I’ve been having my eyebrows tattooed for years. I have to. Why? First, my eyebrows are rubbish because I am so fair. Second, they are rubbish because I over plucked them in what I call the “Mariah Years.” Mariah Carey plucked her thick, bold, eyebrows into skinny little rainbow arches to match her song and her outfit, and everyone else in the 90’s did as well (including me). Third, my eyebrows are rubbish because they are thinning with age… unfortunately, the rest of me isn’t.
My salvation came about 10 or 15 years ago when I read about Sophie Thorpe, the High Priestess of Brows, who does all the models’ and actresses’ and celebrities’ eyebrows. People who make a living out of their face being on billboards can’t afford for things to go wrong, so I knew Sophie must be a safe pair of hands. Given the state of my brows and my utter boredom at penciling them on every day, hoping they are symmetrical, and hoping they don’t smear or wear off, I didn’t have much to lose. I went to see her, and she gave me exactly the eyebrows my face needed. Here’s what happens when you have your eyebrows tattooed (with Sophie, anyway):
You walk in and this positively gorgeous woman with perfect eyebrows and a faint Yorkshire accent greets you, tells you that your eyebrow pencil colour is completely wrong (she’s right; brow pencils are usually too orange, especially the colours made for blondes) but that you won’t need it anymore anyway. You lie on a massage table on your back, and Sophie sits at the end of the table, seeing your brows from the top of your head, viewing your brows from upside down, as it were (this is crucial, I’ll explain why later). From this angle, she’s not looking at the rest of your face, she’s only focusing on symmetry. Using tiny needles and MINERAL PIGMENTS, not regular tattoo ink, she colours in your brows with fine, short lines, drawing back in all those little hairs you plucked away during the Mariah Years. Some people take Aspirin (or something stronger!) before they have the treatment, but I don’t bother because I don’t find it that painful. It takes about an hour to do both brows. When you first get up from the table and look at your brows in the mirror you think “OMG! They’re SO DARK I look like a cartoon!” Sophie assures you by telling you that the whole top layer of pigment will eventually flake off with dead skin, and you’ll be left with the right amount of pigment still inside the skin. Then, by that evening, you’ll be totally used to seeing them so dark (all Gwen Stefani-ish) that you almost won’t want them to fade to a normal colour. For the next few days, they remain quite dark, and maybe just a bit swollen and red if you have sensitive skin. To treat your newly tattoos (woo hoo!) massage a little healing balm (similar to Vaseline)(she will give it to you) on your brows after showering and before bedtime, and blot the excess away with a tissue. Avoid getting them wet for the first three days so that the pigment sets nicely in the skin. Washing your face or having a shower is fine. Swimming or sweating for hours is not.
Eyebrow tattooing is semi-permanent makeup, meaning that the micro-pigments only penetrate the first few layers of the dermis. The colour will last for a year or two (it varies from person to person) before it gradually begins to fade. Now, you can find places to get your brows tattooed with regular tattoo ink, but don’t do it. They may look ok for a couple of years, but with time and any amount of sun exposure, these ‘permanent’ pigments fade and either turn green or orange (black permanent pigments fade to grey-blue or green, brown permanent pigments fade to orange or pink). Blacks, browns, and taupes, the colours you need for eyebrows, are tricky colours in permanent tattoos because they use a combination of so many colours to get the right tone; some of those tones fade, some don’t, but that colour you start with won’t be the same a few years later. Just get the semi-permanent mineral pigments and know that if it all goes horribly wrong, at least it isn’t forever, thankfully. I learned the hard way…
Once, I was really eager to have my brows done, and I didn’t have the patience to wait for Sophie, who always has a crazy long waiting list. I found a good salon that offered the service, and put my face in the hands of a young, beautiful, Iranian girl with the most perfect eyebrows. Just because she had perfect eyebrows didn’t mean she could give them to me! It was a disaster. For starters, she had me lay on my side, and then started to work, applying the pigment with tiny buzzing needles in my eyebrow skin. I asked how she could possibly make my brows symmetrical, since one side of my face was squooshed into the table and the other side was sliding over. She told me this is how she works and it would be fine. I should have jumped up and run out of the room then and there, because it just isn’t humanly possible to have symmetrical brows tattooed whilst laying on your side. Also! I would never let a young girl do my brows again. Not because of a lack of experience, but her generation sees big dark Cara Delavigne eyebrows and Kate Middleton eyebrows as the norm, and you don’t stick those big dark things on an older woman’s face. You just don’t. You want elegant brows, not statement brows at this age. They make you look crazed. Or surprised. Or menacing. Or all of the above.
Here are some before and after photos of my recent tattoo experience for your entertainment. These are close up, unforgiving, unfiltered, and nearly-makeup-free photos so you can really see what my eyebrows look like pre and post tattoo. I obviously have on mascara and eyeliner, because “no makeup” in my world always includes mascara. Why? Because this is what I look like in the morning with no mascara and no brows:
Hours post-tatoo, a little red and swollen
Five days later, starting to look normal, even if they’re still darker than the final version
How about you? Would you consider tattooing your eyebrows? After I started doing mine, several friends started having theirs done. My friend’s mother even pays Sophie a visit every few years when her brows need refreshing, and she lives in Capetown! No wonder Sophie is so busy. If you decide to get yours done, make sure you do your homework on finding someone good, and learn from my mistake: examine what the technician is doing with a hand mirror every 10 minutes or so, to make sure they’re drawing the lines where YOU normally do, and that everything is symmetrical. And don’t let them do your brows while you’re laying on your side! A makeup artist said to me once that your eyebrows should look like sisters, but not identical twins. Mine definitely aren’t identical twins, but tattooing helps them look more similar.