Five years ago, when Zehra Kachelo was visiting her daughter in Hanoi, Vietnam, she noticed that a lot of women looked effortlessly dolled up: their eyebrows were the perfect shape and colour; their lips were just the right tint.
The secret to their put-together looks turned out to be permanent make-up: the tattooing of pigments into the skin to enhance the lips, eyebrows, eyelids or cheeks. “I said ‘Wow your eyebrows look so nice’ and they said ‘We wake up like this’. I thought this is so great! I want to wake up like this,” she says.
Eventually, Kachelo decided to have her eyebrows, lips and eyelids tattooed (the inked eyelids give the appearance of having put on eyeliner). For Kachelo, as for many busy Pakistani women, permanent make-up (which is also known by the names micropigmentation and cosmetic tattooing) is all about convenience.
As she points out: “Basically my laziness got the better of me. I got hair bonding done so my hair could be nice and straight all the time. So why not the same with make-up? I got my face done and I was ready all the time. I loved it!”
Kachelo is not alone; many Pakistani women are turning to the technique because it saves them time. According to Samina Bilgrami, a certified permanent make-up professional based in Islamabad and Karachi and the founder of Brow Factor, women are increasingly opting for the technique because it’s so convenient.
“It’s becoming more and more popular and people of all ages are using this procedure. Most of them have a busy lifestyle and you don’t have to make an effort,” she says. “It’s convenient for a lot of working girls — you wake up and you’re ready. It makes you look very nice and fresh. You don’t look washed out.”
Roohi Sayeed, a certified permanent make-up professional and the owner of Amethyst Spa, agrees, pointing out that she has seen cosmetic tattooing become more popular in the last two years. “We see a lot of clientele in their 40s and 50s. We also see a lot of women from the northern areas of Pakistan who come to Karachi to get permanent make-up done,” adds Sayeed.
Permanent make-up may conjure up images of artificial-looking brows veering on the cartoonish — a legacy of the cosmetic tattoo fad that emerged in the ’90s and 2000s. The most recent iteration of the technique which is becoming popular, however, is far more sophisticated. Carbon-based pigments are no longer used; instead cosmetic professionals now use temporary pigments that are made especially for the face.
These pigments also come in a broader range of shades so permanent make-up artists can easily make the tint of colour the client is looking for. “You have a lot more shades now. When I got my training done 20 years ago, there weren’t many companies that made such pigments but now there are far more options,” says Sayeed.
The pigment is tattooed in using a needle and tattoo machine; for eyebrows there’s an additional option called microblading — where a hand-held tool is used to make small strokes. Unlike the ink used for traditional tattoos, the newer pigments simply fade in a few years. In fact, the term ‘permanent’ is misleading; semi-permanent would be more accurate.
“Permanent make up — doesn’t mean permanent, it lasts three to four years. There’s another technique [aside from tattooing] called microblading. They have it a lot in Europe — that lasts about a maximum of two to three years,” emphasises Kachelo.
The technique is also ideal for those whose eyebrows or lips have faded due to old age, alopecia or illness (such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy) and are looking for something more realistic looking and longer lasting. “The most popular is the eyebrows and the lips. It’s very anti-aging,” Bilgrami points out. “For example, for some people who have experienced hair loss, the inking defines their eyebrows and improves their looks. You wake up and you’re ready.” Sayeed adds that the technique can also help hide scars or skin damage: “We get very few clients who need help with that but we have filled in some scars, etc.”
While it may seems like a new technique, permanent make-up has been around at least since the 1920s. Inking in colour to enhance the cheeks or the lips emerged as the new fashion rage at the same time tattoo parlours became popular in the US and London. These salons offered services that gave women ‘permanent’ rosy cheeks and pink lips alongside the regular fare of inking in tattoo designs on the arms, shoulders or the back.
A Washington Post article from January 25, 1920, for example gushes about “a new method of beautifying by electricity. By an electric tattooing machine vari-coloured pigments are pricked into the skin and, behold! you have pink cheeks which will not rub off, nor wash out, nor fade.”
Almost a century later, permanent make-up is once again popular. Not surprising — given the new techniques are far more sophisticated and the demand on women to look pretty and presentable at all times on both the professional and personal front. Inking your lips so that they are a rosier tint or so that your eyebrows are darker, however, isn’t cheap.
According to Bilgrami the tattooing of eyebrows can cost between Rs45,000 to 65,000, while inking your lips will set you back around Rs60,000 to 65,000. The make-up also has to be ‘retouched’ every three to four years. For many women, however, it’s worth it: the proof is in the colour.
What you need to know before opting for permanent make-up
The process itself is simple enough. In consultation with you, the permanent make-up artist chooses a colour that would be suitable — the colour of the eyebrows, for example, should closely match that of your hair. The skin is anesthetised and the pigment is then inked in using a needle.
There are two sittings. Once you’re done with the first sitting, you’ll be asked to come again after four to six weeks. The permanent make-up artist will fill in any areas that have healed unevenly and touch up the colour where needed. So if you’re not completely happy about what you see in the mirror after the first sitting, don’t worry.
The pigment is tattooed in using a needle and tattoo machine; for eyebrows there’s an additional option called microblading — where a hand-held tool is used to make small strokes.
While numbing cream or anaesthesia is applied to the skin before the procedure is carried out, it’s bound to hurt; after all it is a needle or blade pricking your skin.
Do your homework before you opt for the procedure: is the cosmetic professional certified? Is the clinic/work station sterile and clean? “I don’t recommend it done at a salon unless it’s a sterile environment. That’s why I prefer working in a clinic,” says Bilgrami.
No matter how low, there is always a risk of an infection or an allergic reaction. Make sure there are no ingredients in the dye that you’re allergic to. And keep the tattooed area clean.
Make sure you and the permanent make-up artist are on the same page. Are you happy with the shape of the brows? Is the colour of the lips the tint you want? Yes, it’s semi-permanent but that’s the look you’ll have for the next couple of years so make sure it’s the one you want.
After the procedure, whatever you chose to get tattooed will be sore for a few days. The top layer of the skin flakes off. For two to three days, you can’t let water touch your face or get sweaty. It takes about a week for everything to be normal so don’t plan any big outings or parties for the day after the procedure!
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, October 21st, 2018