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Cosmetic tattooing is nothing new. From eyebrow microblading to permanent eyeliner, more and more people are turning toward ink to make sure they look flawless from the moment they wake up. One of the more popular processes at the moment is freckle tattoos. While excessive sun exposure can cause serious skin damage, faux freckles are the semi-permanent option to get you looking constantly sun-kissed.
The freckle pattern is created by a cosmetic tattoo artist using either a rotary motor (machine) or a single needle (hand-poked) with iron-based tattoo pigment to repeatedly poke small holes into your face. While the procedure may cause several short-term side effects—including swelling, itchiness, and redness—the tattooing process is much less daunting than it sounds. If you’re hoping to wake up every day with youthful, dainty-looking skin, freckle tattoos might be just the thing for you.
Scroll on to learn all there is to know about freckle tattoos.
What Are Freckle Tattoos?
Freckle tattooing is a semi-permanent procedure to mimic the look of natural freckles. Either a tattoo machine or a hand-held tool is used to place pigment into the skin. "Just like every cosmetic procedure people get, there are tons of varying reasons why you would want freckle tattoos. Most people love how cute a dusting of freckles looks on their face," says Michelle Landis, owner and cosmetic tattooer at Michelle Landis Cosmetics. "Some people like to get their astrological constellation tattooed on."
Benefits of Freckle Tattoos
- Youthful, sun-kissed looking skin
As we know, wearing sunscreen daily is non-negotiable. But for some people that might mean giving up some of their natural freckles. With the option to tattoo them on instead, we can protect the skin while also serving up that coveted look of laying out in the sun without the risks.
Of course, they aren't just for people who naturally freckle, "Tattoo freckles are safe for everyone of all skin colors," says Sarah Killen of Killen Ink Beauty. "[There are] all sorts of colors that I can use. On average, I use a combination of three different colors when doing a freckle client... I use cool or warm tones depending on my client's skin tone, as well as a variety of different depths depending on how fair or dark my client's skin tone is."
Shaughnessy Otsuji, the lead artist and owner of Studio Sashiko, says she loves the unique facial features and skin textures we all possess. "A sprinkling of natural-looking faux freckles creates a youthful, sun-kissed look and perfectly accompanies a makeup-free look," she says. "At Studio Sashiko, we offer freckle tattoos on the nose, cheeks, all over the face, shoulders, collarbones, and pretty much anywhere the sun would naturally hit. Tiny heart-shaped freckles are also a favorite amongst our clients."
How to Prepare for Freckle Tattooing
First, you'll need to do your research to find the best place to get your freckle tattoos. While freckle tattoos are extremely similar to normal tattoos, the process is a bit different. Just as normal tattooing requires you to find a well-established artist with a deep and complete knowledge of tattooing, it’s important to find someone just as experienced for freckle tattoos. However, you’re much more likely to receive your freckles from a beauty technician (rather than a tattoo artist) as the process uses the same tools as eyebrow microblading.
Getting freckles tattooed requires more than just physical prep; there are a number of things to know before your appointment. For one, it’s important to come to your session completely clean and clear-faced. All products, whether blush, eyeshadow, or concealer, will be wiped away if you show up with them. If you’re someone who does wear a lot of makeup, be forewarned—you can't wear face makeup again until your new freckles heal. (Keep in mind that healing time can be anywhere from a few days to two weeks after the tattooing is complete).
What to Expect During Freckle Tattooing
"I always start out my freckle appointments by assessing their skin. Do they already have freckles? Is their skin oily or dry?" explains Killen. It's important to know your skin type and whether you freckle easily in the sun. Think about where you freckle and how much when deciding on the tattoo placement. While you might go into your appointment mid-winter and freckle-free, the tattoos will look different with a full face of freckles come summer.
"Once we decide how freckled we're going to go, I use a topical numbing agent on my client. I use a brand called Zensa, a topical five percent lidocaine that I leave on the skin for 30 minutes. With [proper] topical numbing, the pain level is very minor."
While the numbing agent sets, your tattoo artist will start mapping out the main framework of the freckles on your face, starting sporadic and adding more and more based on your taste. Then it's time to start tattooing!
In terms of time commitment, getting your freckles tattooed on can take anywhere from one to two hours, depending on the speed of your artist, how many dots you’re getting done, and how many pigments are being used to create your perfect freckle shade.
The actual tattoo process tends to involve the artist sketching out the design, getting the client’s approval, and then doing a number of passes over the freckles with a rotary machine. After the first layer is finished, the artist usually applies a numbing gel before going back for a second layer (your artist might even suggest you do this over two appointments). At the end of the process, the artist will likely add more random or smaller dots to tie everything together.
How To Choose Placement
Placement is a personal thing for any tattoo, but freckle tattoos tend to be centered around the same areas on the face. Artists tend to suggest placing faux freckles mainly on the nose and upper cheeks, as that’s where the sun tends to hit the face the most. This allows the tattooed freckles to look as natural as possible. The goal is to place the dots sporadically and asymmetrically; any semblance of planning or pattern can make them look fake. The same goes for choosing a size—keeping it natural. During your consult, you and the artist will discuss how big you want the dots and the artist will examine the skin for any preexisting freckles and mimic their natural look. On the flip side, "unnatural" and more creative placements and shapes are also highly requested, like hearts and astrological constellations.
