Tips & FYI

The Facts About Permanent Makeup VS Tattoo

What is the difference between tattoo ink and cosmetic/permanent makeup tattoo pigment? One of the most common questions that clients ask (apart from “does it hurt?”) is this...

What is the difference between tattoo ink and cosmetic/permanent makeup tattoo pigment?

One of the most common questions that clients ask (apart from “does it hurt?”) is this: “is it ‘proper’ tattoo ink?” It is an important question that every PMU Artist should be able to educate their client about in order to put their mind at ease. Whilst tattoo inks and cosmetic tattoo pigments are very similar in the respect that they are implanted into the skin to create a tattoo, their composition is very different.

A lot of people also wrongly think that permanent makeup ink pigment is the same as tattoo ink. Body art tattoo ink is designed to be truly permanent and fades in a different way over time.

Cosmetic/Permanent MakeupTattoo Pigments

Cosmetic tattoo pigments are made up of smaller pigment particles that are suspended in a diluter – this allows for a more natural, softer colour in the skin that can be layered to create a much more realistic finish.

Some makeup artists refer to it as ‘semi permanent’ makeup because it gradually fades over time as the pigment breaks down in the skin. This can be slightly misleading as it gives an impression of being temporary – just because you cannot see it does not mean it is not there.

Traditional Tattoo Inks

Traditional tattoo inks are much more concentrated which means that they are much stronger in colour. Traditional tattoos are often very bold and can also be very bright too. If you were to compare a traditional tattoo alongside a brow tattoo for example, you would notice that the traditional tattoo is much deeper and richer and often has an abundance of bright, eye-catching colours.

Traditional tattoo ink is made up of larger molecules. They are deeper & richer in colour

Furthermore, one of the main key points in traditional tattoo inks is its longevity. Conversely, it can be its downfall as well. Fashion is ever changing and that is also true to makeup. Thin brows were all the range back in the day and now it is fashionable to have a full pair. Skin looses its elasticity as we age and complexions dim. We may also have Botox, fillers and plastic surgery but that too is not everlasting. This is true with permanent makeup as well. Do clients really want to be stuck with a look they had ten years ago? Who knows how much the skin has changed since then? And with that, we now have a client with mismatched brows who are dissatisfied in the long run.

Tattoo Method

Another major difference is how the pigment is applied to the skin – a regular tattoo machine has needles that pierce the skin whilst creating a vacuum that pulls the pigment into it. Cosmetic tattoo machines work on a rotary mechanism that turn and pierce the skin to apply the pigment. They do not go as deep into the skin as regular tattoo machines nor do they create the same vacuum.

As permanent makeup artists we always want to create the most beautifully natural, realistic effect that we can. It is important to re-assure our clients that the work that we provide is intended to blend into their skin seamlessly rather than take on the appearance of being placed on top.

Body art tattoos are made by implanting the ink into your dermis (as is PMU – see diagram below). When a tattoo needles puncture the skin, it creates a tiny wound to which the body responds.  It kicks in the immune system and sends special cells, known as macrophages to the area in order to heal the cut skin and swallow any ‘foreign bodies’. Other cells, such as fibroblasts will also suck up the tattoo ink. These pigment particles are too large for macrophages to destroy, so they become stuck in the dermis.

Comparatively, permanent makeup ink lacks the particle size which body art tattoo ink has and so the colour fades more quickly. This is why we recommend your colour boost at around every 12-18 months. If permanent makeup ink pigment molecules were bigger, the colour would be denser and more permanent. Also, permanent cosmetic pigments are designed specially to complement many different skin tones so that your results are as natural as possible.

The difference between PMU & body art tattoos are sometimes wrongly described by body art tattoos being deeper in the skin. This is not correct. Tattoo artists and permanent makeup artists both tattoo into the dermis layer of the skin. If the ink doesn’t go in deep enough to reach the dermis then it will only go into the epidermis which will fade out as the skin goes through its natural shedding process over the course of a 2-4 week period.

There are many different terms used when it comes to these brow treatments. Microblading, digital microblading ,micro pigmentation, semi-permanent make up, machine method and eyebrow tattooing are just some of the treatment options you’ll find. But they all mean more or less the same thing: a technician deposits a small amount of pigment under the skin, creating a brow shape that lasts from several months to several years.

In this article, I’ll explain the different techniques available, and clear up some of the misconceptions people have about microblading and semi-permanent brow makeup.

Microblading vs tattooing

I get asked all the time about the differences between micro-bladed and tattooed eyebrows, and semi-permanent vs permanent eyebrows. These days, the terms typically refer to the same thing: placing medical grade pigment just under the skin to create the look of hair strokes or powder like make up. Since they are cosmetic treatments, they are not as deep as traditional tattoos, and the pigment fades over time, unlike traditional tattoo inks that remain in the dermal layer forever.

