So, Does Everyone Hate The Microblading They Got In 2018?

Photographed by Rochelle Brock.
When LA-based brow artist Kristie Streicher was first introduced to microblading — a semi-permanent eyebrow tattooing service brought to the US from Asia — she was a little wary. "I started noticing the microblading trend in the 2010s," she recalls, "but I didn't start doing it myself until 2015 or 2016."
If you remember, 2016 was the inflection point when everyone was convincing their coworkers, sisters-in-law, and friends of friends with faint or overplucked brows to try microblading. At Refinery29, it was a water cooler conversation. One editor reported that microblading their eyebrows was "one of the top three best decisions [they've] ever made in the name of beauty." 
Microblading quickly became the epitome of a "high-maintenance to be low-maintenance" beauty service. New York-based brow artist Denise Barbosa remembers the trend takeoff as being almost perfectly timed to the swing in aesthetic preferences from skinny, thin eyebrows to thick, bushier, and more defined brows. "At the time, everyone wanted Cara Delevingne's eyebrows," Barbosa remembers. "People were dying to try microblading." 
Who doesn't want great brows without ever having to pick up a brow pencil — or worry if it's the right shade? But fast-forward to 2024, and it seems like the buzz around microblading has quieted (literally), hinting that the service may be on the decline. More and more, we're hearing people express remorse, like "Getting my brows microbladed is my biggest regret in life."

getting my brows microbladed is my biggest regret in life

♬ original sound - Casee Brim

What is the downside to microblading?

There was a reason that Streicher was initially hesitant about adopting microblading into her own brow routine or offering it to her clients: It's risky. "As with any semi-permanent or permanent makeup technique there is a risk of being dissatisfied with the healed result," explains Streicher. It's important to remember that microblading is a cosmetic tattoo that breaks skin to apply ink (or a powder pigment, if we're talking about powder brows). So you're at the risk of infection, of course, but also aesthetic problems — like changes in the colour or shape over time — can be a headache to fix. 
"With microblading, you're cutting into the skin and inserting pigment," explains Barbosa, who was trained in permanent makeup but does not offer microblading in her studio. Of course, eyebrow microblading is not the same as a permanent tattoo. The pigment is supposed to just scratch the surface of the skin, enabling the ink to fade with time and natural cell turnover. However, if your brow artist applies the ink incorrectly, going deeper into the skin, that's where the problems arise, says Barbosa.
Although the longevity is part of the appeal of microblading, you actually want the ink to fade. "If the pigment penetrates into deeper skin tissue, it could result in a more permanent 'tattoo' rather than something that fades out over a year or so," explains Streicher. More problematically, though, when microblading ink penetrates the dermis (or inner layer) of the skin, "these pigments can have the tendency to spread and fade into unnatural colours over time, such as grey, pink and even blue," adds Streicher.

Why are people trying to remove their microblading?

Both Streicher and Barbosa have had clients complaining that a previous microblading treatment caused a "weird" colour change in their eyebrows. "Within the past year and a half, I've had a lot of clients trying to fix their microbladed eyebrows," says Barbosa. "When they come to see me, I'm finding that there are tones of greens, oranges and blues in the skin."

"When they come to see me, I'm finding that there are tones of greens, oranges and blues in the skin."

Denise Barbosa, Natural Brow Artist
Case in point: Melissa Magsaysay, an LA-based writer and author, had her "very sparse" and "thin" eyebrows professionally microbladed in 2018. "I wanted brows that didn't require a lot of time or product to look full," she says, speaking to the initial appeal of microblading. But three years later, she noticed the microblading pigment had faded into a tone of "pink-ish red," and she had to find a way to remove it.

What causes microblading to change colours?

According to Streicher and Barbosa, different factors can cause microblading to change shape or tone as it fades. If the brow artist applies the ink too deep, that can impact the pigment. Barbosa adds that the quality of the pigment the brow artist uses can cause it to change or shift within the skin. Streicher says that internal lifestyle factors, like hormones and medications, could easily play a role as well. So, to add insult to injury, when your microblading goes awry, it can be hard to diagnose.

