?

The quest for beauty can come at a price, both physically and emotionally, but it also can have its rewards.

What is permanent makeup?

Permanent makeup involves a procedure called micropigmentation in which an organic pigment is embedded under the skin via a device that rapidly punctures the skin using a tiny, thin needle. In this way, permanent makeup is similar to a tattoo.

Both women and men choose permanent makeup primarily so they can improve the look of their eyebrows, eyes, lips, eyelids, and facial skin and put away their makeup kits forever, or at least for a long time. Having permanent makeup can give individuals a boost in self-confidence.

Some older women choose permanent makeup because they have vision problems (one study showed this was the reason for 23% of the women questioned) or arthritis in their hands and they no longer can adequately apply their own makeup. Others simply like the idea of waking up in the morning with their makeup already done!

The most popular permanent makeup procedure is eyeliner, followed by permanent eyebrows and lip color. Procedures that add color to the eyelids and cheeks are also available, but these are more difficult to do and thus there is a greater risk of complications, including allergic reactions that could result in a need for surgery. Cosmetic makeup work is also done to repigment the areola (after breast surgery) or to cover up facial scars or birth marks.

A permanent makeup procedure is similar to a tattoo. The practitioner first applies an anesthetic to the area to be treated. Then he or she uses a hand-held device to inject the pigment into the skin. Any touch-up work that needs to be done should be delayed for at least 30 days to allow time for the skin to heal.

A permanent makeup procedure can set you back about $400 to $800, depending on the procedure. Add extra for each touch-up. Plan on being in the office for at least 2 hours for your initial procedure. The damage to your purse may hurt a bit (insurance does not typically cover cosmetic procedures), as may the actual embedding of the pigments. Most people experience some discomfort, but the degree depends on your pain threshold.

Risks of permanent makeup

Permanent makeup procedures are not adequately regulated in many states, so you want to be careful before you go under the needle. Some tattoo artists advertise themselves as permanent makeup specialists, but be sure you locate a qualified practitioner or you could end up with an infection, scars, or worse from contaminated needles or sloppy workmanship. An immune system allergic reaction can occur years after the procedure.

The risks are usually associated with the choice of pigments. According to Charles Zwerling, MD, Chairman of the Board of the American Academy of Micropigmentation, iron oxide pigments are the safest. Ironically, natural vegetable based pigments are more hazardous because they contain substances that can cause dangerous allergic reactions. Another risk is migration, which is when the pigment looks like it is leaking or dripping. This problem can occur with black India ink (which should not be used for micropigmentation) but rarely with iron oxide.

Another risk is the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Anyone who has permanent makeup (with iron oxide) and then undergoes an MRI at some point will probably experience burning or inflammation in the pigmented area. If you have had a permanent cosmetic procedure, you should tell your doctor and technician before you undergo an MRI, as it can have an effect on the imaging.

Is permanent makeup really permanent?

How long a permanent cosmetic application remains fresh and vibrant depends on a person’s lifestyle (especially sun exposure), the colors used, other cosmetics the person may use after the procedure, and the skill of the person who does the work. Permanent makeup cannot be washed off, but it can and often does fade over time. That means you should plan on needing periodic refreshing of the color.

A similar question is, do you really want your makeup to be permanent? What if your tastes change in a few years? Similar to a tattoo, permanent makeup is a challenge to remove. Because the removal procedure will take place on your face, the whole world can be witness to the process, unlike a tattoo that is on your thigh or your upper arm.

What if you don’t like the results of your cosmetic makeover? It is typically difficult to fix an unsatisfactory procedure and you may need to seek help from a professional outside of your area.

Choosing a permanent makeup professional

When choosing someone to do a permanent cosmetic procedure, check with the American Academy of Micropigmentation, the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, or the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Individuals who are often qualified to do permanent makeup include cosmetologists, dermatologists, nurses, aestheticians, and tattoo artists.

Also consider the following tips:

  • Be sure the establishment has a notice showing it has been inspected by the local board of health.
  • Check the credentials of the professionals at the facility. Ask if they have been certified or what their level of training has been.
  • Ask how long the professional has been doing the procedures and how many he or she has done.
  • Ask to meet people who have had their procedures done by the practitioner. Pictures are not proof.
  • Be sure your practitioner uses a new needle and a fresh container of pigment.

Read more about what your skin says about your health

If you are thinking about a permanent makeup procedure, carefully review why you want it, understand the risks, find a qualified practitioner, and ask for references. Your face is your greeting to the world, and you want to make an informed decision about anything that alters how you look.

Image: Reginaldo Andrade

American Society of Plastic Surgeons
Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals
WebMD. How Safe is Permanent Makeup?

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Deborah is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. Currently, she lives in Tucson, Arizona.