If you search the internet, you will find mention of permanent eyebrow tattoos. In the Uk we have to refer to cosmetic tattooing as permanent. This is because even though the colour fades over time there may always be traces of pigment molecules left in the skin tissue. There are also tattoo artists using traditional tattoo methods and inks which are placed deeper into the skin and last longer. However, this is not common practice in the UK, so if somebody is offering eyebrow tattooing, it is a good idea to find out if they mean traditional tattoos using inks or cosmetic tattooing using pigment. I would not recommend traditional tattoo methods or ink on the face.

Microblading: by hand or by machine?

Cosmetic tattooing or micro blading is nothing new. The term micro blading usually refers to the process of cutting fine channels into the skin and depositing pigment using a hand-held tool. The technique that has been around for decades but was replaced by digital machines to create the same effect. However, the hand held method made a comeback a few years ago and has increased in popularity because the treatment became cheaper to do and therefore more accessible for technicians to learn and clients have done.

The machine does the same thing as the manual tool and is my preferred method. The blade is configured from lots of needles in the same shape as a blade but is driven digitally, a little like a sewing machine dotting in and out of the skin.

Whether micro pigmentation of brows is done by hand or with a machine, the needle formation is the same, and the results are very similar. Both techniques allow the technician to create shading or strokes. Although some people say that a particular method can give little hair-like strokes, neither actually does in the long-term. I will talk more about that in the next section.

Personally, I find the machine method to be easier to use as I can control the amount of pigment deposited with the speed of the machine and my hand movement with each stroke. I think it is a little less aggressive and traumatic for the skin and gives more implantation. I often find sometimes the skin is resistant to the manual method, in which case digital machine micro blading may get the colour in better, especially if the skin has oily characteristics or old previous work.

Can I get realistic hair strokes with microblading?

We have all seen the pictures on Instagram and other places online – micro bladed brows with perfect, tiny hair strokes. Unfortunately, this is not really realistic, and I think it’s really important for clients to remember this, and for technicians to be honest about it.

When micro blading is first done, the small fine strokes can look fantastically crisp and realistic because the skin is broken and some of the pigment will be sat at the surface with the lacerated skin giving it a 3d effect. But new skin will heal over the tattoo creating a light opacity over the colour and light will bounce from the skin so the 3d effect is lost. Even with the most careful application, the pigment spread slightly under the surface blurring each stroke. These will become more blurred as they age and you’ll have what looks more like a textured shaded brow.

If you do manage to get nice crisp hair strokes that last the first time around, when you go to get the treatment refreshed, there will be some pigment between the strokes, and the result will look more shaded overtime. The pigment in the skin will also change the texture of the skin making it harder to tattoo over a little like drawing ball point pen over tippex.

How long does cosmetic tattooing last?

Microblading is usually advertised as lasting from 6 months to 3 years, but this is a big range. The length of time the treatment lasts will depend on several factors, including the type of pigment used, how deep it is put in and how the client’s skin retains colour.

Lifestyle, environmental factors and skin-care regimes can also affect how long semi-permanent brow makeup lasts. So, if you spend a lot of time in the sun, or if you regularly exfoliate your skin, the pigment will fade away much faster, especially with all the skin rejuvenation lotions which cause premature fading.

The person doing the treatment is always the most important choice that you need to make when considering microblading. Other than your skin types the result is almost completely reliant on their skill and knowledge to control the depth and application of the correct type of method and pigment for your skin. The therapist’s ability to create the right brow shape for you is essential, while their skill at getting the pigment in evenly and with the right amount of shading is critical.

A good technician will know to assess your skin type and be able to identify skin depth, so they know where to apply more pressure and where to apply less pressure to get an even amount of colour.

Too light and it fades quickly, too deep and it goes a blue / grey colour that can be trapped in the skin like a tattoo.

We would all love perfect eyebrows that last for as long as possible. However long lasting is not always the best option with microblading. I believe that it is better to have brows that don’t last quite as long but look soft and natural all the time. I always advise my clients to have brows that look natural when you have no makeup on and give you a good base that you can enhance with make up if you want to.

This is for several reasons. For one thing, brows start to sag as we age, and this can lead to longer-lasting treatments sitting low down on the brow. Also, you might change your mind about the shape of your brow over time, so the natural fading process allows you to adjust the look and shape of your eyebrows. Brows should be a natural placement to compliment your facial features, not an on-trend fashion necessity.

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