The micropigmentation journey
The micropigmentation journey

The journey of micropigmentation and cosmetic tattooing has been extremely interesting since its known introduction in the early 1970’s. From the decision of a beautician in Malaysia, who I believe decided to learn the art of body tattooing so she could tattoo her clients’ eyebrows, a whole industry has evolved into the popular industry it is today.

My own introduction to Micropigmentation was in 1986, at a course tutored by a Malaysian lady who used a bamboo rod with needles inserted in one end, then bound with cotton. I decided that the concept was a fabulous idea, but the tool was unacceptable. Not wanting to give up on this concept, I decided to ask my local pharmacist if he could suggest something functional and hygienic that I could use, and so… for the next few years I used a disposable insulin syringe to implant pigment into my clients’ eyebrows, eye-lining and lips. Fortunately however, a pen was eventually manufactured in which disposable needles could be inserted. Applying the pigment manually allowed the technician to feel the pressure and density of the strokes. However, the disadvantage was that the distribution of the pigment was not always even, with light and heavy ‘pricking’ resulting in an uneven coverage.

In 1995 I was introduced to my first permanent make-up machine. It was a small rotary device that looked like a pen. A new technique was required, as instead of physically pricking the pigment into the skin, we had to learn to insert the needle, and then glide it through the skin. Other accessories became available, such as pigment blocks, pigment caps, and treated leather to practise on – instead of the original pig skin or banana skin! 

The pigments in the early days were very much like body tattoo pigments in that they were permanent – clients treated in the 1980’s still have their pigmented eyebrows. I can confirm this as I still have mine. As technicians we had to mix the colours for our clients from a palate of black, white, red, yellow and brown. It was absolute bliss when the iron oxide pigment colours started to appear on the market and we didn’t have to mix our own anymore. The colours also looked much better. However, the pigments we have now are mostly synthetic and look far more real in the skin than the iron oxide.

Initially the only topical anaesthetic available was Emla cream. Now we have very effective anaesthetics to be used on both intact and pierced skin. This makes the micropigmentation procedure more tolerant and comfortable for the client and the technician.

From those early days to today with the advances in technology, we now have the most amazing devices for cosmetic tattooing. There is a phenomenal amount of money spent on research, and more and more companies looking to enter into this fast-growing industry. 

Not only do we have amazing tools to use, there is so much development in technique now with the different ways of implanting pigment. This is a very exciting industry to be in but one that also needs much consideration. The permanent make-up field is the most satisfying and financially rewarding career in the beauty industry. As artists we are able to give our clients beautiful shapes and colour in their permanent make-up that will stay with them for years. 

However, the other side is that the public can be very demanding and difficult. Skin can be complex and unpredictable to work with; as can the client. Sometimes you feel that you are supposed to be a mind reader. Also there is so much on Facebook now that often there is a pre-conceived idea as to what is desired. 

Often, when I ask the client what look she wants, the client has no idea as to the reality of what it is that she actually wants. Most I find, want a perfectly natural look, for example, a brow that looks like it did when the client had a full brow of hair. This might mean a combination of powder fill or colour mist, with hair strokes; or just the former, or just the latter. Hair strokes need to be done correctly. The client needs to be lying down the same way the hair lies in the skin. 

It is great that there is so much choice of technicians now and we can refer a client on to another technician, if for example, we are requested to give a client an eyebrow that we are not comfortable giving, for whatever reason. Even though eyebrows are very popular, there is also a demand for eye-lining and lip procedures.  

This brings me to the subject of training to perform procedures for eyebrows, eye-lining and lips. Cosmetic tattooing requires a high degree of accuracy, skill and expertise. It requires the technician to have a good eye for balance and detail, have a steady hand, be a skilled listener, and have plenty of patience. These skills as well as good training from a reputable trainer are necessary to be a competent technician.

There are various courses available to choose from. The better courses on offer by the most long standing and better established companies around the world are for the duration of one hundred hours. Most courses I find are for a maximum of eight days only. Feedback from my students has proved to me that because of the nature of the treatments, it is better to have the training in modules. After the initial course and introduction to the procedures, the student can come back to be up-skilled as she is ready, and have her work examined; so continuing her learning. For most courses, the student attends the required days of the course, and that is it – their training is complete. As a newly fledged technician they are then out on their own with no-one to check if they are on the right track or not. If they train in another country it is possible they may not easily be able to contact their tutor if they have a problem or concern. Training locally can mean that the tutor can be more accessible to mentor the student as they start their career in micro-pigmentation.

It is important for courses to have a standard of attainment and an examination for the student. If the required pass mark is not met, or the work is not satisfactory, then the student may have to pay more for further tuition to meet the standard, or decide that cosmetic tattooing is not for them. There is a desperate need for compulsory certification for the cosmetic and medical tattooing industry. Currently the micropigmentation industry, like much of the beauty industry, is unregulated. As a result there are many incompetent technicians within the industry who have been inadequately trained.

During 2016, I had quite a few requests from technicians for refresher courses to help correct or retrain because their initial training was so ineffective. It seems to me that there is not anywhere near enough time spent on client consultation; assessing pigment colour which includes how to assess the client’s skin undertone and how to correct a pigment colour; or even how to correctly hold the client during procedures. 

Another area which I think often needs to be covered more in depth is the procedure for insertion of the pigment into the skin – taking into consideration the angle of the needles depending on the contour of the area being treated, or the speed of the machine in relation to the effectiveness of the absorbency of the pigment into the client’s skin. There are so many things to consider when doing a treatment, whether using a hand tool, or a machine. 

It is not possible to learn all of the above in a short course and call yourself a competent operator, as it takes at least three years to become reasonably confident. I think it is good to learn from others as well, so suggest investing in courses with other tutors. I have done quite a few courses where I felt that I didn’t learn anything and begrudged spending the money, but the upside is that it left me with the confidence that
I was doing ok, and keeping up with
my peers. 

Medical tattooing is also becoming popular within the medical profession. I have been doing medical tattooing on referred patients from plastic surgeons for many years. These past couple of years have been particularly busy training nurses to carry out medical tattooing on the nipple and areola. They see their patients from the time they are admitted to hospital with breast cancer, so it is only fitting that they should be able to assist with their patients’ complete recovery by tattooing their areola/nipple to complete their journey. 

There are also advances now in areas of scalp tattooing, and scar camouflage and needling. The machines and pigments for these procedures have greatly improved. I would recommend at least three years in practice with cosmetic tattooing to gain the necessary experience before beginning medical tattooing. Like cosmetic tattooing, medical procedures need expertise and a lot of good training, from a reputable trainer. 

Training requires a considerable commitment of time and money, so it is worthwhile taking the time to research the training courses available. Ensure you receive great training from a reputable tutor, to be the best micropigmentation technician you can be.

Carol Beech trained in Beauty Therapy in 1980 and has been practising micropigmentation since 1986. In 1995 Carol began teaching micro-pigmentation to beauty therapists in New Zealand and is the direct distributor of Amiea machines, cartridges, and pigments from Germany. Carol is on the NZ Association of Registered Beauty Professionals Executive Committee representing the Cosmetic and Medical Tattooing profession.   Ph.: 0800 421 900

By Carol Beech Micropigmentation Specialist

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