Semi-permanent make-up, also known as micropigmentation, is a form of temporary cosmetic tattooing which allows you to have long-lasting eyeliner and lip colour as well as being able to shape and contour your eyebrows. The procedure involves tiny particles of pigment being placed beneath the surface of the skin, much like a tattoo. This pigment will stay in the skin for a number of years, gradually breaking down and fading with time, although the longevity of the results will depend on your age and skin type.
Micropigmentation techniques have been refined in recent years and a wider selection of pigment colours have been developed so that technicians can create ultra-natural looks. Only a trained semi-permanent make-up artist can perform this treatment. Many technicians are also beauty therapists or nurses but as this is a specialist skill it requires separate training.
In addition to being commonly used for cosmetic enhancement to enhance the eyebrows, eyelids, lips and cheeks, semi-permanent make-up may also be used to create an areola (brown area around the nipple) after mastectomy or to disguise scars.
People that suffer from vitiligo which is a chronic disorder that causes depigmentation in patches of skin can also benefit from semi-permanent makeup.
Anyone who wears make-up is a potential candidate for semi-permanent make-up. If you lack colour and shape to your lips and want to enhance them without having dermal fillers; if you regularly pencil in your eyebrows or would like to give them a better shape or fill in gaps where they have been over plucked; if you want to enhance your eyes and want the effects of eyeliner without the running and under eye smudging; if you want to open up your eyes and raise your eyebrows without the need for a brow lift; if you are allergic to traditional cosmetics or if you simply want to save time by not having to apply a full face of make-up every day, then semi-permanent make-up could be an option for you. The ideal candidate for this treatment will also have realistic expectations about what it can achieve.
The technique is also used for medical applications such as:
- Areola (nipple) tattooing following mastectomy
- Eyebrow reconstruction for alopecia patients and those who have lost hair through burns, operations or accidents
- Camouflage of vitiligo
- Cosmetic correction of cleft palate
- Correction of facial asymmetry
- Camouflage of surgical scars (See our section on Medical Tattooing for more information on this).
People who should not have treatment are those with an active skin disease or infection, women who are pregnant or breast feeding, insulin dependent diabetics, people with heart conditions and those who are prone to keloid scarring.
There are few risks associated with semi-permanent make-up. One of the biggest risks is that the result is too dramatic or the wrong combination of pigments is used so that you get a coloured tint that does not look natural. This should not happen in the hands of a skilled practitioner so make sure you do your homework and see someone who has a good record and is experienced in this technique. In many cases this can be corrected but will fade over time.
A rare side effect is an allergic reaction. If you are concerned about this, you can have a skin sensitivity test before treatment.
Scarring is also very rare but can happen if the technician makes a mistake during the treatment. Again visiting an experienced and skilled practitioner will minimise the risk of this occurring.
Another possible complication is infection. If proper sterilization is used this should not happen. Make sure you don’t touch or rub the area after treatment to lessen the chances of this happening.
Before you decide whether or not to go ahead with semi-permanent make-up you will need to have a consultation with a semi-permanent make-up artist/technician to make sure you are suitable for treatment and to discuss your goals and expectations. A medical history should be taken and you should be asked to fill in a consent form to say you fully understand the procedure and its associated risks and complications. Your practitioner may also take photographs to use as a before and after comparison later.
Your consultation may be done on the same day or on a different day to your treatment. In some cases, a topical anaesthetic may be used to minimise discomfort during treatment. Whether or not you have this will be down to you and your semi-permanent make-up technician.
The practitioner will then usually mark out the area being treatment with a cosmetic pencil to act as a guideline. The pigments are then placed under the skin using a very fine needle attached to a hand held electrical device.
Your treatment may take anywhere between half an hour and two hours depending on the area(s) you are having treated. You will usually need to come in for more than one appointment to achieve the right result as the pigments may be absorbed and need topping up.
Because the techniques used nowadays are more natural and require less pigment, your results may not last as long as in the past where more pigment was used. How long your results last will vary depending on how quickly your body absorbs the pigment but can be anywhere between three months to two years.
There is virtually no downtime with semi-permanent make-up treatment and you will be able to resume normal activities straight away. The pigment in the treated area may appear to be a little dark for a few days after the procedure and you may have some redness. In some cases, you may get some slight swelling or bruising.
Make sure you follow the post treatment advice given to you by your practitioner carefully. This may include staying out of the sun, not going swimming for a couple of weeks, avoiding traditional make-up for three or four days and avoiding picking or scratching at the area. If your eyes have been treated and you are a contact lenses wearer you may need to wear glasses for a few days after treatment.
Have a specific question?
Enter it into the box below to ask our beauty experts
Searching for an Expert?
Enter your Town or ZIP Below to search our experts
Latest Articles, Products and Answers from our Experts
Where to buy [...]
What treatment options are available for scars and stretchmark’s? [...]