Semi permanent makeup (also called permanent makeup and micropigmentation) and microblading (also called eyebrow embroidery) are both types of cosmetic tattooing, but they use different methods.
With the sudden popularity and media attention to the term microblading, there is a lot of conflicting, and sometimes incorrect, information out there regarding both methods. Therefore this blog aims to clearly and honestly explain the similarities and differences between the two methods. Although I offer semi permanent makeup rather than microblading, I have tried to keep this article unbiased and I have only included information I know is true.
For semi permanent makeup, a cosmetic digital tattooing machine is used. It’s different from a regular tattoo machine in that the frequency is much lower meaning the pigment is implanted closer to the surface of the skin. Whereas microblading uses a manual hand tool instead of a machine.
As both methods give semi permanent makeup results, I am going to refer to the two different methods as the ‘machine method’ and ‘microblading’ to clearly distinguish between the two methods.
The main difference between the machine method and microblading is the tools and needles used. As already mentioned, one uses a machine, whereas the other uses a hand tool, but let’s look at the needle differences…
For microblading, a variety of needle configurations can be used. The configurations consist of 7-21 needles arranged in a row but in different shapes, such as angled and U-shaped.
Here are just some of the needle configurations available…
For the machine method there is a wider range of needle configurations that can be used depending on the procedure and desired results, such as hair strokes or shading, eyeliner or lip procedures, and the needle thicknesses also vary between configurations too. These configurations range from single needles (including a nano needle), round, sloped, flat, cluster or magnum configurations.
Here are some of the needle configurations available…
Whichever method is used, the technician will select the correct needle configuration for you depending on the procedure you’re having, your desired look and also your skin type.
However, their choice of needle will also depend on what needles they have been trained with and used, as every technician will have preferred needle configurations that they like to work with. For example, I know some technicians who like to use sloped configurations to create hair strokes, others who prefer 4 flat needles and some who prefer single needle options. This is partly why results are technician dependent, the needles vary in thickness as well as configuration, so hair strokes will vary in thickness depending on what needle configuration is used. This is why some hair stroke brows don’t quite achieve the ultra-fine hair strokes that some people desire, they can still look amazing, but needle thicknesses will determine the hair stroke thickness. It is therefore crucial that you look at the work created by a technician, to ensure you’re happy with the work they produce.
I create semi permanent hair stroke eyebrows with either a 1 micro needle (0.18mm), or a nano needle (0.2mm), which is a new, flexible single needle. I have worked with sloped and 4 flat needle configurations in the past but have personally found that I create the finest hair strokes with a single needle. However, this is just my personal preference and does not take away from other technicians who create beautiful hair stroke brows with other configurations.
Other than the tools and needles used, the machine method and microblading have a few other slight differences…
Microblading is not for everyone, especially if you have an oily skin type as more regular top ups are needed and some times pigment wont take to some skin types. So if you’re not a candidate for microblading then the machine method is a more likely option for you.
For microblading, pigment isn’t implanted quite as deeply as the machine method, which means that results don’t tend to last quite as long, meaning top-ups are often required more regularly. However, everyone holds pigment differently so this varies from person to person as it is effected by a wide variety of factors such as skin type, skin care, sun exposure, immune system, etc.
Microblading can be a little scratchier and more uncomfortable than machine work although most clients feel nothing after the secondary anaesthetic. Some, but not all technicians use topical anaesthetic to numb the area before they begin. However, this is more common for microblading procedures as usually when the machine method is used technicians will use a primary anaesthetic cream. Both methods usually use secondary anaesthetics once the skin has been broken and this does most of the numbing work to make the procedure as comfortable as possible for the client. Everyone’s pain tolerance and skin types vary so while some clients will still feel some discomfort and a scatchy sensation, others won’t feel anything at all.
Microblading slices the skin with the needles to implant pigment, where as the machine implants it by the needle moving up and down in the machine extremely quickly to lightly push the pigment into the skin. For this reason, microblading can cause more trauma to the skin.
The machine method and microblading also have a lot of similarities which mean that they are both viable options for hair stroke eyebrows…
Both give the client semi permanent eyebrows, including hair stroke eyebrows. During my research I noticed that some people offering microblading claim that the machine method cannot create hair strokes and creates work which is unnatural in finish and leaves you with block, solid brows… but this isn’t the case at all. It depends totally on your technician, their level of experience, their training, the needles they use, etc. So do your research and look at photos of their work to ensure you like the work they produce.
Both methods implant pigment into the dermal layer of the skin. Although as mentioned earlier, microblading doesn’t penetrate quite as deeply, which is why it doesn’t last as long.
Both need a second procedure 4-8 weeks after your first treatment.
Both methods use pigments rather than inks.
Both methods allow pigment to fade slowly over a period of time.
Both should be subjected to the same rigorous health and safety standards.
With both the machine method and microblading it is possible to implant the pigment too deep or too shallow in the skin. When the pigment is implanted too deeply, the colour could spread out, making the hair strokes look blurry rather than crisp; and in some cases the colour can appear grey-ish in the skin. There is also a chance of scar tissue forming, although this is usually more noticeable to the trained eye. If colour is implanted too deeply it can be hard to correct the results and technicians will either advise you to let them fade off before having another procedure, or in some more extreme cases will recommend tattoo removal before further work can be done. When pigment is implanted too shallow, pigment will not hold in the skin, colour will disappear or fade quickly, meaning repeat procedures will be needed. When pigment is implanted at the correct depth the results for both the machine method and microblading are great.
As microblading is a hand method there is a small margin for error, so there is a higher risk of scarring, whereas with the machine method the needle can be adjusted to sit the correct depth outside of the cartridge, making it much harder to implant the pigment too deep. Microblading slices the skin with the needles to implant pigment, where as the machine implants it by the needle moving up and down in the machine extremely quickly to lightly push the pigment into the skin.
As you can see there are quite a few similarities between the two, essentially it is the tools and technique that stands these two methods apart but they are both excellent in their own right and both are viable options for achieving natural-looking, hair stroke eyebrows.
Here are some of my hair stroke eyebrows, created with the machine method. Some are more dense in appearance as this is the look the client wanted, but you can see the hair strokes and how realistic they look…