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Permanent Makeup vs Semi-Permanent Makeup

illustration of gloved hands using a hand tool to microblade a person's eyebrows

In today’s beauty and makeup world, the terms “permanent makeup” and semi-permanent makeup” are everywhere. But despite the popularity of various permanent or semi-permanent makeup procedures, there’s still a lot of confusion about what these terms mean. We’re here to clear that up.

illustrated icon of a golden scale on a blue backgroundPermanent Makeup vs. Semi-Permanent Makeup

Based on the names, you might think that the difference between these two types of makeup procedures is self-evident, but that’s not the case. In the past, the term “permanent makeup” referred to actual tattooing – the process of inserting standard tattoo ink into the dermis layer of the skin using a standard tattoo machine, resulting in basically “permanent” makeup. But that’s not what the term means in today’s makeup industry.

Today, both “permanent makeup” and “semi-permanent makeup” refer to various cosmetic tattooing procedures that deposit specialized cosmetic tattoo pigments into only the uppermost layer of skin, the epidermis. That means they aren’t “permanent” in the sense of a traditional tattoo – they will fade much more quickly – but they are permanent in the sense that you can’t wash them off. Depending on the type of procedure, and customers’ lifestyles and skincare routines, today’s permanent or semi-permanent makeup will last between 1-3 years.

Permanent Makeup and Cosmetic Tattoo Pigmentsillustrated icon of two cosmetic pigment bottles on blue background

The pigments used for cosmetic tattoos are slightly different than those used for traditional tattooing. Though the carrier solutions are largely the same, the pigments used for cosmetic tattooing are composed of smaller, lighter particles and are less concentrated in the solution. That means cosmetic tattoo pigments are softer on the skin, more natural in color, and that they will fade more quickly.

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Permanent Makeup and Cosmetic Tattoo Procedures

Like traditional tattooing, cosmetic tattoos are technically minor surgical procedures, so if you’re interested in offering permanent makeup treatments, it’s important that you are trained in the use of cosmetic tattoo equipment and in industry hygiene standards. If you’ve never practiced permanent makeup before, The Permanent Makeup Manual is a great place to start. There are cosmetic tattooing procedures that enhance the appearance of skin, eyes, face, lips, and more, but the most popular are for permanent eyeliner and eyebrows.

For permanent eyeliner application, the technician will use a permanent makeup/cosmetic tattoo machine (typically a pen-style rotary machine) to apply cosmetic tattoo pigment between and/or above the eyelash layers to enhance and darken the lash line.

For eyebrows, there are a couple of popular techniques. The ombre/powder brow technique uses the same style of permanent makeup machine described above with a variety of specialized cosmetic makeup needles to achieve a bold, full eyebrow look. This type of procedure is compatible with all skin types.

The second eyebrow technique, which has gained immense popularity in the beauty and makeup world in the last few years, is called microblading. Microblading also involves inserting permanent makeup pigment into the epidermis, but with a specialized hand tool called a stylus instead of a permanent makeup machine. This technique allows for precise, fine strokes that closely mimic the appearance of natural hair. Though it’s quite popular, microblading is not recommended for people with oily skin. If you’ve never microbladed before but are interested in starting, the informational text The Art of Microblading is the place to start.

illustrated icon of various permanent makeup tools including a hand tool, needle, and kit

Permanent Makeup and Cosmetic Tattoo Supplies and Equipment

We carry all the permanent makeup supplies you need to get started or to restock. From top of the line permanent makeup machines (as well as power supplies, tips and tubes, cables, and footswitches), to permanent makeup needles and cartridges, microblading supplies, pigments for all skin tones, or permanent makeup accessories such as aftercare supplies and topical anesthetics, start your permanent makeup journey with PainfulPleasures.

For more information on tattoos, tattooing, and tattoo equipment, as well as artist and shop features, check out our PainfulPleasures blog.