Permanent make-up, or micropigmentation, began as a medical procedure, grew into beauty tool

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Karen Oliver demonstrates the application of permanent makeup with Suzanne Warren. (Fred Lynch)

Would the idea of never having to apply an eyeliner, brow powder or lipstick again be a dream come true? Well, wake up, Sleeping Beauty, because that dream can easily become a reality. The secret is a procedure called micropigmentation, otherwise known as permanent makeup, and it is offered right here in Southeast Missouri.

Permanent makeup first started in the 1980s and was considered a medical cosmetics procedure for burn victims, individuals suffering from Parkinson's disease, cancer patients or individuals who had lost their eyebrows to alopecia, a disease that causes severe hair loss. Today, permanent makeup has gained popularity and is now used not only for medical cosmetics, but also as a beauty tool for countless women across the country.

Permanent makeup is a form of tattooing, requiring clients to either be 18 years or older or have a written consent from a guardian. It is usually performed on various parts of a woman's face, such as the eyelids or brows, but it can also be used to correct scarring on any part of the body. Specialized instruments are used to implant color into the skin to provide a layer of color. Pigmentation appears darker after it is first applied, but after the skin has healed the color lightens up and becomes more natural looking.

Karen Oliver, permanent cosmetic specialist with Advanced Dermatology in Cape Girardeau, has been doing micropigmentation on patients since 2007. She received her training through the Premier Pigment in Arlington, Texas, under the direction of Sandi Hammons, a pioneer in the permanent cosmetics industry.

"My procedures vary because women tend to choose makeup based on the latest trends seen in magazines and on celebrities," Oliver said. "I used to do a lot of lower and upper eyeliner, but now the trend is to have liner on the top lids only, and I see that in my patients' requests."

There are several reasons women undergo permanent makeup. Some want it simply because of the convenience it provides. Others choose to get it because they no longer have the physical ability to apply it. Allergic reactions to makeup have led women to choose micropigmentation. Permanent makeup is also a convenient way to cover up scars or other types of skin discolorations.

Clients tend to have very little side effects from the procedures. Oliver's clients may have a slight swelling of the area worked on, or tenderness if eyeliner is applied. But overall, she says the experience is a positive one for her patients.

"I like to have clients come in two weeks after the procedure to do any tweaking of the area and make sure the client is happy with the pigmentation," Oliver said. "One of the biggest downsides I see with permanent makeup is not with the procedures, but with the choice of technician."

Technicians and patients work closely to decide upon the proper shade of pigmentations as well as placement. Qualified technicians eliminate the risk for contracting infectious diseases from unclean needles and equipment. State governments are starting to require cosmetic specialists to have proper schooling and proof of training hours before they can apply permanent makeup to patients.

Alexie Whitten, certified permanent cosmetic specialist, recently moved her business, A Lasting Image, next to Healing Rays and the Nu You in Cape Girardeau. Whitten has been practicing micropigmentation for six years. With a degree in art, she feels technicians need to have an understanding of color and good hand-eye coordination. After training at So Natural in St. Louis, Whitten was required to learn all OSHA standards regarding blood diseases and take board exams before obtaining her license.

"The industry has really become more strict on their guidelines and regulations regarding permanent makeup," Whitten said. "I like the fact that Missouri is starting to crack down on bad technicians who don't follow OSHA standards because they are the people who give this industry a bad name."

Whitten, a member of the Society of Permanent Cosmetics Professionals (SPCP), feels Missouri will eventually follow other states and require technicians to be under the guide of a physician. She believes this is better for both the technician and the client because it requires the facility to be regulated like other medical facilities, eliminating the risk of transmitting blood diseases.

Finding a licensed technician is just the first step in permanent makeup. Clients also need to meet with a technician and go over pigmentation choices to find the best color and style for their face.

Melanie K. Balsman, permanent cosmetics specialist with Artisan Permanent and Corrective Cosmetics LLC, located at Dr. Christopher Jung's office at Saint Francis Medical Center, has been licensed in cosmetology and tattooing since 2002. She is also a member of the SPCP. Balsman, who is located within Southeast Missouri ENT Consultants, offers a "freestyle technique," providing a more natural look for clients.

Balsman explained, "I don't use any stencils as a way to create a more natural look, and I like to mix various colors together to really tailor the pigmentation to the client's skin tone."

Balsman also performs scar camouflaging, tattoo camouflaging and color correction on previous permanent makeup applications. Clients can schedule preliminary consultations with her to discuss various procedures and pigmentation shades, or to have any questions or concerns addressed about permanent makeup.

Like other cosmetic procedures, permanent makeup does have a few negative aspects. The most common drawback to micropigmentation is with color. The color used in permanent makeup will usually last for years, but in some instances, the ink used in permanent makeup can fade. If the technician goes too deep into the skin when applying pigmentation, the color can bleed beyond the desired site, causing a blurred look on the skin.

"I like to be very conservative when applying ink on any client," Whitten explained. "You can always add more color to an area of skin, but once the ink is there, it is permanent and must be removed with a laser."

Want to know more?

The cost of permanent makeup will vary depending on the type of procedure and where it is performed. Most applications will cost anywhere from $175 to $400, and usually take one to two-and-a-half hours to complete. Patients should expect follow-up consultations with technicians to evaluate the color and healing process of the tattooed area.

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