I've always been insecure about my eyebrows. They're sparse and oddly shaped—they remind me of mountains with pointed peaks. After many tweezing and penciling mishaps throughout high school and college, I finally mastered filling them in, only to find by mid-afternoon they'd inexplicably vanish from my face. Not cute.
I avoid anything coming into contact with my face for fear my brows will be wiped off.
I admit I'm a slave to my brows. Every morning I allot 15 minutes to pencil them in, but by the end of the day my hard work reliably disappears. I refuse to leave the house without prepping them, and I avoid anything coming into contact with my face for fear my brows will be wiped off. Yes, I know I sound neurotic. So even though I’m a tattoo virgin, I decide it's time to take the plunge in search of a more permanent solution. Pain is beauty, right?
What Is Microblading?
After much research, I'm relieved to discover that eyebrow tattooing does not involve an ominous needle dripping with black ink in the back room of a seedy parlor. The procedure is called microblading, which is a fairly new 3D semi-permanent technique in which a multi-bladed pen is used to replicate hair-like strokes to deposit pigments into the basal membrane. Unlike the obvious brow tattoos of old, this meticulous process mimics fine hairs rendered in a shade fit for your skin tone—creating a natural-looking result that lasts from one to three years.
Olivia Culpo, my brow muse. Image: @oliviaculpo
Will I Have Sharpied Brows? And Other Concerns...
Once I make my appointment, I don't think much more of it. I'm excited, but not anxious, until my best friend shows me a picture of an acquaintance who recently got brow tattoos—although not using the same microblading technique I have signed up for. Lo and behold, my worst nightmare is staring right at me: Stark Sharpie-esque lines in the same blue-black hue. Cue freak-out. Over the weekend I toss and turn in my bed as I dream of skinny blue eyebrows. Am I making a huge mistake? What in the world did I sign up for?
On the big day I arrive at Brighton Salon in Beverly Hills to meet Nicoleta Barbarasa, the brow artist who's set to work her magic on mine for the next two hours. Knowing she has shaped the arches of Sienna Miller and Nicole Richie, I feel I'm in good hands. First, Nicoleta waxes my brows and applies a numbing cream. After 30 minutes, she begins to lightly fill them in with a pencil to preview what she will tattoo. She then color-matches the organic dyes by trying two options on my face. Both are dark brown but we decide to go with the ashier version for a softer, more natural look.
Finally, the microblading begins and I watch the process in a handheld mirror: Nicoleta dips the pen into the pot of pigment and starts to create strokes—following the natural shape and direction of my hairs—onto my skin. It feels like someone with very sharp, fine nails is poking and scratching me; annoying and uncomfortable, but bearable. At the 20-minute mark, the tingling starts and my skin begins to turn red and feel raw. I bleed a little, but not much. Through my tears I can see my brows taking shape, and I tell myself these are tears of joy, not pain.
After she finishes the right side, we take a 10-minute break, which I deeply appreciate as I'm feeling restless in my chair and want a time-out from the constant poking. As she starts on my left side, the stinging resumes. After another 10 minutes, I feel like I want to punch someone in the face. As my skin gets more sensitive and raw, the stroking becomes more annoying than painful.
Thirty minutes later, I'm done. I feel like a contestant in a plastic surgery reality show getting her big reveal. Should I be crying right now? Oh, wait. I already did that. My initial reaction: I absolutely love them. I'm so elated to see symmetrical, defined shapes sans brow pencil. They look shaded but in the most natural way. They're full but not Cara Delevingne–status (that would look ridiculous on me), and they extend perfectly, from above my nose to the corner of my eyes. I walk out of the salon feeling like a new woman. Yes, they're red and greasy-looking from the healing cream, but I don't care. I feel like a badass—I just got a tattoo on my face.
The Healing Process
I'm scheduled to return for a touch-up appointment in a month. The pigment is red-toned for the first four days after the procedure. I'm relieved to learn this is just the undertone of the skin and it'll fade. After about a week, the warm, reddish hue turns into a cool brown. To keep the brows moisturized as they heal I apply Aquaphor two or three times a day. Some parts of the tattoo scab, especially at the ends where I had no hairs. Nicoleta confirms this is normal—the healing process varies depending on how sensitive your skin is to the pigment. I'm on the sensitive side, and my skin has a hard time retaining the color completely, but that's what the touch-up appointment is for. In the meantime, I fill in the sparse areas with my brow pencil.
For 10 days post-procedure, I'm not allowed to get my brows wet or apply any products, but to avoid any problems I abide by this rule for a full month. I eschew any extensive skincare and makeup and shower very carefully to keep water away from my face.
After four weeks, I return to the salon for my touch-up. I twitch at the sight of the pen as Nicoleta starts to introduce those oh-so familiar strokes to my face. This time, the pain is kind of unbearable. Holding my mirror, I see the skin around my brows getting really red and swollen, and about 15 minutes into the process (after multiple tiny breaks) I can't hang. Nicoleta suggests we finish up the following week. When I ask her why the pain is so much more prominent the second time, she asks me if I'm getting my period and I realize it's due in a few days. Cardinal rule of tattooing: Don't schedule it during your menstrual cycle as the hormones make your skin extra sensitive.
My final appointment takes only 10 minutes. Despite the pain, after the touch-ups are complete, my brows look awesome. The healing process this time around is much easier.
Would I Tattoo My Face Again?
It's been over a week since my final touch-up and I'm fully obsessed with my brows. As someone who always felt naked sans filled-in arches, it's incredible that I wake up with them. Aside from the pain, the whole experience with Nicoleta has been great. She was extremely attentive and detailed in giving me what I wanted, and she was readily available to answer my questions.
It still baffles me that my daily brow routine for eight years is now obsolete. If I want a bolder look, I can lightly pencil the top and darken the color in some spots, but honestly I barely touch them. The color is a gorgeous dark brown that complements my skin tone and hair, and I love the subtle, feathery look Nicoleta created. With microblading, the pigment won't abruptly disappear or alter in hue—it'll just fade over time. My co-workers and friends haven't even realized I had them tattooed unless I tell them—they look that natural. I'm ecstatic to report that I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.
After my final touch-up.
As someone who always felt naked sans filled-in arches, it’s incredible that I wake up with them.
Nicoleta's services average between $900 and $1,500, which is determined at consultation. Yes, it's expensive, but it's an investment that will save you so much time (and money) over the next one to three years. I've shaved 15 minutes from my daily morning routine, I don't need to buy brow products, and it’s just so darn convenient. Beauty is pain, ladies, but I can tell you it's worth every cringing moment.