Everything you need to know about microblading, a new eyebrow-tattooing trend

Sounds scary, looks awesome.

As one very wise Internet meme says, “Don’t let anyone with bad eyebrows tell you shit about life.” Gabrielle Rainbow, owner of Montreal cosmetic-tattooing shop, Twin Peonies, is making that mantra her life’s work. Rainbow specializes in microblading: a very trendy, semi-permanent tattooing technique that imparts a nice, full shape to brows without the harsh, Eugene Levy–esque results of some permanent makeup. (Ed. note: No offence to Eugene Levy.) Here, she explains the ins and outs of the procedure.

You’re obviously really passionate about good eyebrows.

I used to be a web and graphic designer, but I [recently] got into cosmetic tattooing. I hadn’t seen anybody doing anything I would get — it didn’t look natural. When people think about eyebrow tattoos, they think they’ll be black and look Sharpie-d on or turn blue over time. But a girl I follow on Instagram got her Biotouch certification, which teaches students how to microblade, and she, a credible beauty person, was doing really awesome stuff. I thought, “I’m going to go for it.”

What’s the difference between standard tattooing and microblading (a cosmetic technique)?

The first time I tattooed somebody’s eyebrows, I don’t think I slept for about a week beforehand. Everything I do is semi-permanent, not like a tattoo, where if you mess up it’s there forever. What’s different is the ink: With microblading, you’re still getting into the same layer of skin as tattooing, but the ink I use is iron-based. With time, your body absorbs it, so it’ll fade. You want that, though: As you age, the morphology of your face changes, so maybe you don’t want the same eyebrows you had at 23 when you’re 45.

Can you explain what’s involved in the actual appointment?

First, I have an initial consultation to talk about allergies, etc. On the day [of the appointment], I start by taking off any makeup. Some people want to fill in specific areas of the brow, while others are very asymmetrical — or have no eyebrows at all. I always take “before” photos to start, then I pencil in the general shape I’ll give you. I numb all of my clients with a cream containing epinephrine and lidocaine (what they use at the dentist), so the pain is pretty tolerable. (I should say that no one has ever walked out with half an eyebrow.) The tool is sort of like a glorified stick-and-poke tattoo needle — it’s flat with a bunch of mini needles grouped together. With that, I fill in the shape on the skin. The strokes are very thin, so they look like actual hairs. The whole process takes about an hour to and hour-and-a-half.

Plastic surgery is also moving in a subtler, less permanent direction. Do you think the same will be true for cosmetic tattooing going forward?

I think so. I want to enhance your natural beauty. I tattoo women who are cancer patients, who have alopecia, who have no eyebrows at all. Obviously, it affects their self-esteem a lot. I also have older ladies who come in and have tattooed brows they can’t change, and the shape is definitely not right. Trends change all the time, so it’s better for your brows to look as real as possible.

The one place you don’t want to have buyer’s remorse is your face.

Right. It’s always easier to add than to take away.

This story was first published in 2016.

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