Sorry not sorry for the clickbait Star Wars title. My foray into tattooed makeup is an adventure with ups and downs though.
Spoiler alert: It’s a happy ending.
First off, I have a strong aversion to permanent anything. I’d resisted Renee’s nags to get brow tattoos–as she’s done for the last 10 years (the tats, not the nags)–but my own thoughts nagged me more than Renee ever did.
Self, I’d say to myself, we really need a more original name than Self. And more importantly, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to skip drawing on brows every. Single. Day? We’d save 8-10 minutes of carefully applying brow powder and making sure they’re even and not patchy. Plus, modern brow tattoos are not even really permanent and only last 1-2 years, they look so natural on Renee, and you can go to the woman who did Renee’s.
Initial Visit for Brow Tattoos
For moral support–and because she wanted a touchup of her brow and eyeliner tattoos anyway–Renee went with me to see Sherri.
For a tattoo virgin like me, the cost for brows was $300. Included within the cost is one touchup within 2 weeks. However, for an out-of-towner, the touchup can be done within 6 months.
Looking around at the photos and papers taped around Sherri’s studio, you get insight into Sherri’s brow philosophy and artistry: “Quiet” brows. Natural-looking before-and-afters. “Brows are tattooed to only 80% for a natural look when you wake up.” Pencil sketches of brows. And nary an Instagram brow in sight. Yes!
After signing a liability waiver, we entered the room where the magic happens. Sherri sat me in front of a giant mirror to assess my brows. Because she’d come so highly recommended by Renee, I chose to place my fate in her hands, giving no instructions on the shape or color.
Sherri then led me to–for lack of a better term–an examination table where I laid down and relaxed while calming classical music played softly. She wiped off my brow makeup. Then came the only really painful part of it: when Sherri scraped at my brow without warning (I still don’t know what she used) before applying numbing cream, presumably so that the cream penetrates better. Then she placed some Saran wrap over the area and left to do Renee’s touchup.
I sort of lost track of time laying there, just chilling. Maybe 10 or 15 or 20 minutes passed before Sherri came back. And then…the tattooing started.
Sherri does everything freehand and her practice is not to sketch the shape or show you the color beforehand, and I didn’t ask her to.
To my surprise, the actual tattooing didn’t hurt. I could definitely feel the sensation of the needle buzzing and pressing into my brows, but it wasn’t painful. The tattooing took less time than the time spent with numbing cream on!
She sat me back down in front of the giant mirror and assessed her work (as did I). At this point, it’s helpful to give her feedback. Sherri, for the most part, notices asymmetry and unevenness on her own, but she may miss things because she doesn’t exactly pull out a ruler to measure things (see the video by Saaammage at the bottom; her brow artist did measure things). Or you may have preferences, such as extending the end of the brows a bit.
We returned to the examination table, then back to the mirror, and so on until we were happy with the result.
I was very happy with how they looked right afterward. Without any input from me, Sherri created a super natural shape in a color that I would have picked myself. No weird red, blue, or gray tones.
(Drag lashes are because Renee and I somehow thought it was a good idea for her to re-create the elaborate bridesmaid look she’d done on our friends the night before. And this is how I learned that drag lashes don’t suit me. 😒)
I left with a set of care instructions on a piece of paper and went on my way.
For the 2 weeks after seeing Sherri, I made sure to avoid touching my healing brow area–including no brow makeup and no sheet masks (which invariably soak my brows). Cheek and undereye sheet masks are fair game though.
The first few days were…interesting. I’d wash my face and love my brows, but as the day progressed, I’d notice the brows looking redder and redder, as if they were leaking pigment. It was clearly ink, not blood. But I was worried.
The last thing I wanted was reddish brows, and I panicked a little inside about my decision not to discuss the color with Sherri beforehand. I also noticed some mild flaking and itchiness, but I expected that. Renee and another friend who’d recently gotten brow tattoos encouraged me to keep calm and
carry on wait to see how they looked after they settled in a little.
Sure enough, after about a week, the tattoos settled into a very natural soft black-brown color. It was as if all the red pigment evaporated.
For the next several months, I lived happily with my new brows and returned to full-face sheet masks. I felt comfortable going out without brow makeup–and somehow felt more comfortable going out without any makeup–but I did supplement with a touch of brow powder on most days.
That’s because as they settled in and faded a little, the front end of one brow appeared a little thinner. Filling in my brows was so much easier with the tattoos though: the general shape was already there and only a few strokes were needed to even them out. Two minutes tops. So long, bad brow days!
