My brows started out just fine. In fact, as a child, I was made fun of, with people calling my thick, dark, straight eyebrows “caterpillars.” But when I was 12, I underwent chemotherapy and, along with the hair on my head, most of my brows fell out. I went into remission and my brows did grow back, but now they were mismatched and badly misshapen. My brows, once twin sisters, were now only distant cousins.
Over the last two decades, I’ve tried massages and castor oil and expensive serums to get them to grow again, but nothing has worked. You name it, I’ve done it, and now I’m left filling in the bald spots with countless powders, pencils, gels, and pomades. Microblading, the permanent tattoo technique used for natural-looking brow tattoos, seemed like the natural next step.
I’m no stranger to tattoos and needles don’t phase me, so luckily those things weren’t an issue for me.
But the idea of getting a tattoo on my face, which is basically what microblading is, still kind of freaked me out. I made sure to do plenty of research beforehand.
I settled on Val’s Beauty Ink, a permanent makeup studio in Downtown Los Angeles recently opened by Val Hernandez, a celebrity makeup artist turned permanent makeup technician. I stared at the before/after photos of her work on Instagram for hours, finally contacting and barraging her with million questions: Does it hurt? How does it differ from a traditional tattoo, both pain and application-wise? How long will it last? Does it matter if I wear contacts? Does it matter if I still actually have a ton of hair on my brows or is it better for those with little-to-no hair? What if I hate the final look?
If you can think of the question, I asked it.
Val did a great job of soothing my nerves and keeping me informed, and I decided to make an appointment for both microblading and lash enhancement.
Her studio is an appointment-only private space with great lighting and several energy-balancing crystals scattered throughout, which is totally my vibe. Before I arrived, Val advised me to take an antihistamine (this helps with tear production) and to get my brows threaded if I wanted to. You can’t get your brows waxed or threaded for at least 10 days after your session. So, if you need any major hair removal, it’s best to do it the day before. She also warned me that if I wore my contacts, I’d have to remove them for the procedure and might not be able or even want to put them back in afterward.
The day of my appointment, I arrived barefaced, armed with bottle of Benadryl and with my glasses safely stowed in my purse. Once settled, Val went over aftercare with me then proceeded to shape my brows. She measured them, filled them in with pencil, removed stray hairs, and showed me what she envisioned.
I made a few changes based on my own desires, which is one of the most important steps.
This isn’t a manicure mess-up you can fix at home. These are semi-permanent so if you don’t 100% love the shape your technician shows you, speak up. I myself decided on a bit shorter on the tail end and thinner. After Val and I both agreed on the shape, she applied a thick, white numbing cream over my brows and I waited for it to kick in.
After some time, with brows fully numbed, she started the procedure, sitting over me with magnifying glasses and bright lights.
There was very little pain and it mostly felt like she was very lightly tapping on my brows with her fingers.
As she went over them a few times, the pressure intensified, but it wasn’t unbearable. When Val was nearly finished with my second brow, the numbing cream started to wear off. That was when the most pain kicked in and it felt like the worst migraine ever. There was also some very light bleeding at this point, so Val stopped the procedure and applied more numbing cream. THANK GOD FOR NUMBING CREAM.
After the second application kicked in and she finished up my second brow, Val cleaned them up and let me see them. There was some puffiness and a little bit of redness, but nothing worse than when you leave a waxing salon. I didn’t experience any bleeding again, either.
Before and after:
The week following my procedure was more disruptive than the session itself, and remember — you have to go through this twice! Microblading takes two sessions. The biggest issue is you absolutely cannot get your brows wet in the first few days.
Keeping them dry is crucial to them healing correctly.
Water is the enemy!
Thankfully, it’s not as tricky as it sounds. During a shower, you can cover up your brows with ointment and plastic (your technician can show you how) and avoid sticking your face directly under the water. If you have the luxury, you can also choose to take a bath instead. I also used my brows as a reason to skip the gym, to avoid both sweating and longer showers.
As far as skin care, I switched to using micellar water to cleanse my face in the morning and evening instead of washing my face the traditional way. I like Garnier’s SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water, which is fragrance-free and works on sensitive skin. Since you dispense micellar water on a cotton pad, it’s easy to avoid the brow area. Doing that for a week didn’t disturb my skin in any noticeable way.
Another main issue is how your brows look during the first few days after the procedure.
Since you can’t get them wet at first, they appear a bit thicker and much darker than normal. After about three days, they started to scab, peel, and itch, just like a traditional tattoo. The peeling made my eyebrows look like they’d gone temporarily gray, so that was kind of weird.
During this time, I stuck to wearing my glasses and avoiding eye makeup. There was some soreness on my brow bone, and it was a bit uncomfortable whenever I made a brow-centric facial expression, but generally the healing process was far more comfortable than that of any of my body tattoos.
Much like eyelash extensions and laser hair removal, you’ll eventually need follow up treatments.
After my first session, I did notice some fading, but that’s to be expected and why it takes two sessions to begin with. Of course, over time the pigment fades, and how long it lasts really depends on the technique and skill of your technician, your aftercare and skincare habits (sun exposure doesn’t help!), and your skin type.
According to Val, microbladed brows on oilier skin types will usually last about 12-18 months, whereas those with drier skin can get about 2-3 years of wear. At that point, you can choose to leave them be or get a touch-up. Because of this, there’s a common misconception that brow tattoos are for the high maintenance, since they’re not entirely permanent. Honestly, I think brow tattoos are really for the lazy, the busy, and those who just don’t want to deal with it and would rather spend the time doing something else.
The final look
I do still have to groom and maintain my brows, trimming the longer hairs once in awhile and taking a tweezer to random strays here and there.
I don’t have to do it as often since my shape is now thicker and most of the hairs that used to be strays are now part of my new shape. Surprisingly, getting my brows tattooed has saved me a significant amount of time. I hadn’t realized how much of my makeup routine was dedicated just to my brows. It’s pretty awesome to wake up and have perfect eyebrows ready to start the day with. Another pleasant discovery: the milia I used to get around my brows has also cleared up, most likely due to using less product.