"When I start to map out the freckles, I don't like to pre-mark every little dot," offers Killen. "What I love so much about freckles is how random and imperfect they are, so what I like to do is place some really dominant freckles or beauty marks on the face. Then from there, I add more as we feel we need to, depending on how much my client wants.
"I give a mirror to my clients so that we can periodically check everything as we go and decide on placement for new freckles throughout the process. Depending on how freckly we're going to go the appointment can take anywhere from one to two hours."
Bring in a few reference photos for your tattooist, and if you're curious about what you'll like most on yourself, you can play around with a brown eyeliner pencil. You can even try the look on for a few days by using henna dye.
How Long Do They Take to Heal?
While the actual tattooing of the freckles may take a few hours, the healing time is relatively quick compared to a normal tattoo. Although the dots will appear slightly swollen and dark immediately after tattooing, side effects typically start to dissipate after only a few hours—healing completely after two weeks or less.
It will take anywhere from three days to two weeks for the tattoos to fully heal, and the color of the dots will fade out to a natural-looking color over the following month or two. Keep in mind that tattooed freckles aren’t permanent. Because they’re created using the same pigment that’s used for eyebrow microblading, the ink will only stay in your skin for one to three years, with nose freckles fading the slowest due to a lack of fat in the area.
How Long Do Freckle Tattoos Last?
Just like microbladed eyebrows, tattooed freckles require regular upkeep due to the fading nature of the pigment.
"[To get the best result], I recommend that clients do a full face of freckles over two appointments, putting six weeks between those two appointments. After that, I recommend doing a touch-up yearly to maintain."
Touch-up frequency depends on how quickly your skin metabolizes the ink. If you're anemic, keep in mind you’ll require more regular touch-ups as iron-based pigments are absorbed by the skin faster when you’re iron-deficient. "As with any cosmetic tattoos, the products you put on your skin will affect the outcome of your freckle tattoos as well as their longevity," explains cosmetic tattoo artist Bethany Wolosky. Avoid using skincare products that contain retinol, AHAs, and BHAs in the areas you want your freckles both before and after you get them tattooed. These products are meant to exfoliate the skin, which will cause premature fading of your freckles."
You'll also want to keep sun exposure to a minimum and make sure to lather up the SPF, as the harsh rays are known to fade all types of tattoos.
Before and After
Many tattoo freckle images you see online don’t depict fully-healed freckles. Because of this, a lot of “after” images show freckle tattoos that are too dark, swollen, or slightly red (because the photo was taken immediately following the procedure). You can expect your freckle tattoos to be lighter and more natural-looking than a lot of reference photos make it seem. Here, the immediate "after" shot shows much darker-looking freckles than in the fully healed photo.
"During the healing process, the freckles definitely start out a lot darker," explains Killen. "They'll also look slightly raised and will develop tiny little scabs like you would with any other tattoo. Little freckle flakes will come off within five to ten days. Clients who have oilier skin will find that their tattoos heal a little bit quicker. From leaving the studio to five weeks healed, your freckles will most likely lighten by about 20 percent."
Potential Side Effects
"As with any procedure, there can be risks," says Killen. "It could be anything from an allergic reaction to a numbing agent, or if you have sensitive skin you might get a little irritation from the tiny pinpricks. From my experience, however, risks are very low."
As always, let your tattooist know if you have any existing skin conditions or concerns before your appointment. A dermatologist is the best person to consult to see if freckle tattoos are safe for you.
"Freckle tattoos can cost as little as $80 for a couple of beauty marks, to around $250 or more for a bit more facial coverage. Costs will be dependent on the amount of freckles desired, as well as your artist’s level of experience," Otsuji explains.
Landis stresses that the cheapest option is not always the best option. "Look at the artists in your area and make sure you’re comfortable with their work before committing to this," she explains. "If you don’t have an artist in your area that you trust, consider traveling out of town. But never settle for someone just because they are local or the cheapest. This goes for anything—never price shop for the cheapest. You’ll get what you pay for and most likely eventually pay more, in the long run, having to get a professional to fix it."
"Keep your face dry for 24 hours. After that, make sure that you're using a very mild soap and moisturizing with a non-scented moisturizer," says Killen. "Anything with fragrance may irritate the skin.
"Another tip is to not exfoliate the area too much. You want to let all those little freckle flakes fall off on their own terms. If you want a softer, more subtle look you can gently exfoliate the area at around seven to ten days post-tattoo."
The Final Takeaway
Freckle tattoos are a safe and easy way to get that cute, youthful-looking skin without sitting out in the sun's harmful rays. While there are plenty of faux freckle makeup products hitting the market today (a suitable option for the needle-aversed), the cosmetic tattoo route yields much longer-lasting results and saves a good chunk of time while doing your makeup.
Fircanis S, Shields R, Castillo J, Mega A, Schiffman F. The girl with the iron tattoo. Virulence. 2012;3(7):599-600. doi:10.4161/viru.22122