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Permanent eyeliner: Pros and cons of cosmetic tattoos

closeup of an eye getting a permanent eyeliner tattoo

What are permanent and semi-permanent eyeliner tattoos?

Permanent and semi-permanent eyeliner tattoos are applied using a needle to deposit ink along the lash line, similar to getting a body tattoo. This technique gives the appearance of wearing eyeliner. It’s especially beneficial for people who like eyeliner but don’t want to put it on daily. 

It’s important to understand that eyeliner tattoos are different than eye tattoos. Eye tattoos are permanent dyes injected onto the white part of the eye and can be very risky.

What is the difference between permanent and semi-permanent eyeliner tattoos?

All permanent eyeliner is actually semi-permanent for these reasons:

  • The particle size of the ink used in permanent makeup is bigger than what’s used in tattoo ink. The body breaks down and absorbs this ink. Thus, eyeliner tattoos need to be touched up.

  • The ink of permanent makeup tattoos is not deposited as deep in the skin as the ink used in body tattoos.

  • Body tattoo ink is permanent because it can’t be broken down. 

How does the tattoo process work?

You can expect the following at your appointment: 

  • A topical anesthetic will be applied to numb the skin so you won’t feel pain during the procedure.

  • You and the person applying the cosmetic tattoos will decide the way you want the eyeliner tattoo to look, such as traditional eyeliner or a wing or cat eye.

  • The permanent makeup will be applied to your eyelid with a pen-like instrument or a standard tattoo gun. The needle penetrates a few millimeters into your skin, and the ink is injected. 

The length of the procedure depends on what style you’ve chosen. Traditional eyeliner that is a thin line along your lash line can often be done in about one hour. This includes 30 minutes for the numbing process and deciding on your look. Thicker lines and designs can take up to three hours. 

You may experience a little bleeding, swelling and some crusting afterward. All are normal reactions to the procedure.

How to prepare to get eyeliner tattoos

There are a number of things you need to do in preparation for getting a permanent eyeliner tattoo.

You may need to stop taking some medications. If you take any prescription medication, you should talk with your doctor before getting permanent eyeliner tattoos. Accutane and other retinoids (vitamin A-based products used on skin) could interfere with healing. So you may need to stop using those for up to six months before you get permanent makeup. 

Although bleeding rarely happens, you may need to stop taking blood thinners for three days before your appointment. These include some prescriptions, aspirin, fish oil, certain vitamins and Advil. 

Remove lash extensions. You’ll need to take off lash extensions about a week before your appointment. If you wait to do it until the day of, there may be glue left behind on the lash line that could interfere with the tattoo ink. You can reapply lash extensions when the tattoo eyeliner has healed.

Don’t wear contact lenses. Take your contact lenses out before the procedure. You may not be able to wear them for a few days since your eyes could be a little swollen or tender after the permanent eyeliner application.

Time other cosmetic procedures appropriately. If you’re planning to have Botox or other injections in your eye area, do it before having the permanent eyeliner applied. You should be fully healed for at least two weeks before you get eyeliner tattoos.

Stop using some skincare products. If you use skin care products such as retinol or glycolic acid that can make skin sensitive around the eye area, you should consider not using them one week before your appointment to avoid irritation.  

Hold the coffee. You may want to avoid coffee and other caffeinated drinks on the day of your appointment to help you relax and avoid twitching.

Make sure it’s safe for you to get permanent eyelid tattoos. Permanent makeup may not be safe for people who are pregnant or nursing, or have compromised immune systems due to diabetes or other serious illnesses. If this applies to you, be sure to talk with your doctor before getting this procedure. 

How long does it last?

Most permanent eyeliner tattoos last about a year and could last as long as three years. The color does fade over time because skin cells are constantly replaced, and the body breaks down the ink used in cosmetic tattoos. 

Age, body chemistry, individual skin type (thicker skin fades faster) and lifestyle (sun exposure) also affect how long the color lasts.

Pros and cons of permanent eyeliner 

There are several pros to getting permanent eyeliner tattoos, including:

  • People with physical limitations may not be able to apply makeup themselves. Limitations include medical conditions such as cataracts, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or having suffered from a stroke. Permanent eyeliner tattoos provide the benefit of wearing makeup without the challenge of putting it on.

  • Permanent eyeliner can be a good alternative for people who are allergic to traditional makeup.

  • Poor eyesight or unsteady hands can make it hard to put on eyeliner. Eyeliner tattoos can solve this problem.

  • People who like to wear makeup but don’t always have time to apply it may appreciate permanent eyeliner tattoos.

The cons and risks of permanent makeup include: 

  • Infection. Since the procedure uses needles, you could get an infection such as hepatitis, HIV or staph if the needles are not sterilized. Contaminated ink can also cause an infection.

  • Allergic reaction. You may be allergic to the pigments used in the ink color or the type of tattoo ink. You can ask for a scratch test to see if you will have a reaction before the procedure. 

  • Eye complications. Procedures around the eye can result in the loss of eyelashes, severe eyelid injury, crusting and ectropion (when the eyelid turns away from the eyeball).

  • Nodules and scar tissue. Your body may form nodules around the tattoo ink if it thinks it is a foreign substance. You may also get keloids, which are scars that form when your skin is injured or traumatized. 

What follow-up care is needed?

You can go home the same day you get permanent eyeliner tattoos. Since there’s not a lot of downtime, you can go back to work or do other activities immediately after your procedure (assuming there were no complications).

There are a few things to keep in mind after the procedure:

  • Don’t rub your eyes.

  • You’ll probably have some swelling and redness in the treated area. Your cosmetic specialist will tell you how often to put ice on your eyelids and what type of ointment you can use.

  • If your skin feels sensitive along the lashes, you can use petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) one or two times a day for a week. This will keep the area hydrated and help you avoid more irritation. 

  • You can wear eye makeup as soon as you feel comfortable.

Don’t be alarmed if the color seems to fade after two or three weeks. This is normal after getting tattooed eyeliner. 

How much does it cost?

The cost of permanent eyeliner tattoos can range from $475 to $1,000+, depending on what you want. A thin line is generally less expensive than thicker, winged or cat eye-style eyeliner. Touch-ups can cost $200 up to $700.

READ NEXT: The best mascara for sensitive eyes

Safety of tattoos and permanent make up (PMU) colorants. Cosmetics. June 2021.

Micropigmentation. Cleveland Clinic. July 2020.

Retinoid or retinol? American Academy of Dermatology Association. May 2021.

The pros and cons of permanent makeup. Cleveland Clinic. August 2020.

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