A growing number of my clients lately have been asking my advice on microblading eyebrows, a semi-permanent solution to barely-there brows that don’t have to be drawn on daily.
Now that thick brows are back in fashion, it makes sense that many women are considering the newest cosmetic procedure made famous by social media’s love for bold brows with dramatic before and afters photos of microblading eyebrows.
Since my perspective is limited to my experience as a professional makeup artist, I sought out one of NYC’s best Dermatologists, a master Microblading Technician, and several makeup pros to give you the real, truthful wisdom you need to consider before you have this somewhat irreversible procedure done.
We’re going to cover:
- What is microblading and is it safe?
- How much does microblading cost?
- What are the risks of microblading?
- What to expect and watch out for before and after getting microblading done.
- How to best prepare your skin for microblading.
- Is microblading eyebrows right for you?
If you plan to get Botox and have microblading done, you must read the rest!
Yes, this is gonna be a long article. It may be the most comprehensive piece on the web (that I’ve seen so far) about microblading eyebrows. For a subject this important, you don’t deserve watered-down information simplified into 10 vague bullet points — that’s not how I roll.
It’s my hope that you’ll be well-informed to make the best choice for you, so you don’t waste a bunch of money, end up with a face that looks all kinds of crazy, or have serious health repercussions, because after reading this article you’ll know what to look out for instead.
The first and the most shocking thing you need to know…
The United States as a whole does not require any certification for someone to practice microblading on clients! Seriously, look it up.
Each state may have specific guidelines (and most do) for cosmetic tattooing (i.e. certification, licensing and insurance requirements).
But just know that in the U.S. it’s basically the wild west. You have to look out for you first and as you’ll hear our experts say over an over – do your research! That’s why this article will be an invaluable resource on microblading precautions.
At the end of the article we’ll address the government’s lack of interest in pigment safety.
The “sins” of over-plucking
In the 1920s thin brows became all the rage, with a big resurgence in the 70s and 90s, now so many women are kicking themselves because their over-plucked eyebrows aren’t growing back.
If you’re among this group of women, you’re likely around 40 years of age and upwards, and I hate to tell you, but as you get older your eyebrows will start thinning out more on their own too.
Loss of brows due to chemotherapy & alopecia
Of course there are other ways women (and men) end up with sparse brows. Those who have a condition known as Alopecia (an autoimmune skin disease) which causes hair loss for the entire body (scroll below for some reassuring info on that below), and anyone who’s gone through chemotherapy treatments, are two such cases.
The Daily Grind of Filling in Brows
Regardless of why, it’s understandable that you’d want to make your life a little easier by considering having microblading done to your eyebrows, so you can “wake up and go” without the hassle of drawing them in daily.
Of course, if you’ve never learned the right way to fill in your brows with makeup, I promise you that having proper instruction will make a huge difference! If after reading this article you don’t want to commit to a permanent procedure like microblading, I highly suggest you check out my online workshop on filling in skinny brows that will be “eye-opening” for sure!
Now, let’s meet our advisors
Jessica Krant, M.D.
A board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, and American College of Mohs Surgery. She has been named a Top Doctor by Castle Connolly, New York Magazine, New York SuperDoctors, and Westchester County Top Doctors, as well as receiving the Best of Manhattan Award in Dermatology.
Dr. Krant is a graduate of Harvard College magna cum laude and later Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, where she received both her M.D. and Alpha Omega Alpha National Medical Honors Society recognition as well as her Master’s Degree in Public Health. You can find her at The Art of Dermatology.
The owner of Esthetic-Lines, Alexandra has been practicing and teaching the art of permanent cosmetic tattooing and microblading for a number of years both in the U.S. and internationally. Her training has included The International Permanent Makeup Conference and Championships in Warsaw, Biotek Permanent Makeup School with Russian Trainer Anna Savina, and PMU by Nataliya Yeremenko based in Tallinn, Estonia.
