Move Over Lip Fillers — This Buzzy Cosmetic Treatment Is Coming For Your Crown
Pouty, pigmented lips that can last for years? Yes, please.
TikTok has undoubtedly become the epicenter of trendsetting for both fashion and beauty, and according to the dangerously addictive platform, 2022 will be the year of lip blushing. Cosmetic tattooing is far from a new innovation, however, the makeup side of the app has recently become inundated with viral videos of lip blush reviews and enticing before and afters. A buzzy treatment is usually enough to get any beauty enthusiast going, but scrolling through social media’s top lip blushing videos might suggest it’s only suitable for lighter-skinned women looking for a dramatic lipstick effect. In reality, lip blushing has evolved to include both medical and practical applications that go beyond achieving a smudge-proof lip color. Additionally, newer technology and education advancements now allow artists to safely administer on darker skin tones, bringing lip blushing into a more modern treatment era.
Lip blushing is part of the semi-permanent makeup universe where a pigment is tattooed to achieve long-lasting color and shape. The treatment is meant to fade after approximately three years, but it wasn’t always that way. “Previously, people were just using normal tattoo machines,” says Ari Schweiger, restorative tattoo artist at Studio Sashiko in Los Angeles. “That’s why you see a lot of older women with lip tattoos that have lasted for 20 years. Now, we have the tools and knowledge that allow the skin to heal and the color to fade over time.”
The updated process involves a specialized machine that uses shorter strokes to deposit pigment right underneath the skin (rather than deep in the dermis like traditional tattoos) while similar cosmetic and traditional tattooing require different skills. Says Schweiger, “It’s so different to drag a line [in] traditional tattooing [technique] versus shade a lip.” Permanent makeup training is largely unregulated, requiring different certifications and licenses depending on state laws.
Cosmetic tattoo ink has also gone through a recent evolution. Inorganic pigments that stay true to tone are now industry standard rather than organic ink used in traditional tattoos. When not deposited deep enough in skin, traditional ink types fade unevenly, leaving people with discolored brows and lips over the years. A recent increase in color variety also affords artists more customization options that suit a wider variety of skin tones. In addition to creating a customizable lip color that won’t wipe away, artists can now neutralize hyper or hypo pigmentation (overdevelopment or loss of pigment, respectively), provide more symmetry, and conceal scarring. “You can use lip blushing to create definition to lip borders that’s lost over time,” says board certified dermatologist, Dr. Geeta Yadav MD, FRCPC. “If you have vitiligo this could also be a really nice solution to repigmenting the lips.”
“It’s not just about the lipstick look. It goes much further than that,” says Schweiger. She was first introduced to lip blushing while seeking treatment for noticeable discoloration and scarring after a cancer diagnosis and a subsequent bacterial infection attacked the tissue on and around her mouth. “I had a ton of hypopigmentation and no volume. My lips were paler than the skin on my face. I was really insecure about that,” she shares. After being turned away from lip filler, lip blushing gave her a second wind. “Lip blushing is for anyone: a male who’s had severely chapped lips, someone who had a cleft palate, someone who has no color or too much color. Waking up without feeling insecure is freeing.”
Advancements in lip blushing have not only paved the way for non-traditional application methods, but also opened the treatment up to those with melanin-rich skin. Since permanent makeup training is historically taught through a Eurocentric lens, it ultimately creates a legacy of artists unprepared to work on a diverse range of clients. When Christine Hwang, owner and artist of New Face by Christine, first started lip blushing over six years ago, she immediately noticed her education was exclusively centered on lighter skin. “When I posted about wanting to work on darker lips [other artists] were so rude. They said you just don’t do it,” she says. “Now they have to take back what they said.”
