Why I Tattooed My Eyebrows — & What It Was Really Like

Courtesy of Alyssa Coscarelli.
Chances are, unless you've spent as much time googling how to get bolder brows as I have, you've never heard of eyebrow embroidery. While this procedure — also known as cosmetic tattooing, semi-permanent makeup, pigment embroidery, 3-D eyebrow embroidery, or microblading — is quite common in Singapore and Malaysia, it hasn't quite caught on here in the United States.

When you think of eyebrow tattoos, you probably think of those straight lines, often bluish-gray or some other weird color, that look like they were drawn on with a crayon. That's not what they are. Eyebrow embroidery is semi-permanent pigment that's pushed into the surface of the skin with a fine blade to mimic the growth of your already existing hair (if there is any, that is) and create bolder, natural-looking brows. This requires no tattoo gun, no ink, and no bleeding or downtime — in fact, it looks best when a pro does it by hand. When it's done right — like the work of the now Instagram-famous cosmetic tattoo artist Shaughnessy Keely (disclaimer: she's completely booked) — you can hardly believe it's not real hair. Sounds too good to be true, right?

I first came across eyebrow embroidery on one of my many searches for a permanent solution to filling in my brows. Though they tend to have a nice shape, my eyebrows are naturally thin and faint (thanks, genetics!). I guess not everyone can have natural Cara Delevingne brows. But with the right products from Anastasia Beverly Hills, I was able to fill them in daily in a natural-looking way.

My friends and coworkers would never have guessed they weren't my real brows — in fact, I got almost daily compliments on my dark arches. Only I knew that they'd wash off in the shower at the end of the day, to be filled in the next morning to face the world again. I didn't even go to yoga or the beach without my brows colored in. Ex-boyfriends have teased me, saying, "Come on, go put your brows on." So when I stumbled upon Tina Lee Skin Care on Yelp, I knew I had to find out what this procedure was all about — and, of course, that meant trying it myself.

But that didn't come without endless research and months of hesitation, reading tons of reviews, looking for before-and-afters, and searching for anything that could assure me I wasn't insane for wanting to go under the knife to achieve perfect eyebrows. The only people I told that I was doing this were my mom and my best friend. Everyone else would've just called me crazy.

The truth is, I started to understand why some women decide to go for that nose job or boob job — there comes a point when you can't take an insecurity any longer, especially if you know that there's a safe alternative available. Here's hoping that my experience can cut down on someone else's weeks of questioning and second-guessing, because this is the real deal.

Read on to see exactly what it means to get your brows tattooed.
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Courtesy of Alyssa Coscarelli.
Before
These are my natural brows: no powder, pomade, or pencil. As you can see, there are some hairs there, and I've always liked that they were a little bit pointy. I never over-tweezed or waxed them — I wanted to save every hair I had!

But we can all thank Cara Delevingne for bringing bold brows into the spotlight, and when she did, I discovered how brows can really change my face for the better. Once I started filling them in, I couldn't stop. And, even though some may say bold brows are just a fad, I don't see myself embracing my naked arches anytime soon.
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Courtesy of Alyssa Coscarelli.
My Fill-In Process
These are my filled-in brows — what I do every morning. If I do say so myself, I'm pretty boss at filling them in, and it's all about using the right tools.

The day I discovered Anastasia Beverly Hills at Sephora, it was official — I was brow-obsessed. Brow Wiz, Brow Pomade, Brow Gel — you name it, I used it. Before I knew it, I was spending a whole 10 to 15 minutes on my brow routine every morning, and when you're not a morning person, this gets old fast.

I had read our story on eyebrow transplants, and yes, I considered it, but something about it just seemed a little bit more extreme (not to mention expensive) than what I was going for. But when summer rolled around — the season of sweaty foreheads, rooftop hangs, and Sunday beach trips — I knew I couldn't do this forever. I had to find a solution that worked for me. Enter: brow embroidery.
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Courtesy of Alyssa Coscarelli.
The Procedure
These are my brows immediately after the procedure.

After about two months of pondering, scheduling, chickening out, and rescheduling, I finally pulled the trigger and went to an appointment with Tina Lee. One user posted a recent review that sealed the deal for me: She was a cancer survivor, and her eyebrows had fallen out and never grown back. Like me, she filled in her brows every morning — until she visited Tina.

Tina's workspace is nestled in the back of a Chinatown hair salon. It's definitely not the most glamorous or comforting space to get a procedure that will semi-permanently alter your face. I was so nervous I could have been sick, and I was already thinking about how I would use my bangs to cover my brows if they came out totally botched.

But Tina welcomed me with a smile and got down to business. First, she applied the numbing cream and let it activate for a few minutes. This is great in theory, but the truth is, as the procedure goes on, the numbing cream slowly rubs off (and it's not reapplied). Needless to say, this procedure isn't for anyone who is a wuss about pain. I would equate it to getting your ears pierced or getting a stick-and-poke tattoo — definitely not enjoyable, but not completely unbearable, either.

Tina put on her glasses and took a close look at how I had drawn my brows. It's recommended that you show up to your appointment with your brows how you usually wear them, so that the technician can see how you want them to look. She picked a pigment color that closely matched that of my makeup, grabbed a fresh blade, and got to work. The first few minutes were relatively painless. "I totally got this," I thought. But as she scraped and scratched and worked her magic, my eyes began to tear up non-stop, and the pain steadily increased.

Thankfully, after she finished the first brow and showed me how beautiful and natural-looking it had turned out, I was able to woman up for the second one out of pure excitement for how awesome my brows were about to be. "Oh my god," I said. "It looks SO real!" She nodded nonchalantly.

I took a deep breath, and she went to work on my left brow. After a total time of about 30 minutes, I was done! I held the mirror close to my face in disbelief at what I was seeing. I finally had the brows I always wanted, and I was baffled as to why more women don't know about this procedure.

Tina handed me a small jar of healing ointment and told me that any redness or discomfort would disappear in about 30 minutes — and she was right. I happily paid her the $350, plus $20 for the ointment and a generous tip, and left the shop grinning and excited to show off my new brows.
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Courtesy of Alyssa Coscarelli.
An Hour Later
These are my brows just an hour after the procedure, with the healing ointment on. I was able to apply the rest of my makeup and proceed with my normal weekend activities — no pain, no downtime. The friends I did tell wanted a closer look and thought I was lying when I said I didn't fill them in. The friends I didn't tell had no idea anything even happened.
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Courtesy of Alyssa Coscarelli.
An Hour Later
These are my brows just an hour after the procedure, with the healing ointment on. I was able to apply the rest of my makeup and proceed with my normal weekend activities — no pain, no downtime. The friends I did tell wanted a closer look and thought I was lying when I said I didn't fill them in. The friends I didn't tell had no idea anything even happened.

After
These are my finished brows, a few weeks after the procedure. No complicated powders or pomades — just amazing, bold, natural-looking brows. They did peel a little bit for a few days after the procedure, but I continued applying the ointment twice a day as Tina instructed, and they healed splendidly. I'll be going for my $35, one-month touch-up in a couple weeks. After that, they should be golden for one to two years, until they gradually and naturally fade away.

Aside from saving myself some time in the morning, I feel like a new person with my embroidered eyebrows. Just a few days after I got them, a guy I went on a date with even asked me how my brows were so perfect. "They're striking," he said, looking at them closely. A total keeper, right?

All in all, Tina Lee is the real deal. If you can find a technician who knows what she's doing, I truly cannot recommend this procedure enough. Beauty may be pain, but it's worth it when you can finally feel like your best self — with or without makeup.
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