Now let’s move on to the comprehensive guide of everything you need to consider before you have microblading done to your eyebrows.
What is microblading and how is it different (better or worse) than cosmetic tattoos of the past?
Alexandra: I think a lot of people do not realize that microblading is cosmetic tattooing. We often times use the same pigment brand, and implant the pigment at the same depth in the skin.
So it really is just a difference in the tool that’s used:
Tattooing is done with a little machine that’s plugged into a wall with a tiny needle or group of needles.
Microblading is done by hand dragging a group of needles across the skin to create microcuts where the pigment is implanted.
I think every technician has a preference: I prefer machine work, as I’ve found it produces less scarring, but I’m sure someone who loves microblading would find some reasons to say the opposite.
In the hands of a good technician, microblading can be great, but the majority of bad work I’ve been seeing the past 3-4 years come from poorly trained microblading technicians. The trend came with good and bad for sure.
Are there short or long-term complications people should be aware of?
Dr. Krant: The risks of any form of tattooing are the same: mainly infection risk or allergic reactions, either of which can lead to permanent scarring or ongoing inflammation, including possibly eyebrow hair loss.
Another risk is the difficulty removing the pigment if the color or shape is wrong. These risks would be worse with deeper traditional tattooing than with microblading.
Alexandra: Honestly I’ve never had weird complications. Clients can be potentially allergic to anything – more often than not it’s to the aftercare used, but that is an easy fix.
In the hands of poorly trained technicians, or purely someone who has no skill in this industry, microblading could potentially disfigure a person.
A lot of people think that more is more, when honestly permanent brow makeup should (in my opinion), be a subtle change and improvement to your daily look.
The bigger & bolder you go, the more likely you won’t like something about it in the long-run: whether the way it suits your face after some volume loss, the way the color fades etc.
Will the pigments cause reactions that change the face, possibly requiring more corrective procedures, etc?
Dr. Krant: If infection is found from something wrong with the pigment or the cleanliness of the technique, it can be caused by “atypical mycobacteria” which are notoriously hard to identify and cure. A true tissue infection can also leave permanent scarring.
An allergic reaction to a tattooed dye ink is very tricky to manage, since it’s hard to remove the ink particles and the allergic reaction is permanent and must be managed over a long period of time as it waxes and wanes. This can also cause scarring and lumpiness.
It might seem like these issues can just be reversed by lasering out the ink particles, but laser doesn’t work that way. It breaks up the particles so they are smaller and your body can absorb and remove them, normally. But in the case of allergy or infection, it’s not enough to remove the problem trigger.
Are there certain tattoo pigments more likely to cause reactions?
Alexandra: I always try not to jump on the band-wagon when new pigments come out. Let other technicians try it and then hear from them. Brands will always claim “big things,” but not always stand by their claims. I think if it is a widely-used pigment brand, with no reported reactions, you should most likely be fine.
How can people know ahead of time if they are sensitive to the pigments?
Alexandra: They should obviously tell their technician if they have any known allergies. The legislation is very different depending on the country you work in. I think in the UK for example, technicians have to do a patch test. It is not something I do on my clients. I am not going to claim I am an allergist and it is common knowledge that allergies can be developed later on in life as well.
I’ve worked on thousands of clients with not one allergic reaction to the pigment, so you’re most likely safe when it comes to pigment sensitivity.
Are there concerns with microblading on a face with Botox or fillers such as Juvaderm?
Dr. Krant: I am unaware of specific issues with regards to chemical interaction when mixing makeup tattoos or micropigmentation with neuromodulators like Botox or fillers like Juvederm or Restylane.
Alexandra: You should definitely allow at least 2-3 weeks before and after your treatment to have any botox done in the forehead & crow’s feet area.
One problem I remember vividly in my practice is a client who got their brows done back in 2014 or so, and came for a touch-up in 2017. Her brow shape was completely off. The tails were very high because of the poorly injected botox that weighed down the fronts of her brows.
