From nanoblading to microshading, I hear beauty editors raving about new brow treatments all the time, but the first thing I ask (not always out loud) is: Does it work on dark skin? While the answer is yes for many lasers and skincare products, having more melanin always means you have to proceed with caution when booking in — one wrong turn with a laser can lead to a dark spot that can take months or years to erase.
So when everyone in the beauty industry started microblading, which is semi-permanent tattooing to fill in brows, I was definitely interested. When I wear makeup, I spend 15 minutes just perfecting my arches. And while I don’t have the energy to do that routine every day, if I ever get caught in a photo without doing them, I just look so... naked.
But as a rule, I don’t sign up for anything unless I see visual proof that it works on brown skin. So I went to Instagram to hunt for brow tattoos on Black women and, let me tell you, the images were as sparse as my natural eyebrow hairs. But then I heard that Serena Williams and Jackie Aina get their brows microbladed by Piret Aava (a.k.a. The Eyebrow Doctor) in New York City. After scrolling through her feed, I noticed several women of colour — and in all the photos, their brows looked immaculate and natural. That’s when I decided to get my first tattoo — on my face.
While the numbing cream took effect, Aava answered a few of my burning questions about microblading on dark skin. She explained that the process is exactly the same as it is for any other skin tone, but there are certain things you need to know about picking pigments before that first stroke. And in case you're wondering, I love my brand-new brows. Ahead, I'm breaking down everything you need to know if you're considering the procedure yourself.
Picking the right person is crucial.
Please don’t go to a tattoo artist to get your brows done. First of all, the tools and ink are completely different for microblading. The pigments are less concentrated than tattoo ink, and they come specially mixed to coordinate with brow colours. Using the wrong ink can make brows turn strange colours, like green. Beauty experts in the UK recommend Tracie Giles, Suman Jalaf and Laura Kay.
You also want to make sure the person you are going to has experience with darker skin (remember my Instagram research?). Make sure to ask your brow specialist for photos of their clients, especially photos taken after the brows have healed. “Look at before-and-after pictures and look at healed results because that is what you’re actually going to be walking around with,” says Aava. “They look nice and sharp and beautiful and full right away, but the stroke expands a little bit — especially if your skin is oily. If the strokes are too close together, you are going to have solid block eyebrow.”
Never, never get black ink.
It’s instinct to go for the darkest ink option when working on dark skin, but Aava says that’s a big mistake because black looks grey once it heals. Instead, Aava matches her pigments to the natural colour of her clients' brows, and her darkest shade option is ebony brown. If you want your brows to be lighter or darker than the hair you currently have, make sure to get your natural hairs bleached or dyed before your microblading appointment.
Undertones also come into play.
Another important part of picking the right pigment colour for brows is the undertones of the skin. “If you have yellow undertones, I use pigment with cooler tones. If you have a lot of blue in the skin, I use warmer tones,” says Aava. “Some people are right in the middle, so I can’t really tell, but I always tend to use cooler tones because no one wants an orange eyebrow.”
Ask for a touch-up session.
In about four to six weeks when your brows have healed, it’s good practice to get a touch-up. For me, my brows looked a bit ashy after the scabs fell away, and I had a few spots where the colour didn’t take at all, which left my brows looking a little splotchy. At my touch-up, Aava added a couple drops of warmth to counteract the cool tone and filled in the holes.
Aava says that different people metabolise pigment differently, which can lead to brows looking warmer or cooler once they heal. “It’s a foreign object in your skin and your body is trying to get rid of it,” says Aava. This means that your brows can look a little green or orange after they heal, and it also means that the pigment can disappear faster for some (in general, microblading lasts about 1-3 years).
Hyperpigmentation can happen — here’s how to prevent it.
Aava says that while hyperpigmentation can happen, it’s not something she worries about too much because it would occur underneath the brow hair. Dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, says using sunscreen on your brows once they’ve healed can help with hyperpigmentation. “Any time you do anything on brown skin, there is potential for hyperpigmentation," she says. "So it’s important to do it in the right hands, and have really good sun protection afterwards."