Permanent vs. Semi-Permanent Makeup: What to Know Before Choosing Either

Updated 10/04/19

The world of makeup is a fascinating one. Especially considering the fact that makeup has been used as a symbol of expression for centuries. The first archeological evidence of permanent makeup dates back to the Stone Age, 3300 B.C. "Permanent makeup, semipermanent makeup, cosmetic tattooing, and micropigmentation are all names for the same thing, which is implementing pigment into the papillary layer of the dermis," explains permanent makeup artist Kendra Bray, owner of Better Brows & Beauty. To give you some historical context, the early practices of permanent makeup were found on Egyptian and Nubian mummies in 2000 B.C. It was practiced in China in 1000 B.C. It's even been known that permanent makeup has been around for some time, widely practiced across cultures like the Incas, Mayans, Aztecs, Greeks, and Egyptians.

The cosmetic tattoo craze is at an all-time high today. You've probably caught on to the popularity of microblading, one of the most popular permanent makeup eyebrow trends that took off in 2016. If you're wondering about the purpose of turning to a cosmetic procedure, there are many. "Many clients turn to permanent makeup so they can decrease their morning routine," explains Bray. "Others turn to it as a solution if they're uncomfortable doing their own makeup. Some like the idea of perfecting their base look with permanent makeup and then building with topical makeup for a more glamorous look. Clients with allergies to many topical makeup ingredients turn to permanent makeup as a solution from reactions. Lastly, there are numerous medical conditions that cause clients to seek solutions."

To give you a better understanding of permanent makeup versus semi-permanent makeup, Bray gave us the rundown on everything you need to know before saying yes to the procedure.

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Permanent Makeup Vs. Semi-Permanent Makeup

When it comes to differentiating permanent makeup versus semi-permanent makeup, Bray believes it's important to know that many artists use different names for the same procedures due to cultural differences, artistic expression, and marketing. This can get confusing. "[Cosmetic tattoo] regulations in the U.S. vary from state to state, and, of course, regulations vary from country to country," explains Bray. "Technically in the United States, all treatments are considered permanent from a health department standpoint."

Either way, whether it's a permanent or semipermanent procedure, the treatments can't be washed off. "This is confusing for the consumer," explains Bray. "Some may think they want something semipermanent for a fear of commitment. Some may think they want something to last forever so they never need to worry about it again. Because these treatments require opening the skin, proper sterilization and sanitation need to be practiced. Since the skin is a living, breathing organ, it's desirable to have pigments that fade over time. Our skin and appearance change over time, so the fading process allows us to make tweaks as the years go on to adapt to a look that's current and flattering."

Advancements in Permanent Makeup

"In years past, traditional carbon-based tattoo ink was used for permanent makeup," says Bray. "It lasted much longer and usually aged to a very unflattering color. Pigments have advanced a great deal in recent years. Now pigments are made specially for the permanent makeup industry and specifically for the face. The skin on the face is very different than the rest of the body. The combination of advancements in pigments and the fading process allows for a beautiful cosmetic solution that won't simply be washed off but can be tweaked as years go on."

Microblading

"In recent years, microblading has grown in popularity rather quickly," Bray confirms. "Perfectly timed with the trend of fuller brows and no-makeup makeup, many have sought out the treatment. Other popular procedures are eyeliners, lip colors, areola tattoos for cancer survivors, and lash enhancements, which involves placing pigment between the lash lines as opposed to a line above the lash lines like a traditional liner."

Tattoo Pigment Types and Longevity

Bray points out that the pigments that are being used in a procedure affect the longevity of the work. "If the pigment is carbon-based, it will last much longer, but it'll still fade in color," explains Bray. "If the pigment is iron oxide–based, it will fade over time."

Precautions to Take Before Your Treatment

It's important to address the skepticism surrounding cosmetic tattoos. "Everyone has seen bad work," says Bray. "Unfortunately many times the good work goes unseen. If performed properly and in a flattering, natural way, [permanent makeup] should give the illusion of 'born with it' beauty."

Bray continues: "There's also something to be said for aesthetic preferences. What I think looks like a beautiful brow could look plain and boring to the next person, and vice versa," which confirms how important consultations are during your consideration process. "Pain is also a deterrent for some. However, there are many numbing agents and techniques on the market now that can decrease pain dramatically."

Post-Treatment Care

"The biggest things to be mindful of are your sun exposure and products used on the skin," suggests Bray. "The sun will fade the work much faster. Any skincare products that are exfoliating, contain acids like glycolic and salicylic, or alpha hydroxy will fade the work faster. Lastly, stay away from all retinoids, as they will fade your work very quickly. Any treatments done to the skin like lasers, chemical peels, and waxing need to stay away from the area." According to Bray, if you'd like to completely get rid of your treatment, laser removals and saline removals both work to remove undesired work.

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