If you choose properly trained service-providers for both Botox & permanent makeup (including microblading), they’ll know about proper placement and how to make you look softer, more feminine without long-term repercussions.
Which red flags should people watch out for (signs to run from a microblading technician and seek another)?
Alexandra: The most important thing is hygiene. If you feel your health might be compromised, run.
A lot of people think that if their needle/microblade was unopened before the start of the procedure, everything’s clean. Not really…
If the technician touches their reusable products (pigments, anesthetics, or even door knobs) after they started the tattooing process, with the same gloves on their hands, leave.
They obviously don’t know about proper sanitation and they’re contaminating their reusable products with the clients’ bodily fluids.
Definitely try not to pick the cheapest provider in the area. There must be a reason they’re the cheapest.
What cautionaries would you give to patients considering having microblading, or cosmetic tattoos applied to their face, prior to having it done?
Dr. Krant: It’s important to pick a reputable place known for extremely clean technique to minimize the chance of infection, and do lots of research ahead to make sure people are generally happy with their results.
Once the ink is in, it’s really not easy to remove without risking loss of hair or other skin damage.
What steps should clients take before having microblading done?
No blood thinners of any kind
Especially important if they’re susceptible to bleeding easily.
I’d like them to come in as close as possible to their “untanned” skin tone.
2-3 weeks minimum before coming in.
No retinols, heavy peels, no acne-creams on their forehead and around the brows
We basically don’t want the skin to be overly sensitive and “raw-feeling.”
I had high a profile lady come in once and as soon as I removed her brow makeup, her skin was almost “bubbling” since she was using retinol products. I had to let her go and advised her to stop using those products for 2-3 months, and then come back to reassess the skin.
Highly-sensitive skin that flares up as soon as you touch it heals poorly. The pigment just doesn’t hold properly, and even in some cases when it does, it tends to fade out faster than on other clients.
How can someone ensure they’ll get the best color and/or shape when microblading brows?
Alexandra: Go to a highly-trained professional that you trust. They should be educated to advise you what’s best for your face not just now, but in the future as well.
I never allow my clients to pick their color out of my pigments. The way our pigments swatch topically is not how they heal.
To give you an example: a Taupe that swatches mustardy might throw someone off completely, but it actually heals beautifully under the skin. That’s the key word: under.
Clients may know what suits them best in terms of a pencil or a pomade, but they do not have the training or experience to correctly envision the healed-treatment.
What is the average length of time it takes for the microblading procedure?
Alexandra: I book my clients for 2-2.5 hours, though the actual tattooing time takes between 30-55 minutes.
If your technician works on you for hours and hours on such a small area, something is not right.
I had a lady call me in tears 2 months ago because of a fellow-technician who worked on her for 7 hours. You can imagine how butchered her brow area was.
How long will results last?
Alexandra: It depends on so many factors. So I really cannot give you an exact answer. It technically lasts forever in the skin, but it fades a lot (sometimes to visually nothing) due to sun exposure and just the body breaking down the pigment. So clients should prepare for touch-ups every 1-3 years.
How much does microblading cost typically?
Alexandra: It depends a lot on location. I’ve seen Groupons at $100 and people who charge $3000. Look at people’s websites and gallery in the area. Take some notes on their pricing.
If you do not value this treatment, I’d highly recommend you to stick to pencil & brow products.
Paying a cheap price is a bad idea if you have a lot of doubts about the person who is about to tattoo your face. It won’t be worth the savings. You could be left scarred for life.
So remember, want something cheap? That is okay, but go to Walgreens or Ulta and get a brow product. You’ll be much better off.
What’s the best eyebrow microblading after-care routine?
Alexandra: Every technician has their own “thing” that works for them.
After trying many ways through the years (Vaseline, A&D ointment, Aquaphor, Bepantene, Grapeseed oil, washing & not washing), what I currently ask my clients to do is:
Wash brows 2x day.