The unevenness would have been fixed if I’d gone to Sherri for the normal 2-week touchup (definitely don’t skip it), but since I’m on the East Coast, I had to wait until the next time I was in LA.
Just a note on life with brow tats: Even after they’re settled, avoid exfoliation (chemical or physical) on the brows and avoid putting anything (pressure, skincare, makeup) on them. That includes skipping exfoliating cleansers and refraining from applying acids and retinoids too close to the brows. When I did apply brow powder, I never directly rubbed them to remove the makeup, instead letting the residual oil and foam cleansers being rinsed over them do the job. Otherwise, they may fade faster than you’d like.
That said, they’re not delicate petals that easily wipe off. Renee still uses brow makeup for special occasions to match the drama of the rest of her makeup, and I’ve never caught her with less than perfect tattoos.
Two Touchups (5 Months Later)
I finally returned to LA five months later for my free touchup. It was good timing because the fifth month was when I noticed fading.
Oddly enough, I could feel a little pain this time. Nothing terrible, just a pinch. It might have been because I was focusing on all the places she was touching up, like, Oh she thought that place needed touching up? Yes, she’s touching up exactly where I wanted her to. Etc., etc.
I was happy with the touchup, but of course, the following days will make clear which areas have grabbed onto the ink and which have not. After about 4 days, it became clear that the inner half of my left brow was looking a little thinner than the other brow. So I made an appointment for another touchup (on New Year’s Day! #priorities).
This second touchup was similar to the first. I pointed out to Sherri where the brow looked thin (she agreed). Sherri fixed it and evened out other areas as well (the arrows below point out the main areas touched up, which look reddish). For this touchup, she charged me $30.
It’s been 2 weeks since then. My brows initially looked somewhat dark, but they’ve settled into a very natural-looking soft black-brown and look naturally full. The tattoo resembles soft shading and not the individual brow strokes that seem very popular right now. I actually prefer shading because that’s exactly how I used to do my brow makeup and because I already have hairs. In short, LOVE.
What’s interesting is that she gave Renee and me different styles tailored to our features: Renee’s are thinner and solid while mine are thicker and have more ink on the barest spots. A completely solid brow would probably turn me into The Count from Sesame Street (ah ah ah).
Brow Tattoos: Worth It?
In total, I’ve spent $330 in the last 6 months on the tattoos. ($300 for initial visit + touchup #1; $30 for touchup #2.) Was the money and time worth it?
I LOVE how they currently look, and even when I was evening them out with powder, I was happy with how much time they saved.
Yet–unlike with LASIK, which I was convinced was worth it after two days–I waver because I don’t know how soon I’ll need another touchup and have to start supplementing with brow powder.
For me, that’s the real measure. Six months before I need a touchup? Twenty-four months? The touchup is inexpensive, but it’s a hassle to squeeze a Koreatown visit in among family obligations when I’m in LA. Renee goes for a touchup about every 6 months (although the last time she went, Sherri said she didn’t really need one). I’m hoping that my touchups will be more like 18-24 months apart, but I just don’t know yet.
For now, I’d say that it’s probably worth it. Especially if you’re currently spending a lot of time on your brows every day.
Feb. 2017 Update: WORTH IT. Even though parts of my brow showed fading about 15 months after my very first appointment, and I had to go in for another touchup for $90 (ouch!), the convenience and MAGIC of waking up with brows has been priceless. For those keeping track, in the span of 1.5 years, I made four visits to Sherri and spent a grand total of $420. Assuming I’ll need a yearly $90 touchup, I still think it’s worth it.
Side note: my friend had a different experience with Sherri. Her appointments felt rushed and her brows were initially uneven and asymmetrical. With any tattoo artist, speak up during the appointment if you have any dissatisfaction. After all, you’re spending a lot of money and you’ll be living with them for the next 18-24 months, so spending another 10 minutes to perfect them is pretty reasonable.
P.S. My other friend got her brow tats done at CC Permanent Makeup (also in Koreatown) and they look great. They’re a thicker, straighter shape in the style that’s popular in Korea right now. I suspect Sherri wouldn’t draw that shape unless it fit your natural features, but it’s worth asking her. Whichever brow artist you pick, make sure you’re comfortable with her style. That said, the tattoos are only semi-permanent and will eventually fade to nothing.
P.P.S. Saaammage made an informative video about her brow tattoo experience done with the microblading technique. Her experience is very different from mine in that I entrusted the shape and color to Sherri. Another difference is that I didn’t need to slather on anything on my brows and I recall either Sherri or the receptionist saying that Vaseline and the like will actually slow the healing since the area needs to breathe. Please pay attention to how your brow artist wants you to care for your brows.