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 causes a number of 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.
What To Know Beforehand
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.)
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.
"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."
Another thing to note about freckle tattoos is that a lot of the images you see of the procedure 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. Noting this is important because you can expect your freckle tattoos to be lighter and more natural-looking than a lot of reference photos make it seem.
During the healing process, the freckles definitely start out a lot darker... From leaving the studio to five weeks healed, your freckles will most likely lighten by about 20 percent.
"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."
Where To Get It Done
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.
How To Decide On 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 as sporadically and asymmetrically as possible; any semblance of planning or pattern can make them look fake.
"When I start to map out the freckles, I don't like to pre-mark every little dot," says 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."
Definitely 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.
What Is The Process Like?
"I always start out my freckle appointments by assessing their skin. Do they already have freckles? Is their skin oily or dry?" explains Killen. "Once we decide how freckled we're going to go, I use a topical numbing agent on my client. I use a brand called Zenza, 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 personal 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 later (your artist might even suggest you do this over the course of two appointments). At the end of the process, the artist will likely add more random or smaller dots to tie everything together.
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 course of the following month or two. Keep in mind that tattooed freckles aren’t actually 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.
"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're wanting a softer, more subtle look you can gently exfoliate the area at around seven to ten days post-tattoo."
How Long Will The Freckles 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 skin faster when you’re iron-deficient. Also, if you’re a skincare wizard, it’s necessary to note that chemical peels, Glycolic acid, AHA, and any other exfoliating processes can actually speed up how fast the tattoos will fade.
What Can Go Wrong?
"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 prior to your appointment. A dermatologist is the best person to consult to see if freckle tattoos are safe for you.