Pat them dry and use some ointment on it. The ointment I suggest might be After Inked or Aquaphor (depending on the country I’m working in).
No sun on the brows for 10 days.
No heavy sweating on the face.
No hot showers.
Just use common sense and treat it as you’d treat a wound.
Who is the best candidate for microblading?
In my opinion, the absolute best type of client specifically for microblading are those with alopecia.
Like I’ve mentioned before, 95% of my brows are done with a machine and 5% with microblading. That 5% tends to be clients with alopecia. Their skin feels a bit more rubbery and tough, so microblading seems to work better for them.
Otherwise, I’m sold on the machine. I put the quality of the skin above everything else, and visually you can achieve VERY similar results.
Who is eyebrow microblading not for?
Alexandra: I don’t recommend it for very young girls that do not need it.
I also don’t recommend it to people who constantly spend time in the sun without willing to use SPF on their brows in the future. The brows will fade very fast that way.
Also, if you think you have highly sensitive skin, seborrheic dermatitis in the brow area or anything that causes that area to feel raw and sensitive – don’t do it.
No matter how good your technician is, they’re not magicians. Your skin has a lot to do with how the treated area heals.
Microblading From a Makeup Artist’s Perspective
Artistry is a huge part of selecting the technician you use for microblading. In addition to all the other factors we’ve covered, talent and the ability to really create harmony, balance and color on the face in a flattering way is enormously important. Your eyebrows not only frame your eyes, but they give your face expression.
In fashion we often bleach (yes, bleach) eyebrows or use other crazy methods to make them “disappear” on the face for a more editorial effect, like the photo above.
So you may want to consider rocking your no-brow look every so often, if you’re not ready to commit to a permanent solution.
If you need help with using makeup to fill in your eyebrows, be sure to check out my “skinny brow” workshop.
What other makeup artists have to say about microblading eyebrows
I polled my makeup artist friends (some of the best in the biz!) and they chimed in with their thoughts (which truly echo my own):
Christie Sayer: I happen to think it’s kind of nice for those who have fallen victim to the over-plucking phase of life and their eyebrows never grew back. It’s away for them to look more put together with less ready time in the morning and I think looks more realistic than having to draw them on with makeup (which can be a bit rough for the everyday person to try and recreate eyebrows when there’s not much left).
Margina Dennis: From a consumer standpoint, I understand it in the same way I understand eyelash extensions. It just that there are very few times I have seen it done well. From a work standpoint, I don’t like it. I find it very limiting in the same way eyebrows tattooed on are.
Deborah Haynes: Ultimately, it comes down to the individual and how they feel daily when they wake up and look at themselves. Like anything, you have to find a person who is really talented in this field. I have seen clients that it looks great on, and I have seen where it’s not so good. Each persons expectation is what concerns me the most.
Fiona Lee: I like Microblading a lot. If done right, microblading can do wonders on people with sparse/no brows wanting a natural look, and it helps give them self confidence back.
However people must do their research, as it is not regulated in the United States very well. Meaning anyone can do it (and teach it) without any experience with health and sanitation or even an Esthetician license.
Also some microblading technicians do not know color theory very well, what looks pretty and natural on the face of the client. So be careful!
Is Microblading Toxic?
While we covered hygiene, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that there’s the potential that tattoo ink could be a toxic threat to your body’s health.
Just announced in August of 2018, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is assessing the risk cosmetic tattoo pigments may pose to human (and even environmental) health. Read more here.
And you know if the EU is only now getting around to this investigation, then it won’t be until the 22nd Century that the U.S. follows suit.
We’ll save the more in-depth look at tattoo safety for another article in the future though.
Risk vs. Reward
By now you’re probably super clear on all the ways to hedge your risks and get the best results from eyebrow microblading. It could just be the answer to your thin-brow woes!
Have you had eyebrow microblading or cosmetic tattooing done on yourself? Care to share your experience in the comments below for us all to learn from?
Feature photo by Esthetic-Lines