Semi Permanent Makeup vs Microblading – what’s the difference? And which is better for hair stroke eyebrows?

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…

What to expect from a Semi Permanent Makeup treatment

I will guide you through every step of your treatment explaining each process; I am always cautious in carrying out treatments and prefer to give a natural appearance as I can add colour, length and thickness during your second procedure appointment which is 4-6 weeks later.

What will happen during an appointment?
Paperwork – you will complete consent forms and medical history forms at the beginning of your first appointment.

Anaesthetic – I will apply a topical anaesthetic to the area you’re having a procedure done. This is in the form of a cream or gel (if having eyeliner done I won’t apply this until you’re led on the couch and can keep your eyes closed).
Consultation – we will discuss in detail what you want done and I will complete an individual treatment plan for each procedure. This is to ensure we are both on the same page and I fully understand what you want so that you leave fully satisfied. I will advise you on what will suit you best, but also take into consideration what you would like to achieve.
Photographs – I will take some ‘before’ photographs for my records. Please let me know if you are not happy for me to use the photographs in my portfolio, website or social media pages.
Drawn template – if you’re having your eyebrows or lips done then I will draw a template on so that you can get an idea of what I will be doing, this is further to the treatment plan and the final chance to make sure I’ve really understood what you want. I will use specific measurements for the eyebrows as well as working towards your desired look.
Colour selection – We will discuss your desired look and I will advise you on which colours will suit you best, taking into account your skin tone, hair colour, eye colour and the makeup colours you like to use. You can bring your eyebrow pencil or lip liner/lip stick along with you for us to use for guidance when choosing colours too. Virtually any colour can be mixed using a variety of basic pigment colours to complement your natural skin tones.
Eyeliner – if having eyeliner done I will put some eye drops in to protect your eyes and then apply the anaesthetic.
Procedure – the procedure will be done. This consists of a first pass (initial applications of pigment), anaesthetic, second pass, anaesthetic, third pass and touch-ups.
Final clean up and you check – I will clean up all excess pigment, get you to sit up slowly and then I will give you a mirror to have a look at the final results.
Photographs – I will take some ‘after’ photographs for my records. Please let me know if you are not happy for me to use the photographs in my portfolio, website or social media pages.
Aftercare – I will advise you of the relevant aftercare and give you an aftercare information leaflet to take away with you so that you fully understand how to look after your semi permanent makeup so that it heals effectively whilst encouraging the longevity of the procedure. For eyebrow and lip procedures I will give you a sachet of aftercare balm to apply while your procedure is healing. I am available by telephone/email/text after your procedure should you have any questions or concerns.

How long is an appointment?
When having a new procedure, you need to allow 2 hours for the first session, which includes an in-depth 30 minute consultation where we will discuss your desired look, colour and shape to ensure you are completely satisfied before beginning the tattooing process. Second procedure sessions and colour boost sessions take around 90 minutes.

What will my procedure look like immediately afterwards?
The pigment will look darker than what you want for your final look, but once the crust flakes off the colour will look 40-70% lighter (lip procedures tend to fade more than eyebrows or eyeliner). There may be some swelling, particularly for lip procedures, but this will go down within a few hours. The hair strokes on hair stroke or powder eyebrows may look quite sharp but these will soften during the healing process to leave more natural-looking hair strokes.

Is semi permanent makeup safe?
Absolutely. The highest standards of hygiene and sterilisation are met. I have full beauty insurance and health and safety certificates.

The use of a state of the art digital technology system excludes any risks of cross contamination, for your complete safety and peace of mind using a Precision Plus device.
Fully disposable, sterile, single-use needle cartridges are used for each client.
All pigments used are made of natural minerals that are specifically selected for their safe, non-toxic and hypo allergenic properties and they meet strict European medical standards. They are trusted by technicians and cosmetic surgeons throughout the world. Ophthalmologists actually recommend eye procedures for women sensitive to conventional cosmetics.
Clients are offered an allergy test prior to treatment, though this can be waivered in the majority of cases. Clients with some acute or chronic medical conditions or those known to be highly allergic would need a test 24hours prior to treatment.

