From microblading to lip tinting: Everything you need to know about semi-permanent make-up

From the risk and the cost to the side effect and the pros, here's what to consider before you book an appointment

Working mum-of-three Svetia Deshais before and after a semi-permanent lip tint treatment.
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Every beauty expert worth her mascara advises removing make-up before going to bed. But, imagine if that was no longer necessary . Take it a step further and picture your life without having to apply eye liner or lipstick every morning for years on end. Envisage a scenario where you wake up looking exactly as you'd like to leave the house.

Welcome to world of semi-permanent make-up.

What is semi-permanent make-up?

Semi-permanent make-up is a cosmetic tattooing technique that can leave you with fuller eyebrows, tinted lips, a sharp cat eye or even freckles for up to three years. Commonly referred to as micropigmentation, the enhancements are made by injecting tiny amounts of pigment into the dermal layer of the skin.

While this may seem like an extreme makeover, legions of women are making it commonplace in the name of convenience.

Candice Watson, owner of Exclusive Aesthetic in Dubai, notes SPMU has risen in popularity in the UAE in recent years. She credits this to people being more aware of treatments and having busier lifestyles.

“Women are juggling full-time careers with children and home life. SPMU saves so much time when applying make-up,” says Watson. “It’s also great for those who do a lot of sports or swimming and, of course, SPMU is an excellent solution for UAE weather because it doesn’t slide off in the heat.”

Jen Kaarlo recommends opting for a semi-permanent make-up treatment only after much research and positive recommendations  

Svetia Deshais, a working mother of three, agrees. She’s had lip tinting and lash line enhancement with no regrets.

“I love the results. My lips are always perfect, even when I’m in the gym, sweating away,” she says. “My personal appearance has always been important to me and I like to try new things, especially if they make me feel good and more confident.”

Pigment is injected on to the top layer of skin, therefore it is very important to follow the rules of hygiene

In addition to enhancing your look, semi-permanent make-up can shave precious minutes from your daily routine. It’s an investment and the sort of lifestyle change that sticks once you try it, say fans, the majority of whom go in for eyebrow work.

“I have not the slightest regret. Both the pain and expense are worth it. I reckon I’ll get microblading for the rest of my life,” says Jen Kaarlo, a writer from London.

Thanks to advances in technology and growing artistic ability among technicians, Dinara Aralbaeva, the SPMU artist at Abu Dhabi's Twiink Studio, says: “New techniques and trends are appearing all the time. For example, eyebrows are becoming more and more natural-looking, and the techniques to achieve them are becoming more complicated.”

Licensed clinics are the way to go

Patsy Kerr, founder of Brows by Patsy, shares an image of a client who came in with an unsatisfactory shape, poor symmetry and bad colouring following a botched eyebrow job 

Aralbaeva, who trained in Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Kuwait, has always loved to draw and this helps her with creating shape and symmetry. She considers herself a facial artist, but recognises that she’s working on a canvas like no other.

“I inject pigment on to the top layer of skin, therefore it is very important to follow the rules of hygiene. We only use disposable blades and needles, and carefully disinfect the workplace including all containers for pigments and anaesthetics.”

Micropigmentation is safe, but with any minimally invasive procedure, there are risks

Dr Thomas Berger, consultant dermatologist and chief medical director at Sno Bodyworx, strongly advises against receiving services outside an officially licensed establishment.

“You can only rely on proper hygienic standards in a licensed facility. We perform surgeries in our clinic, so we have the full equipment [called a CSSD unit] to sterilise and store material. Many unlicensed places and practitioners perform procedures in a patient’s home without the necessary tools.”

This can lead to unhygienic conditions and, worse, botched-up jobs.

How much does semi-permanent make-up cost?

Beware of super-low prices from non-licensed or freelance technicians. Cutting such corners can compromise your health.

“As a guide, in Dubai, SPMU eyebrows usually cost Dh3,000 to Dh3,500 before VAT, which includes one retouch,” says Watson. In Abu Dhabi, prices start at about Dh2,500.

“If an SPMU treatment is too expensive, it is far better to save and wait until you can afford it rather than opt for a cheaper, inferior service. If things go wrong, you’ll end up paying much more to remove and correct the service.”

Rely on personal recommendations

A bad run with SPMU is both costly and time-consuming to undo. While there’s no way to guarantee a perfect outcome, the professionals all agree that there are ways to minimise failure.

Watson advises that potential SPMU clients research thoroughly and seek referrals from trusted sources before choosing a licensed SPMU service provider or technician.

My advice is to avoid 'overcorrection' and aim for natural results. Medical complications aside, the biggest risk is an unwanted aesthetic outcome

Back in 2017, Kaarlo watched every YouTube video and read every article she could find about microblading, and ultimately took the plunge after getting a referral.

“Given the nature of microblading and that it is semi-permanent, I preferred going with a personal recommendation,” she says.

“The only thing worse than having barely there arches would be lopsided caterpillars resting above my eyes. My colleague told me about her microblading experience at a little spot in Marylebone and after reading nothing but stellar reviews, I booked an appointment.”

Kerr says clients should also ensure technicians are properly qualified and experienced.

“Professional technicians always work from clinics and should be able to provide proof of certification and a long list of happy clients,” she says.

SPMU failures

Most happy customers don’t shy away from sharing their before and after images. Deshais, for instance, openly shared her experience with semi-permanent make-up on the Bold, Brave and Beautiful Facebook group.

However, while positive outcomes are usually shared, what happens when the application doesn’t go as planned? Women are reluctant to speak about SPMU failures, but these do happen.

“Micropigmentation is safe, but with any minimally invasive procedure, there are risks and side effects including pain, infections or allergic reactions,” says Berger. “Those side effects are relatively rare, but semi-permanent can sometimes become permanent if done incorrectly.

“I have removed a lot of lip and eyebrow micropigmentations, which is a painful and tedious process. My advice is to avoid 'overcorrection’ and aim for natural results. Medical complications aside, the biggest risk is an unwanted aesthetic outcome,” says Berger.

Correcting semi-permanent make-up

In fact, botched jobs are so prevalent that Watson has carved a niche for herself as a permanent make-up removal and correction specialist. Clients seek her out to remedy everything from misaligned eyebrows to discolouration due to the use of cheap pigments.

“A lady came to me with what looked like a double row of eyebrows in shades of green and purple. It took five removal sessions and three application sessions to achieve normal-looking brows again,” she says.

Candice Watson, permanent make-up removal and corrections specialist, shares an image of a client who came in with 'a double row of eyebrows in shades of green and purple'

Patsy Kerr, SPMU specialist and founder of Brows by Patsy, also specialises in corrective services. One of her most memorable cases involved an unsatisfactory shape, poor symmetry and bad colouring.

“The client approached me after having a bad experience with another technician. As a way of correcting the work, she opted for laser removal, which in this case compounded the problem by spreading the pigment across her face.

"After four months of treatment, we were able to reverse most of the damage and give her the brows she’d been seeking in the first place.”