Beauty is only skin deep - so make it last!

1. What is it?
There are many different names for the application of aesthetic tattoo to enhance facial features: micropigmentation, permanent cosmetics, permanent makeup, cosmetic tattooing, paramedical. While traditional tattoo deeply penetrates the dermis, cosmetic tattooing is the process of depositing pigmented granules in the upper reticular layers of the skin. Once the skin has healed and the top layer has come away, the remaining result is around 50 percent of the colour effect from the original session. 

Although the technique is given the moniker ‘permanent’ tattooing, the process is in fact semi-permanent. As the pigments are deposited into the upper layers of the skin, a number of factors can affect the longevity of the tattoo, such as sunlight and regular exfoliation; the quality of the original dyes used, the quality of the application, etc. The generally accepted lifespan of permanent cosmetics is approximately two to five years however assuming that it will have ‘washed off’ in twenty years – isn’t accurate either.
The lasting effect will however have significantly faded from the original application, which is why technicians offer ‘touch ups’.
Tattooing has been around for millennia. As long ago as 3300 B.C during the stone age, Egyptian and Nubian mummies in 2000 B.C. and in China, 1000 B.C. Although it can be argued that all tattoos are cosmetic, modern cosmetic art is intended for facial tattoos that give the appearance of wearing make-up. The rise of ‘cosmetic tattooing’ has been found to date back as far as 1930s, Hollywood’s rich and famous receiving permanent lip colour a favourite treatment. Many clients were often tattooed without their knowledge on the premise that they were receiving vegetable dye injections as a complexion treatment.

The next few decades didn’t see a massive increase in popularity and as a result no major breakthroughs were made. However, from the 1980s there would be a resurgence in the industry and more beauty therapists worldwide began training and offering the procedures. The early techniques were crude; eyebrow colours often being solid blocks resembling a pair of flattened slugs. The instrument – a bamboo rod with needles embedded into one end and then bound together with cotton. The needles were then dipped into a small dish containing the pigment and tapped into the skin. There was no requirement to use disposable equipment or sterilise in an autoclave, just a quick rinse of the tools and then on to the next client. This more closely resembles the traditional tattooing discovered centuries ago in the Pacific, not as services offered by trained beauty therapists in developed countries.

2. Who is getting it done?
Consumers wishing to reduce their spend on cosmetics and make the savings offered by permanent make-up was one of the driving factors behind the rise in popularity of. Global spending on beauty products over the decades has seen steady increases and despite economic downturn in other sectors; beauty remains an area where consumers will defy trends and continue to spend on make-up. Because of this, an opportunity arose to market the concept of reducing annual spend on products such as eyeliner, lip liner and brow pencils; and instead ‘invest’ in semi-permanent makeup. Whether or not the investment is more cost efficient than purchasing cosmetics over the counter depends on each individual and what their purchasing habits and frequency of use are. Despite this, it is certainly enjoying a boom in popularity.

In more recent years, a growing number of active people have opted to use permanent makeup to enhance their appearance without fear of it sweating off or while participating in water-based activities like swimming or surfing which would previously have required a make-up-free appearance. Carol Beech from Micropigmentation Services is one of New Zealand’s most experienced practitioners and a pioneer in the industry, having practised since the early 1980s. Beech has performed thousands of successful procedures and says that it’s not only popular as a feature enhancer; but for clients who suffer from sensitivities to everyday products, for mature men and women who through the body’s natural degenerative processes have lost hair growth in the brows (as from the mid-thirties growth slows and hair becomes fine) and also for clients in an area that has crossover into the medical field.

Severe sufferers of alopecia benefit hugely from cosmetic tattoos as well as those who have lost their hair through radiotherapy or chemotherapy. The practice has also become very popular for post-reconstructive surgery patients, restoring confidence and reducing the emotional scars experienced following a mastectomy. Debra Challis from Fab Lashes has also been practising micropigmentation in New Zealand for around 25 years and feels passionately about this particular area. Skilled tattooists such as Challlis are able to match the skin tone of the existing nipple area or in the case of a bilateral reconstruction; using pre-operative photos to most closely replicate the original appearance. These services are more commonly known as para-medical tattooing and require more comprehensive training, but Challis feels the satisfaction of making a positive difference to a persons self-esteem makes the additional training well worth it.

3. How can you become qualified and introduce it into your salon?
The growing demand for treatments is proof enough that this is a worthwhile investment in your salon. The Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals (“SPCP”) released figures in 2012 showing that the numbers of technicians training in the field had increased tenfold in the three years prior. Beech echoes this sentiment and concedes that while encouraging competition for her business may be counter-intuitive; is still calling for there to be more trained technicians to meet consumer demand.

The cost of training varies between tutors and there are also a number of facilities around the world that offer extended and more specific training on specialised areas (such as para-medical tattooing) and in new products and techniques. There are a handful of trainers in New Zealand offering five-day intensive courses, the prices for which are between $4,000 and $7,000 for basic courses and additional courses can be undertaken for more technical skills like para-medical tattooing.

