WTF is Cosmetic Tattooing?!

By Beautystack
13 March 2020
Copy URL to clipboard

Until a decade ago, cosmetic tattooing (aka permanent makeup or PMU) had a bad rap. Early adopters faced thick, fuzzy lines and off-key pigments that developed tell-tale blue or red hues over time.

It was the 2010s that took cosmetic tattooing next level. Artists riffed off traditional tattoo techniques, adapting tools and styles for finer lines and believable colours.

With the promise of perfectly filled, fluffed, and symmetrical brows that won’t sweat, rub, or wash off, it’s no wonder so many of us are queuing up to go under the needle. As pigments eventually fade, most artists use the term ‘semi-permanent makeup’ to manage expectations. How long your tattoo lasts depends on skin type, pigments used, the area tattooed, and your commitment to aftercare – but with colour taking up to 7 years completely disappear, face tattoos require serious trust.

Cosmetic tattoo maestro Rachel Pitman has been restoring over-plucked brows to their former glory for over 10 years. A quick scroll through Rachel’s mind-blowing before and afters, or a few minutes in her affable company, and you can see why so many people have put their trust (and brows) in her hands. Rachel studied a Fine Art, but approaches brow tattooing with the meticulousness and precision of an engineer. “I’ve painted and drawn since I could pick up a crayon. I’ve always been creative and weirdly obsessed with the general human form, structure, and composition.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Rachel Pitman (@iamrachelpitman) on

“I had no eyebrows before Rachel Pitman. I had to pencil them in every day,” says Beautystack CEO, Sharmadean Reid.

“She first did my brows in 2017 and she changed my life. Not only is she worth the money but her skills just get better and better. She’s a real G.”

Is Cosmetic Tattooing The Same As Microblading?

“Everyone is confused by this,” says Rachel.

“The main difference is in the technique. While tattooing has been around in various forms for centuries, Microblading (aka Eyebrow Embroidery) originated in China and became a popular treatment over here about 6 years ago. Microblading uses a U-shaped hand tool with lots of tiny needs to cut uniform hair strokes into the skin.”

Rachel uses a single needle and lightweight tattoo pen, a combo sometimes referred to as Nano Needling. “It perforates and deposits pigment into the upper part of the dermis, letting me create really dynamic diverse hair strokes.” This freestyle method allows Rachel to embrace the wildness of each client’s natural hair pattern, while giving sparse brows believable structure, balance, and a hint of her trademark ‘floof’.

And, unlike microblading tools, single needles can be turned to just about any kind of cosmetic enhancement, including freckles, eyeliner, lip liner, and even hyper-realistic areola restoration.

Love the look? Book a Nano Eyebrow treatment with Rachel now for a post-Lockdown 2.0 treat. 

What’s The Process? 

After a quick email consultation about your health, medication and skin type, Rachel requests a photo of your brows to assess hair growth, and a reference image of the style you’re after. “If I spot an issue, for example eczema around the brows, then this needs to be discussed before booking, so we can plan if and how we can work around it.” Understanding your skin type also helps to predict the finished effect. “I can’t create ultra fine and detailed hair-strokes on someone with thick, porous, oily skin, but I can adapt a simplified version to still add great shape and fluff.” Initial appointments are around 3 hours, with numbing cream applied first followed by a little collaboration on the style, shape and thickness of your dream brows. “Everyone has their own definition of natural,” says Rachel. “The secret to being happy with the outcome of your cosmetic tattoo is to find an artist with a portfolio that matches your taste. Generally I ask everyone to trust my expertise and guidance for the best results possible.” Once the brows are drawn in Rachel starts the tattooing process. The treatment ends with a pigment ‘bath’ for your new brows and a layer of protective balm.

It’s Less Painful Than Waxing 

Most cosmetic tattooists apply an anaesthetic cream before they get started and top up as needed during the treatment, so discomfort is minimal. To keep the face as still as possible, Rachel asks clients not to talk as she’s tattooing so you might even find you drift off mid-treatment.

What If I’ve Already Had Brow Tattoos? 

Rachel can even work over old or discoloured brow tattoos and microblading, as long as the faded pigment is light and the shape is thin enough. “For blonde brows, the old colour needs to be 90% faded, for brunettes there can be a little more colour present but only if it’s appropriate to go thicker,” says Rachel. “This lets me extend the shape and create some hair-stroke fluff around the edges while hiding the old colour with shading in the middle.”

There Are (Almost) No Limits

No brows? No problem. Unlike brow lamination, tinting, or HD brows, no natural brow hair is needed. Rachel’s portfolio includes clients with alopecia and those who’ve lost hair through chemotherapy. Rachel can even work over old or discoloured brow tattoos, using balancing pigments and placement to restore a natural look. In fact, the only strict limitations surround health. Cosmetic tattooing isn’t recommended if you’re pregnant, in the first 3 months of breastfeeding, or have taken Roaccutane in the past year as it sensitises the skin.

Will My Brows Always Look This Good? 

Stick to the aftercare and your brows should look perfect for between 9 and 15 months with a gradual fade courtesy of Rachel’s shallower needle technique.

After your appointment, swerve sweaty exercise for 7-10 days and sun exposure, swimming, and saunas for 2 weeks. The pigment will appear darker immediately after treatment and become flakey for up to a week, so plan your appointment around holidays and special occasions.

Don’t freak out, by the start of week two you’ll be fully obsessed with your new brows. The sun is a tattoo’s worst enemy, so even after the healing window, Rachel recommends protecting your brows with a high factor SPF every day.

She also suggests going easy on Retinol and AHA/BHAs, as any ingredient that increases skin cell turnover will decrease the longevity of permanent makeup.

“Older pigments used to fade out to a salmon pink, but I don’t see that happening a lot lately,” says Rachel. “If it does, it’s likely due to iron deficiency (as the body will draw the iron oxides from your brows in desperation), or prolonged and repeated sun exposure.”

You may still want to tint your natural brow hair and tend to the shape with your usual tweeze, thread, or wax routine. But other than that you can set ‘em and forget ‘em with a quick brush and a little clear brow gel.

Download our app for free on iOS here and Android here to check out your local Beauty Pros.

Makeup Skin