How long does it take to heal?
Usually between 4 and 7 days, depending on the procedure you have had done and the individual. The healing process tends to go through 3 phases:
Scab/crust – this is only a light crust so is not very noticeable, which forms 2 or 3 days after your procedure and falls off in after a few days. During this phase, the pigment looks darker than what you want for your final look, but once the crust flakes off the colour will look 40-70% lighter (lip procedures tend to fade more than eyebrows or eyeliner).
Fade – once the crust has fallen off the colour can look very faded (this phase is usually 7 days after your procedure), but this is normal and the colour does return.
Heal – this is when the procedure has fully healed, about a week after your procedure.

How long does semi permanent makeup last?
The answer to this is a bit like answering the question ‘how long is a piece of string?’

It can last between 6 months and up to 2 years depending on the procedure done (for example, fine hair strokes won’t last as long as block eyebrows), the person and their skin type, sun exposure, immune system, their skincare regime and some other factors. Therefore, some people will need more top ups than others.
All treatments require 2 procedures within 4-8 weeks of each other to gain the perfected result you deserve and desire, as well as to increase the longevity of the procedure. If you do not have the second procedure your healed results are likely to fade quickly and could heal patchy, this is why it needs to be a 2-part procedure initially.
I will also advise every client about aftercare to allow the healing process to happen as naturally as possible so that healed results will be the best that they can be.

Follow-up appointments:
You are required to attend a top up appointment 4-8 weeks after your first treatment. This appointment is used to assess how the pigment has taken to your skin and if necessary more pigment can be added ensuring you receive perfect results.

How do you find a good semi permanent makeup technician?

I don’t know about you, but when I decided to have Semi Permanent Makeup (also known as micropigmentation or abbreviated as SPMU); I wanted to know who was going to be putting a needle into my face. I wanted to know what their qualifications were, whether the equipment and products they were using were safe, who had trained them and what their style was so I’d have an idea of what the outcome was likely to be so that I could determine whether I would trust them to tattoo my face.

I was lucky enough to know someone who was a qualified SPMU technician. Not only did I know her personally; I’d seen plenty of her work, been recommended her by word of mouth, as well as having read reviews on social media, and after doing a quick online search into her training company, knew that she would have had high quality training and the equipment and products she were using would be safe.

But not everyone knows a qualified SPMU technician, so if you don’t, how do you find a good Semi Permanent Makeup technician to suit you??

Personally, I couldn’t just pick a name off the internet and put myself under their needle without learning a bit more about them. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen what can go wrong… If you get a dodgy eyebrow wax it’s not the end of the world – the hair will grow back within a few weeks and in the meantime you can use pencil or powder to hide the mistake. A bad cosmetic tattoo isn’t always so easy to disguise and you have to live with the consequences for so much longer…

What could you be risking from going to an unqualified, untrained, uninsured or unlicensed technician?

Infection:

Infected eyebrows, eyes or lips are not a pretty sight, but there are wider implications to be aware of… An infection can lead to scar tissue forming, which is much more difficult (and sometimes even impossible) to implant colour into – you could be left with areas of skin on your face which will never accept colour so the treated area will be left patchy, not to mention sore and unsightly until it heals.

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This shows how scarring can cause patchiness when healed
Eyeliner infection close up
This is an example of an infected eyeliner procedure – as you can see it looks unsightly and extremely sore

Aesthetic appearance:

You could be left with SPMU that simply looks awful – and no one wants to walk around with unsightly SPMU! Unless your technician knows what they are doing, it is very easy to make a mistake – to place a line where you don’t intend to place a line, to implant the colour too deep (which can lead to scarring or SPMU lasts longer than designed), or to use an incorrect colour or needle. Now don’t get me wrong, anyone can make a mistake, but a trained technician will be far less likely to make that mistake in the first place, and if the worst happens, they will know what to do to fix that mistake quickly, painlessly and probably without you even knowing!

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These are examples of when a technician has not known how to fix mistakes and left the clients with unsightly eyebrows

As an example, did you know that if pigment is placed too close to the inner or outer corners of your eye, the colour can migrate down into the delicate area under your eye, which is impossible to remove? No, I didn’t know that either until I did my training. It ends up looking like this…

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These are examples of when eyeliner has been incorrectly implanted and has led to migration of the pigment

Nope… I wouldn’t want that either.