When looking for training in New Zealand its essential to research the background of the trainer: where they received their training, how long they have spent in the industry and also crucially to ensure that they are still practising procedures on a regular basis. Beech states the risk of classroom based educators is that those providing the training for large groups of students are not spending enough time on carrying out treatments themselves. Your educator will also become your source for the medical grade topical anaesthetics, dyes and instruments so it’s essential to select carefully. Be extremely cautious purchasing any products or equipment off the internet or from anyone other than a licensed reseller as the professional only brands such as MT.Derm have contracts with salon professionals preventing them from reselling the products.

Challis feels so strongly about expanding the skill base of professionals practising in New Zealand that she is planning to have specialists from around the world visit here on an annual basis to offer skills workshops. The advancements in both technique and technology create some exciting opportunities for practitioners and she strongly recommends attending as much training as possible to keep abreast of changes in the industry and continue to offer clients the most advanced methods possibly to achieve the most natural look.

4. What regulations do you need to know about?
One of the biggest concerns for professionals in the industry is the lack of regulatory requirements. Consumers might be concerned to learn that at present, there is no governing body for the cosmetic tattooing industry and no standard qualification required for the practice.

Although minimum standards must be met to pass local Council inspections for Health and Safety, Beech advises this system in itself is flawed. A recent visit by a council staff member to her clinic showed the inadequacies of the current structure when the Inspector simply walked through the salon and asked ‘is this where you do the facials?’. After offers to present copies of her contracts, her advice for aftercare to the patients, the process for disposal of the needles and even after an invitation to view the sterilisation of equipment was declined; it is worryingly clear that the systems set up to protect the health and safety of consumers is severely lacking in this specialised sector of beauty therapy in New Zealand.

The industry is represented by The New Zealand Association of Registered Beauty Therapists Inc. so I put the question to association president, Judy West, on why more isn’t being done to have the industry regulated for the protection not only of consumers but professionals also. West agrees with the frustrations shared by others in the field but feels the Association’s hands are tied. She understands that an educational platform needs to be developed however finding the right person or persons to do this is only one of the challenges.

Auckland Council has gone some way to ensuring that beauty therapy clinics offering permanent makeup adhere to health and safety best practices of ‘skin penetration’. Council introduced the Health & Hygiene Bylaw in 2013 and Code Of Practice in 2014; outlining minimum requirements for clinics offering (among other things) tattooing. The policing of this is leaving much to be desired so despite it being introduced as law, compliance at this stage seems to be bordering on voluntary.

5. What are the risks?
The risks associated with micropigmentation are similar to any treatment that penetrates the surface of the skin. The most obvious is skin infection following the use of non-sterile equipment which can lead to infections such as hepatitis and HIV, but there is also a risk of allergic reactions to the colour particles in the pigment. It is essential that you discuss with potential clients their skin type and history of allergic reactions. For any that you suspect may be extremely sensitive; consider performing a small hidden test patch to rule out adverse reactions. Should a reaction occur, there is the potential for development of keloid scars and granulomas (tissue forming around the particles of tattoo pigment).

In addition to the risk of piercing the skin with the digital needles, there is also a great risk to clients in receiving treatments from technicians who are not proficient or suitably experienced in the field. It is an estimated three years of tattooing to become proficient in facial work. Not receiving appropriate training, too little time spent practising, not having a comprehensive manual (around 80 pages as a guideline) and not using quality instruments and pigments all put the end result and ultimate happiness of clients in jeopardy.

Although there are options for removing cosmetic tattoos there are techniques to make minor ‘corrections’ to achieve the perfect look. As well as patience, a steady hand and extremely high attention to detail – being able to correctly colour match pigments to skin tones is essential. Colour adjustments can be made to faded tattoos by implanting pigment over orange, blue or purple to neutralise the tattoo to a shade that is more natural for the wearer.

6. Why should clients choose you?
The most important thing to offer your potential clients is your willingness to listen. A comprehensive consultation to establish exactly what they want and what they’re hoping to gain will assist you to develop a plan to exceed their expectations. Display your qualifications, certificates and any professional memberships and encourage clients to be informed of your experience, specialties and techniques. Don’t discount your services or place your business on deal websites.

With the volume of experience and dedication required to become proficient in micropigmentation, it’s impossible to do permanent makeup for $100 and consumers should be cautious when offered discounts like this. All too often industry professionals are being asked to touch up work that was carried out by untrained and inexperienced therapists. When done properly micropigmentation can boost confidence, reduce the amount of time and money spent on cosmetics and even go some way to repairing physical and emotional scars caused by corrective surgery for breast cancer. The profession can be extremely rewarding and also offer a great financial boost for your clinic when set up correctly. Invest the time in comprehensive training from reputable therapists so you can offer your clients the best possible micropigmentation experience that will last them as long as possible.

Article written for BeautyNZ Magazine by Debbie McKinnie. 

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