Achieving perfect eyeliner can be tricky. It all comes down to precision, a long-wearing eyeliner, and a lot of luck honestly. Enter: eyeliner tattoos. Also known as permanent eyeliner, eyeliner tattoos have been around for decades, and specialists for this treatment have perfected their makeup tattooing technique for natural-looking results. With eyeliner tattoos, you can have perfect, permanent eyeliner in just one appointment. Curious about this treatment? We interviewed two permanent makeup artists and a dermatologist to break down everything you need to know about permanent eyeliner tattoos, from how much it costs to what to expect when receiving the treatment.
Meet the Expert
- Brenda Ton is an entrepreneur and permanent makeup artist.
- Joshua Beeler is a permanent makeup artist specializing in brows, lashes, and semipermanent makeup.
- Rachel Nazarian, MD, is a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York.
Keep reading to see if permanent eyeliner is right for you.
What Is Permanent Eyeliner?
Also known as an eyeliner tattoo, permanent eyeliner is a treatment you can receive that replaces the need to wear eyeliner each day. "Permanent eyeliner is a method of placing pigment along the lash line, under the skin, similar to tattooing," says Nazarian (This ink is permanent, but has to be touched up every three to five years).
Eyeliner tattoos can be applied in a variety of styles, from extremely thin and natural-looking liner to thicker lines, and even winged eyeliner. Ton begins with a design process for her clients so they can see what styles look best for the shape of their eyes, and likes to begin the process with a less-permanent lash line enhancement (more on lash line enhancements, below) as a sort of trial run for a permanent style.
Pros + Cons
- No need to wear eyeliner anymore
- Enhances your eye shape
- Lasts between two to five years before a touch-up
- A popular treatment for those with sparse lashes, hair loss, and/or alopecia to enhance the eye area.
- Color retention varies according to individual skin type (thicker skin fades faster)
- Although gradual, fading can be caused by lifestyle (sun exposure), body chemistry, and age.
- Can be a pricey beauty habit to upkeep
How to Prepare For Your Eyeliner Tattoo Appointment
If permanent eyeliner is something you're considering, have a consultation with a professional technician first to weigh your options and learn more about the service. There are a few styles you can choose from and once you've decided on the eyeliner that will suit you best, you can move forward with your treatment. It's always recommended to bring in inspiration photos.
"For starting out, I would recommend the lash line enhancement liner to everyone. I think it is a staple and good for those that want to go natural before committing to a full classic winged style which is thicker." If you wear makeup on a regular basis and want your eyeliner to stand out more, Ton suggests a winged eyeliner. "I love the classic winged eyeliner for someone who wears eye makeup on a regular basis as it can give a subtle lift to the eyes. You can always start small and add more as you go when receiving touch-ups."
Prior to your actual treatment, stop using any sensitizing skincare products (like retinol or glycolic acid) around the eye area for a full week before your appointment to avoid irritation. You'll want to come to your appointment with clean skin that's completely free of makeup. Many artists also recommend avoiding coffee (or any caffeine for that matter) on the day of your treatment to help you relax and avoid twitching.
What to Expect During Your Appointment
The technique of eyeliner tattoo has been perfected over the years, and (despite what you may have heard) has become a comfortable treatment. The service can last anywhere from 45 minutes to one hour, and the area is numbed before application. You will feel a slight buzzing along the lashes where the needle is applying the ink—the skin is slightly broken during the first pass of the needle, but you won't experience bleeding or discomfort if you are properly numbed. Eyeliner tattoo has come such a long way from when your mother, aunt, or even grandmother got it and expressed how painful it was. When it first became a popular service, the pain was a deterrent for many people. Ton touts her technique is quite relaxing, "The clients that I’ve done eyeliner procedures for all tell me their comfort level is high and pain is barely there, some say they could sleep through the entire procedure with me. You feel a slight tickle on the lashes but not much else."
Eyeliner Tattoo vs. Lash Line Enhancement
If a permanent eyeliner tattoo isn't your thing but you still want the benefit of having an enhanced lash line, there's a semi-permanent treatment called lash line enhancement that you may want to consider as an alternative. The application process is extremely similar, but unlike eyeliner tattoos, this treatment uses a vegetable-based dye that the body absorbs over time, which means this treatment only lasts about six to nine months.
I was able to receive this treatment at Shen Beauty from Beeler, and the entire process was way more enjoyable than I expected. Just like with eyeliner tattoos, the process begins with dye (vegetable dye specifically, which isn't used for eyeliner tattoos) being applied to the lids with a tattoo needle, but don't worry—the area is numbed before starting to ensure it hurts as little as possible. (In the first pass of the needle, the skin is broken and dye is applied. It feels like a soft buzzing, almost like a tickle around the lashes, yet Beeler was extremely controlled in keeping my eye still and managed to get the perfect line. "It hurts a lot less than what people expect which is another added bonus of why this is such an amazing service to get done," says Beeler. "Lash line enhancement is such a great treatment for anyone who wants something semi-permanent. It looks so natural and the body just absorbs the natural vegetable dye over time, there's no peeling or scabbing." The whole procedure took 45 minutes and there's no downtime afterward, so you can go about your day or head to an event without worrying about how your eyes will be affected. See above for my before and after photo.
As a note, lash line enhancements are gorgeous on their own, but they're also great "practice" if you're interested in a more permanent eyeliner tattoo. Lash enhancements are less expensive and last a fraction of the time of permanent eyeliner (six to nine months vs three to five years), so if you end up growing tired of it over time, it's better to learn your lesson with a shorter-lasting lash line enhancement.
Potential Side Effects
Ton, who owns her own permanent makeup business in Vancouver, states that the procedure is quite safe, but emphasizes how important it is to find a seasoned specialist that you trust. "Anyone looking to have this service done needs to do their research in picking the right person. Looking at before and after photos and reading reviews of past clients is the most efficient way to do this."
Keep in mind that, although rarely, individuals can have allergic reactions to the dyes used. "Allergy or irritation from the pigment may present as redness, bumps, burning or stinging," says Nazarian. "If there’s any concern that you might have an allergy to the ingredients in the pigment, I would recommend doing a small patch test on the individual ingredients first, which can be done with their local allergist or dermatologist."
If you're interested in having this procedure done, it's best to consult your dermatologist to make sure you're a candidate first, then find a certified makeup tattoo artist you trust to perform the procedure so you don't end up with a look you're unhappy with.
If the pigment used is not of the kind that fades within a few years, a laser may need to be utilized to minimize color or remove the eyeliner tattoo permanently.
Eyeliner tattoos tend to run at a starting price of $475 and will last three to five years, however, Ton recommends a touch-up every two years. Touch-ups typically run for about half the cost of the initial tattoo, but it again varies on the condition of your permanent eyeliner. For example, if you pushed your touch-up off to the last minute and have spent a lot of time in the sun over the years since your initial treatment, you'll see significant color fade and will be charged more.
There is very little downtime after receiving an eyeliner tattoo, and it's normal for the color to fade naturally within two to three weeks. If your skin feels sensitive along the lashes, you can apply some vaseline 1-2 times per day for one week to keep the area hydrated and prevent any further irritation. Avoid rubbing the eyes and wearing eye makeup until you feel comfortable doing so.
The Final Takeaway
Whether you opt for a permanent eyeliner tattoo or try out a lash line enhancement, there are options available for anyone who wants to have the look of eyeliner without all the hard work attached to it. There are a few elements that can affect your liner tattoo in regards to how long it actually lasts. Depending on your lifestyle and daily activities, results might differ for each person.