Permanent Makeup: I'm Stuck On You.
By Megan Deem
Caroline Kim heard about it from her hairstylist. A different woman was tipped off by her facialist. Cosmetic tattooing—inked-on brows, eye- and lipliner heretofore associated with sun-dried retirees and Michael Jackson—is becoming a time-saver as indispensable to young female power brokers as international roaming on their mobile phones.
Call the procedure what you will (and many do, dubbing it everything from "permanent makeup" to "micro-pigmentation", "embrowdery" to "cosmetic tattooing"), going under the needle means not worrying about smudged eyeliner at a last-minute presentation—among other benefits.
"It took me about 20 minutes every morning to pencil in my eyebrows after they were overplucked when I was 23 and they never grew back," says Kim, a 35-year-old marketing executive who recently relocated to New York City from San Francisco. She had brows and eyeliner inked on six months ago and declares the results "phenomenal, amazing," and most important, "very natural."
Cosmetic tattooers aren't some splinter faction of the local Hart & Huntington franchise. They've long worked with plastic surgeons to create faux areolae after breast reconstruction or to camouflage white face-lift or breast-implant scars with pigment matched to the client's skin tone.
But the desire for permanent makeup isn't strictly contingent on time spent in the OR. "You'd think that women who love cosmetics and wear them all the time would be the ones coming in, but it's the opposite," says Mirinka Bendova, a micro-pigmentation specialist who shuttles between the NYC townhouse offices of clean-skin-cheerleader dermatologist Dennis Gross, MD, and a plastic surgery
center in Fort Lauderdale. "It's the youthful, `natural' beauties whose makeup is tattooed."
Almost four years ago, Jennifer, 37, a silversmith on NYC's Upper East Side (who didn't want her last name used in this article because she hasn't told her friends that some of her makeup is fake), brought her favorite Chanel lipstick, a pale pink that's since been discontinued, to Melany Whitney, who divides her time between Boca Raton, Florida's Center for Permanent Cosmetics and its satellite branch in the Manhattan practice of dermatologist Doris J. Day, MD (whose eyeliner Whitney tattooed in 2002). Whitney colored Jennifer's full lip, not just the outline, exactly matching the lipstick's rosy tint. "It's nothing dramatic," Jennifer says of the results. "It looks more like my natural lip color." Although the tattoo's hue has softened slightly over time, "last year I had Melany do my charcoal eyeliner, because I love my lips so much," she says. "I was always pulling at my lids to get my liquid liner on and wondering if that could eventually cause wrinkles."
While cosmetic tattoos are far more subtle than Kat Von D's handiwork, the tools are identical, from guns to ink to the clusters of sterile disposable needles. Yes, that could mean a bunch of spikes firing dangerously close to the eyeball. The pricks are shallow—only a tiny fraction of a millimeter, which
barely reaches the dermis—but still. "We do worry that even if the needles are sterile, a viral or bacterial infection can occur," says Washington, DC, dermatologist Tina Alster, MD, who doesn't have a tattoo artiste on the payroll.
The ink is made primarily of iron oxides—inert minerals that sit in tissue. Titanium dioxide, which is white, and reddish ferric oxide are often mixed with vibrant primary shades to create skin-flattering tones. Adverse reactions are infrequent. "On extremely, extremely rare occasions, I've seen granulomas—hard bumps—form," Alster says.
Most practitioners sketch their brow, lip, or eyeliner design on the client's face before laying ink. Eliza Petrescu, Manhattan's A-list eyebrow-tender and owner of Eliza's House of Brows in Southampton, New York, which offers the services, and her on-staff tattoo artist, Lisa Jules, have even etched indelible eyebrow outlines underneath already ample brows, so "any waxer has a guide to follow," Petrescu says. "And a woman doesn't end up getting half her eyebrow removed."
To read more: Elle Permanent Makeup Article