Why I Got Permanent Eyeliner And Eyebrow Tattoos

Microblading cut my morning beauty routine down to two minutes.

An image of Carolyn Chua, who has tattooed eyeliner.

Carolyn Chua.

Procedure: Cosmetic eyeliner and eyebrow tattoos
Location: Cebu, Philippines
Year: 2010
Cost range (in Canada, today): permanent microblading $250-$800, depending on experience of the technician; eyeliner tattoos $350-$1,000, depending on amount of tattooing, as well as experience of the technician

“I typically didn’t have much patience with eye products because no matter what their claims were, I always ended up looking like a racoon with dark smudges. I also have shaky hands, so eyeliner was impossible. So my daily beauty routine was simply cream, eyeshadow and lipgloss. Anything I could do in less than five minutes—because that was all the time I had in the mornings.

My older sister, who lives in my hometown of Cebu, in the Philippines, had gotten her eyebrows, eyeliner and lips tattooed by a tattoo artist from Manila and she was adamant that I should get it too. “You’re busy with work, you have no time to put on your face in the morning, so let’s get this done,” she told me. This was 10 years ago. During that visit, she surprised me with eyeliner and eyebrow tattoos for my 51st birthday.

I was nervous because I’m terrified of needles. Whenever my mother took me to the doctor as a kid, they would have to chase me around the office to give me an injection. I had never had a tattoo before and my hands were clammy when I shook the tattoo artist’s hand.

The tattoo artist was in town from Manilla and had set up a pop-up studio in a hotel room on the outskirts of the city. When my sister and I went in, she offered us herbal tea and explained what the microblading procedure would entail and showed me the sterilized instruments in their sealed packages that she would be using.

My sister wanted me to get dark eyebrows, like she had. Her eyebrows are her best feature, they’re beautiful à la Liz Taylor, but I wanted mine to be less prominent. I didn’t want to make a statement. The artist said we should go with whatever I felt comfortable with, which made me like her immediately.

I lay on the bed, my sister holding my hand on one side and the tattoo artist on the other. The tattoo artist, who was wearing a white lab coat and using a small light to focus on my face, applied a creamy anesthetic with a Q-Tip to numb my lid. I held my breath. I felt like, I’m doing this. There’s no going back now.

You know when you put pen to paper and write a checkmark? That’s what it felt like, a tiny blade scratching the surface. Check, check, check. In 30 minutes, it was done.

When the tattoo artist handed me a mirror, I was shocked. My eyes were puffy and slightly swollen, as if I just had eye surgery. Looking at my face, my immediate thought was, “Oh my God, what have I done?” The artist assured me that the swelling would go down in a couple days and gave me some cream to help the healing. By day three, I looked glam.

I returned home to Toronto with this new look that I’ve been sporting ever since. My husband said he wished I hadn’t gotten the tattoos done. I guess he was just used to the plainer me, but my friends love it. In the past 10 years, I haven’t gotten any touch ups and it has faded a bit, but I don’t regret getting permanent makeup. In fact, looking back, I wish I had gotten a thicker eyeliner done, something like Amy Winehouse.

I never used to fill in my eyebrows, and eyeliner was too difficult, so this look is something I wouldn’t have been able to achieve on my own. It cut my morning beauty routine down to two minutes, but more importantly, when I go out the door in the morning, even if my eyeshadow is a bit wonky or my lipstick colour doesn’t quite match my outfit, I know at least two things are in place.”

Interview has been condensed and edited.