Both Hwang and Schweiger share that the key to achieving the best results on darker skin is a firm grasp of color theory — something that not all permanent makeup artists inherently have. “Part of the restrictiveness of [darker lips] is that we are tied to color theory. Skin responds a certain way to different ink colors and a lot of people are just scared of working on dark skin,” Hwang says. Her efforts to safely diversify lip blushing made her part of a small but growing group of dark lips specialists and popularized “dark lip neutralization”, a lip blushing method that specifically addresses hyperpigmentation and uneven lip color. Naturally, dark lips are common in darker skin tones; however, melanin-rich lips are also at a higher risk of hyperpigmentation following trauma, long-term smoking, or unprotected sun exposure. PMU artists can use the neutralization technique by itself to return lips to their natural hue or combine with lipstick color application creating true treatment parity across the board.
Regardless of why you are seeking out lip blushing, here are some expert-approved must-do’s, both before and after your appointment, in order to receive a quality lip blush that lasts.
Inspect An Artist’s Portfolio
You’ll likely see more providers offering lip blushing as the trend continues to grow, but be wary of choosing the first person you see. “When something is trending, people fly off and want to get it,” says Schweiger. “But like what I saw with microblading, there are a lot of artists that don’t know what they are doing.” Both Schweiger and Hwang emphasize the importance of seeing an artist’s photos of clients with fully healed lips (meaning six-plus weeks after the blushing session) as post-procedure can be deceiving — colors often appear brighter immediately after the treatment and will fade with time. This is particularly important for those with darker lips as these cases can heal quite differently than the immediate results. Lighter skinned clients can expect colors to settle similarly to post-procedure results, while darker skin clients will notice significant fading after the healing process.
Don’t Cut Corners On Price
An overly expensive treatment doesn’t guarantee better results, but an underpriced provider should be a red flag. Research pricing in your area to determine average rates and remember you’re also paying for expertise. “It’s a luxury service and a really difficult skill to do well. It requires a lot of patience,” says Hwang. “If the artist is taking two or three hours you should be expecting to spend over $500.” Lip blushing usually requires at least one touch-up appointment to achieve the desired color that will last for two or three years. Follow-up appointments may or may not be included in your original price.
Don’t Fret Too Much About Pain
If you’ve ever received a traditional tattoo, you won’t have to worry about lip blushing in terms of pain. Artists use numbing cream to decrease sensation and advise clients that they are more likely to feel discomfort over anything else. “They may feel discomfort because I am tugging on their lips,” says Schweiger. “I ask my clients what their pain level is on a scale of 1-10 and they usually say 2-3.” Avoid taking pain-killers before the service as they thin the blood and can interfere with healing.
Lip Filler + Lip Blushing Are Besties
“Lip filler and lip blushing go hand in hand,” says Schweiger. “Having the lips plumped up makes it easier for your artist. If you have bad creases in your lips, it may be a good idea to get filler beforehand.” Filler increases the surface area of the lip making lip blush application smoother, but Dr. Yadav advises that clients should understand the ultimate look they’re going for before committing to either treatment. “Lip blushing can give the optical illusion of volume, but your biggest concern for this treatment is really color,” she says. “[If you want both], start with filler because it alters shape and volume, and you don’t want the lip blushing to not look as clear.” The experts suggest waiting between 4-6 weeks after lip filler to get lip blushing. Note: fillers attract water and will cause more swelling while healing from cosmetic tattooing. Don’t worry! It’s normal.
Give Your Lip Blush Time to Heal
While there are always risks associated with any treatment, lip blushing is one where it's best not to freak out too early in the healing process. “Lips are one of the most forgiving parts of the body to do treatments because they are so vascular,” says Dr. Yadav. “People will bruise and swell after these treatments; they just have to be patient. Any treatment takes time to settle in.” Things may look gnarly, but Hwang advises it can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks for full healing to occur and to see the final color.
Be Diligent About After-Care
Even with the best artist, half the battle will be what you do at home. Immediate after-care includes avoiding picking, biting, or abrading the lips (no kissing allowed here!) as well as avoiding steamy showers and workouts for the first seven days. Spicy, saucy, and staining foods are also best avoided for the initial healing period to maintain color integrity. For the long-term — abrasive lip scrubs, exfoliants, and unprotected sun exposure will shorten the lifespan of your lip blushing and increase risk of patchiness. Keep the lips moisturized and hydrated and your treatment might just last you up to four years!