Dark under-eye circles are notoriously tough to treat. Generally speaking, topical skincare ingredients can only do so much; other options include things such as injectable filler, which not everyone is the right candidate for. Enter the beauty of a great concealer, the quickest and easiest way to camouflage raccoon eyes (as well as a myriad of other imperfections).
So the idea of permanent concealer is very appealing—never having to apply concealer ever again sounds ideal, for sure. But this type of cosmetic tattooing is a treatment that should not be taken lightly. It requires doing your due diligence, finding a highly-trained provider, and making sure it is in fact the right option for you.
Ahead, professional makeup artist and master medical tattoo artist Christopher Drummond, cosmetic and paramedical tattoo artist Nicole Johnston, and board-certified dermatologists Morgana Colombo, MD, and Rachel Nazarian, MD, explain more about what permanent concealer is and what you need to consider before going under the needle.
Meet the Expert
- Christopher Drummond is a cosmetic and master medical tattoo artist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
- Nicole Johnston is a cosmetic and paramedical tattoo artist at Studio Sashiko in Vancouver.
- Morgana Colombo, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the co-founder of Skintap.
- Rachel Nazarian, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
What Is Permanent Concealer?
"Permanent concealer is a very specialized type of cosmetic tattoo. A lighter-colored pigment is applied under the eyes to give them a lighter, brighter appearance," explains Drummond. Most often it's used as a way to cover up dark circles, but it can also be utilized on the body. This is also known as scar camouflage, a paramedical tattooing procedure during which skin-colored inks are deposited into the skin to help blend scars and stretch makes and make them less visible, adds Johnston.
Benefits of Permanent Concealer
For those who are extremely self-conscious about their dark circles (and/or constantly using makeup to cover them), permanent concealer can make a huge difference in improving their self-esteem, Drummond points out. "A permanent solution like this helps a person feel better about themselves because they aren't constantly worried about how their eyes look," he says. More generally speaking, it's a way to minimize daily maintenance. The pigment can't be rubbed or washed off, and you know your dark circles will be camouflaged without ever having to worry about any smudging or wear, adds Nazarian.
As far as using permanent concealer to hide scars or stretch marks, the main benefit is how quickly you can achieve results: "You can see a vast improvement in the appearance of the scar or stretch mark in as little as one session," says Johnston. Compare that to other treatment options, such as lasers and microneedling that tend to require multiple sessions to see results, which even then can still be minimal. "Another benefit is that we can add color back into the skin where melanin has been lost," she adds. "It is next to impossible to return melanin to areas of the skin that have been scarred or damaged otherwise."
How to Prepare for Permanent Concealer
The actual skin prep part of things is pretty easy. Starting one week before your appointment, avoid using any active skincare ingredients around the eyes and apply only a plain moisturizer, advises Drummond. (This is because you don't want to risk any potential irritation or disruption to the skin before the tattooing.) You'll also want to make sure your skin is at its most natural. If you have a tan or sunburn or are wearing a self-tanner, your provider won't be able to accurately match the color, advises Johnston.
One of the most common side effects of permanent concealer is an allergy or skin reaction to the ink used, says Colombo. (More on other side effects in a moment.) "This can have a variety of presentations including an itchy, eczema-like rash, small, hard bumps on the skin, or hives," she explains. For this reason, she recommends doing a small patch test prior to your appointment. Ask the technician who will be performing the treatment to provide you with a small amount of the ink that's going to be used. Apply a quarter-size patch to the inside of your arm or at the bend of the elbow and let it sit there for 24 hours. Repeat this for seven to 10 days, checking daily to see if you're developing any type of reaction, she says. In that vein, she also says that anyone who has eyelid dermatitis, eczema, ocular rosacea, or any type of inflammatory skin issues around the eye should avoid permanent concealer altogether.
Above all—and this was a point underscored by all of the experts we spoke with—doing your due diligence in choosing a good cosmetic tattoo artist is absolutely paramount. Aside from the potential for skin irritation, there are many other things that can go wrong, the likelihood of which increases if your provider is inexperienced. "There is a very small group of people in the U.S. who can perform permanent concealer and even fewer who are masters at the technique," says Drummond. "Do tons of research, interview the person, and be sure that you fully trust them and their abilities."
What to Expect When Getting Permanent Concealer
For the undereye area, the process takes about 90 minutes, according to Drummond; your technician may or may not use numbing cream. As far as scar camouflage goes, there is usually very little pain—clients often find it tickles or just feels a little bit uncomfortable, says Johnston. "We do have to work quickly because as soon as the redness from the skin comes through, we can no longer see the coloring accurately. That means the appointments are usually only 10 to 45 minutes in length," she adds. FYI: In either case, more often than not more than one session is required.
Potential Side Effects
Along with the aforementioned possibility of a skin reaction, there's also a risk of infection (which is possible any time you're tattooing the skin, notes Johnston). But, as it pertains to permanent concealer under the eyes, there are also some unique potential side effects. "This area is extremely delicate," cautions Colombo. "There are many superficial blood vessels and there are tear ducts in this region that increase the risk for things such as bleeding and bruising." Additionally, because the skin around the eyes is so thin, altering it with pigments can affect the texture and potentially make it look rough, bumpy, and even create the appearance of more fine lines and wrinkles, she adds.
From the cosmetic perspective, keep in mind that the results may not always look the same. "With permanent concealer, the pigment stays the same color, but your skin tone changes over time," says Nazarian. "Your skin tone may match the pigment now, but that's not a guarantee it will match later." Similarly, if your provider doesn't deposit the pigment at the right level in the skin and it goes in too high or too low, that can end up altering the color of the pigment, she adds.
Drummond says the final price tag for permanent concealer under the eyes can end up around $3,000. Scar camouflage costs vary depending on the size of the area worked on, but can range from $400-$1,500 for scars and $800-$2,000 for stretch marks, says Johnston.
Under the eyes, you'll want to keep the area clean and apply a protective ointment, such as Aquaphor or Vaseline, for about a week after. On the body, gently dab the area with a damp paper towel for the first two days, then use a fragrance-free lotion twice a day for three weeks, notes Johnston. You'll also want to avoid washing the area in the shower for one week, she adds.
In either situation, be sure to take extra precautions to keep the tattooed area protected from the sun, especially in the first few weeks following the procedure. "Anytime there's trauma to the skin it will be inflamed and sensitive, making it even more vulnerable to UV rays," Colombo explains. "This can potentially increase the risk of unwanted post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation."
The Final Takeaway
Nazarian sums it up well: "Think carefully before following this trend." Yes, the results can be great under the right circumstances, but we can't stress the importance of finding an experienced artist enough. "The most important things to look for are experience and honesty," advises Johnston. "If an artist gives you an immediate 'yes' without indications of what to expect with your results, you may want to keep researching. The cosmetic tattooing industry has a reputation for training courses that can be as short as one day, which is nowhere near long enough to be properly trained. You want to make sure that your artist has enough knowledge and experience to give you a desirable and natural result."
Johnston suggests paying careful attention to any before or after photos the provider offers, confirming that the afters were taken when the skin is fully healed. Drummond adds that any practitioner you consider should have a minimum of five years of experience.
TL; DR: If you're contemplating permanent concealer, do tons of research, meet with different practitioners, and proceed with caution.