Furthermore, any natural hair you have should not be completely removed for the treatment – so if a technician says they wax or thread your eyebrows off first – run like the wind!! The technician should be working with your natural hair growth to create something natural and realistic for you. If they remove all of your natural hair before beginning the procedure they may not be able to tell where your natural hair grows and you could end up with something like this…

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This shows what can happen if a technician removes all of the clients natural hair during the procedure

I know, how horrible for these ladies! Even if you like the tattooed eyebrow itself, it would mean constant removal of your natural hair, which is time consuming, costly to maintain and not very attractive during regrowth. That completely defeats the point of having semi permanent makeup – to save you time and money, while giving you perfect-looking and easy to maintain eyebrows!

So what should you do to find a great semi permanent make up technician to suit you?

The first and most important thing is… to research.
The second most important thing is… research.
The third most important thing is… Yep, you’ve guessed it… Research!

Photographs:  Any good SPMU technician will have a portfolio of their work; many will have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and websites on which you can view their work.

Reviews:  But do remember, photographs can be manipulated or plagiarised, so if you are able to speak to past clients, or read their reviews, that is even better – unbiased reviews are an important source of information.

Speak to them: A good technician will be happy to spend plenty of time on the phone, talking to you via emails or face-to-face to answer any questions or queries you may have before you decide to go ahead with the procedure or not. Your correspondence with them will demonstrate their knowledge and expertise.

Check their credentials:  Check the technician’s qualifications, insurance and licensing. Any good technician will be happy to show you their Diploma and evidence of their insurance cover.  Some technicians are required by their local councils to be licensed to practice, and those that aren’t required to be licensed will be able to show you evidence of this too. If someone tells you they don’t have to have a licence, insurance or training to practice, ask to see the paperwork to prove this. If they can’t or won’t show it, walk away.

Check equipment and products:  Check which pigments, anaesthetics, needles and machines they use. There are EU regulations on the type of anaesthetics and pigments which can be safely used, so you should ask about the origin of them. Every product used should have an information leaflet which lists ingredients, if it doesn’t then you should question why and if you’re not happy with the answer, don’t take the risk.

Pigments should be purchased from well-known and respected suppliers – BioTouch, Precious Pigments, Li Pigments, Golden Eye and Amiea Pigments are all names which you can trust.  Each pigment pot should have a Lot and Expiry number.

Each needle should come in its own sterile blister pack with a Lot and Expiry number.

Patch testing:  Patch tests for SPMU are optional and you will be able to waiver it if you choose. If you opt to have a patch test this should be done at least 24 hours before your treatment takes place.

Paperwork:  During the consultation part of appointment, your medical history should be taken and discussed. A treatment plan should be created for every appointment which lists the outcome you require, the colours used, their lot and expiry details, the needle/s used and their lot and expiry details. You should have before and after photographs taken too in order to keep a visual record of the course of the treatment.

Treatment rooms: The place the technician works from is also important to take a look at. There are strict rules, laid down by insurance companies and Environmental Health Departments, as to where SPMU treatments can be safely carried out. Most insurance companies will not cover technicians for carrying out home treatments at client’s houses due to the laws around clinical waste products and used needles. Technicians must work in a place which allows them to maintain a sterile environment – treatment rooms should have washable work surfaces, floors, walls, stools and couches to minimize the risk of blood and associated blood-borne infections being allowed to remain on surfaces which are used by many clients; technicians must have access to a sink with hot and cold water, and ideally elbow operated taps; and technicians must have appropriate arrangements for clinical waste and sharps storage and removal.

This is your face we are talking about, and it just doesn’t make sense to take risks. If you’re interested to see what I do before, during and after a treatment, you can read my ‘What will happen during an appointment?’ section on my FAQ page.

So there you have it, all the information you need to help you make an informed decision on how to choose a fantastic semi permanent makeup technician. I really believe it is worth researching when you are thinking about having this type of treatment.  After all, they cost a fair bit of money and you want to receive a treatment which will heal well and look beautiful for many years to come.

Cheap SPMU doesn’t look nice, and nice SPMU isn’t cheap…