May 15, 2007 in Features

Dotting the eyes

By The Spokesman-Review
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Gustafson checks out her newly inked eyebrows.
(Full-size photo)

Judy Gustafson got tattooed one recent morning, just before heading off to work. Gustafson, who is an in-home care provider, doesn’t look like someone who would typically get a tattoo – but this was no typical tattoo.

Linda Owsley, a registered nurse in Post Falls, injected ink into Gustafson’s eyebrows. Wielding a smaller, more-precise version of the needle used by tattoo artists, Owsley pricked Gustafson’s skin again and again to create fine, hair-like lines of pigment along her brows.

The convenience of not having to pencil in eyebrows each day is what drew Gustafson to the procedure, called permanent cosmetics or micropigmentation.

“See what we go through?” she joked as Owsley numbed her brows with topical anesthetic.

Permanent makeup application is not regulated in Washington or Idaho, so there’s no hard data on whether interest in it is growing. The Yellow Pages list nearly a dozen salons and offices offering permanent cosmetics in the Inland Northwest. But those who perform the procedure say they’re seeing more and more women who are willing to pay hundreds of dollars so they don’t have to fuss with applying eyeliner, lip liner or eyebrow pencil every day.

“People are getting less apprehensive about it,” says Elaine Cain, who owns Beauty Secrets Salon in Spokane and has been applying permanent makeup for 13 years. “It saves them time and, in the long run, money. Makeup is very expensive. They like the convenience of always looking like they have makeup on. When you wake up, swimming, taking a shower, your makeup’s always on.”

The procedure is also good for women who have impaired movement, because of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or other disorders, and cannot apply cosmetics, says Jacqueline Draszt, who works in Spokane Valley and has been doing permanent makeup for 22 years.

Draszt and others also work with women who have lost hair due to alopecia and those that have undergone breast reconstruction and need areaolar pigmentation.

But potential customers need to do their homework. In Idaho and Washington, you don’t need a license to open up shop and start offering permanent cosmetics. No state or federal agency regulates the practice.

“It’s very scary,” Owsley says. “It really is pretty scary.”

Bad reactions to the procedure, either from the dye or infections or other problems, are rare. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received a total of more than 150 reports of adverse reactions to the ink used in permanent makeup.

“In addition, concerns raised by the scientific community regarding the pigments used in these inks have prompted FDA to investigate the safe use of tattoo inks,” says a report on the FDA Web site. “FDA continues to evaluate the extent and severity of adverse events associated with tattooing and is conducting research on inks. As new information is assessed, the agency will consider whether additional actions are necessary to protect public health.”

The threat of infection or allergic reaction is scary, of course. But so too is the threat of not liking the end result. While the pigment fades with time, the procedure is called “permanent” makeup for a reason.

“I tell clients, ‘When you know it’s done right is when you cannot tell it’s tattooed,’ ” says Draszt.

Practitioners say they advise clients not to bargain shop for permanent makeup. Most area technicians perform the procedures for anywhere between $200 and $500, depending on how extensive the tattooing is. Most pigments fade in two to five years and will need to be touched-up, usually at a reduced price.

“When someone calls and they’re price-shopping, that’s the worst thing,” Owsley says.

Prospective clients should spend some time interviewing the practitioner before scheduling an appointment. Find out how long he or she has been doing permanent makeup and what kind of training he or she received. Find out how tools are sterilized. Ask to speak with references. Ask to see before and after photos. (Double-check that the pictures are of the practitioner’s clients, not someone else’s.) Visit the office to make sure it appears clean.

Says Owsley, “Just because someone does this for a living doesn’t mean they do it well.”

Owsley is her own walking advertisement.

She has tattooed her own eyebrows, eyeliner (top and bottom) and lip liner.

“I try to make it really beautiful,” she says.

Peggy Armstrong of Liberty Lake had lip liner tattooed by Cain a few years ago. She says she has no regrets and would do it again.

“It just looks natural,” Armstrong says.

What about the pain, though? It is, after all, a small needle going around your lips or, even worse, around your eyelids.

“It sort of hurts,” Armstrong says. “But it doesn’t hurt any more than electrolysis. It kind of feels like a little sewing machine going around your lips. It kind of feels like that. It just goes in and out.”

Gustafson didn’t even flinch as Owsley touched up her brows recently with more pigment.

The needle’s buzzing mingled with the soft rock on the office sound system as Owsley hovered over Gustafson, making the tiny injections to get her brows just-so.

“Some of it hurt a little bit, but not enough where you can’t stand it,” Gustafson says.

Now, she’s thinking about getting her lip liner and eyeliner tattooed as well.

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