0401 736 948

Cosmetic Tattooing: The what, why and how of permanent makeup


24 April 2019

No Comments

Home News

Cosmetic Tattooing: The what, why and how of permanent makeup

Cosmetic tattooing, also called permanent makeup (PMU), has delivered many benefits to women of all ages. The ability to semi-permanently enhance your appearance, while achieving a natural look, holds much appeal. Cosmetic tattoos can be helpful for a range of reasons. Cosmetic tattooing can help:

  • busy people save time by removing the need to apply makeup on a daily basis
  • correct a physical issue or flaw such as over plucked eyebrows, eyebrow scars, pale and unevenly coloured lips, or eyes with little definition
  • women who struggle to apply their makeup because of poor vision or watery eyes
  • if you want your makeup to last. Sometimes makeup doesn’t even last for a full day or for an entire event.

What is the difference between cosmetic tattooing and decorative body tattoos?

Traditional artistic tattoo

Artistic or decorative body tattoos are made to last. They are bold and bright. They are body art and often make a statement or tell a story. Body tattoos use bright, bold ink which is designed to last, though they do fade with sun exposure and alter with skin changes over time.

Cosmetic tattoos, on the other hand, are used to enhance your natural facial features and need to fade as the face changes. What suits you today may not suit you in three years’ time. For example, if your eyebrow tattoo lasts forever, as your eyes droop so will your eyebrows. If the tattoo fades you can achieve a lift when you have your eyebrows re-tattooed. Cosmetic tattoos, therefore, use a pigment rather than ink. The pigments come in softer tertiary colours which is important because subtlety is key in cosmetic tattooing.

Body tattoo ink is implanted into the subcutaneous tissue, in other words, the fat layer that lies under the skin, making it permanent. Cosmetic tattoo pigment is implanted into the dermis, the second layer of the skin, hence it generally doesn’t last more than 5 years.

Are cosmetic tattoo pigments natural or safe?

People often ask if cosmetic tattoo pigments are natural, but I believe what they really should ask is if they are safe. After all, the most dangerous poisons in the world are natural. We also don’t want to tax our natural resources to decorate ourselves.

Natural ingredients and vegetable pigments or food colouring are not considered safe as they can provoke an allergic reaction. For this reason, cosmetic tattoo pigments are often synthetic. There are, however, two types of pigments that are used:

  • Organic pigments, made from lakes pigments
  • Inorganic pigments, made from iron and zinc oxides.

Organic pigments (or lakes) are carbon-based and can dissolve in water in the body. They are therefore coated in a metallic substance, or oxide, which prevents them from dissolving in the body. The coating isolates the pigment from the body, making it safe. Even though this coat reduces the risk of an allergic reaction, organic pigments are more likely to cause an allergic reaction than inorganic pigments. Organic pigments also seem to fade faster than inorganic pigments.

Inorganic pigments are generally synthetically produced metals (or oxides). Iron oxides are the most common and are considered stable and non-toxic, making them safe to use. In general, people don’t seem to react to iron oxide.

Pigments are ground into a fine powder, which is then suspended in glycerine, distilled water and alcohol as they need to be in a liquid form to be implanted under the skin. The size of these molecules is at least 6 microns to prevent the pigment from spreading.

Tattoo ink

What is the difference between Microblading and cosmetic tattooing?

Cosmetic Tattoo Tools

Cosmetic tattoos, PMU (permanent makeup), SPMU (semi-permanent makeup), micropigmentation, microblading, and feathering are all terms that have been used interchangeably to describe a similar procedure.

Permanent makeup (PMU) uses a cosmetic tattooing machine to gently implant pigment into the skin using a variety of fine needles.

Microblading is a technique that uses a set of needles to manually etch pigment into the skin. That is, it does not use a machine. The term microblading is often incorrectly used to refer to the application of hair strokes to create or enhance an eyebrow rather than a shading technique. While microblading is generally used to produce hair strokes, it can be used to do a limited amount of shading. However, powder brow, which is a solid shading technique, cannot be done with microblading. Microblading is also not suited to lip or eyeliner tattooing.

Cosmetic tattooing can, therefore, be performed manually or using a machine, depending on what area of the face is being tattooed. There are a number of different types of machines available; a rotary, a coil and a digital machine. The most modern, gentle, and precise is the digital machine. For this reason, it is my preferred choice for cosmetic tattooing.

Eyebrow tattooing techniques

There are a few different eyebrow tattooing techniques available, depending on your skin type and personal preferences.

Hair stroke brows

Hair strokes are suitable if it is your first eyebrow tattoo and you have some hair. It produces a subtle, natural look. It is not suitable for oily skin types as the lines will blur, nor is it good for covering up an old tattoo. Hair stroke brows require more touch-ups.

Hair strokes and shade or hybrid brow

This combines hair strokes and shading. It lasts longer and looks fuller.

Shade or powder brow

Suitable for all skin types, powder brow is good for cover-ups and requires fewer touch-ups. Powder brow is a more solid look which is good if you want a more solid look or a base for your eyebrows. It achieves a powder make-up look.

Eyebrow Tattoo Options/Types

How long will the tattoo last?

There are many factors that determine how long it takes for a cosmetic tattoo to fade. The initial colour will be bright and dark, settling over four weeks. During this time any dying and dead skin cells above the implanted tattoo will slough off revealing the actual colour beneath. The final result won’t be visible until after this four week healing period.

The pigment particles, which are too large to be taken away by the blood capillaries, will be trapped in the collagen of the skin. Over time the collagen and elastin reduce resulting in a faded or blurred tattoo.

Colours fade at different rates, therefore brown (which is made of red, blue and yellow) can change colour. If your eyebrows become either red or blue a colour corrector can be applied to bring them back to brown.

The tattoo will also fade more rapidly if exposed to the sun or if exfoliators such as hydroxy acids and retinoids are used over the tattoo area.

All cosmetic tattoos will fade with time. Eyeliner tattoos tend to last the longest, lasting up to five years before requiring a touch-up. Lip tattoos can last between two to five years. Eyebrow tattoos will require touch-ups every one to three years. The tattoo should not be touched up unless it has faded more than 50% to avoid over processing the skin. It’s best to wait as long as possible between touch-ups.

Does a cosmetic tattoo procedure hurt?

Without pain relief, a tattoo procedure would be painful. But with the use of topical anaesthetics, it can be very well tolerated. In fact, my eyebrow clients frequently fall asleep!

A topical 10% anaesthetic can be purchased from a compounding pharmacist. For more information, see our article on Pain Relief. This can be discussed further at your consultation.

EDM Beauty Cosmetic Tattooing Options

You can rest assured your treatment at EDM beauty salon is in good hands! Your beauty therapist, Marlene, has more than 26 years’ experience in the beauty industry, both as a therapist and a trainer. Her goal is to help you feel as beautiful as you are. Marlene offers you the following cosmetic tattooing:

  • Eyebrow tattoos
  • Eyeliner tattoos (upper and/or lower)
  • Lip tattoos.

To discuss your options, book a consultation (the cost will be redeemable on your first treatment if booked within six months).


  • SHBBSKS003 Design and provide cosmetic tattooing. Candidate’s Workbook. John Bailey, Corinne Ryan, Janine Steele. Editor John Bailey 2014.2015
  • Cosmetic tattoo, permanent makeup, micro-pigmentation training manual, Robyna Smith-Keys, Edition 6, 2015,2016
  • Masterclass by Monica Ivani 2018, Hybrid eyebrow technique hair strokes and ombre combination.