What do you do if you hate your microblading?

If you're unhappy with how a previous microblading treatment has faded, you can look into pigment removal services in your area. Streicher offers a Pigment Removal service at her LA salon, STRIIIKE; it's a new, proprietary treatment designed to service disappointed former microbladers like Magsaysay. 
According to Eric Podnar, STRIIIKE pigment removal specialist, the procedure is minimally invasive. It removes the pigment without using lasers, which he says can often push the pigment deeper into the skin. "The two-step process utilises a device that creates micro-perforations in the skin," Podnar explains. "Then an alkaline oxide solution is applied, which acts like a magnet to the pigment and then it's extracted through the micro-perforations. The pigment is then wiped away."  
Top: Client's eyebrow before Pigment Removal; bottom: Client's eyebrow after Pigment Removal
Magsaysay went through the removal process over two sessions, which resulted in a complete removal of the "reddish-pink" pigment left over from her microblading. "The process was easy and painless," she says. Of course, at $250 (approximately £198) per session, this is an added cost to fix what was initially an expensive beauty treatment. 
You might be able to lighten your microblading at home, but you likely won't be able to fully remove it. "Depending on how deep the pigment lays within the skin, using products to speed cell turnover such as retinol, alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) [like glycolic acid] and beta hydroxy acids (BHA) [like salicylic acid], can help remove the top layers of the skin and promote cellular turnover, therefore softening the pigment," offers Podnar.

Is microblading dead?

Like most beauty services, microblading is not for everyone — but it works for some people. I spoke to a colleague who said that her entire family gets their eyebrows microbladed — mum, dad, sisters — and they have no complaints. There are circumstances where it makes sense. Barbosa mentions that microblading might be an effective way for someone to regain their eyebrow shape after losing their hair from chemotherapy treatment, for example. "I don't want to talk against permanent makeup because there are people doing beautiful work with it," adds Barbosa.
In fact, Streicher designed an alternative to microblading, a very popular semi-permanent service called "microfeathering." It always starts with what she calls "brow cultivation," which works to regain the eyebrow hairs before adding any pigment. "My ultimate goal is to make the brows look as natural as possible," explains Streicher. "I became quickly aware of how much of that relies upon having as much natural hair as possible." Once the brow hair has been nurtured, cultivated and rehabbed over months, Streicher uses a light microblading technique using tiny, hair-like strokes that fill in sparse areas and holes.
Streicher’s technique is how Magsaysay effectively de-microbladed her eyebrows and got them back to a good place. "After Eric's pigment removal was healed, Kristie added a few microfeather strokes to each brow," Magsaysay explains. "The result is natural, realistically-full eyebrows that look great with just a few swipes of product and take under a minute to achieve."

"People are getting into brow serums and tinting. They want something that doesn't require maintenance."

Barbosa believes time has made us all the wiser to the drawbacks of microblading and that's why it's fallen out of favour. "When the industry came out with this, it was a wonderful idea, but it was new and people didn't know a lot about it," she explains. "If you went to see someone for microblading, you thought you were getting someone with years of experience, but often that wasn't so." 
If you never jumped on the microblading bandwagon, you might be better off. In general, our brow aesthetic preferences have shifted and at the same time, brow treatments have become expensive and inconvenient for many people. In most major cities, initial service is £500 on average and requires an annual touchup at around £200. Barbosa says she's noticing a bit of both. "Right now, everyone is embracing their natural brows," she explains. "People are getting into brow serums and tinting. They want something that doesn't require maintenance." 
Not for nothing, our product offerings in brow gels and waxes have come a long way. "I find that once my clients are taught how to fill in their brows, they are so happy," adds Barbosa. You could pick up a brow gel (Barbosa recommends Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Freeze Gel or NYX Professional Makeup Brow Glue) and a brow pen (try Maybelline Build-A-Brow), and brow care might shape up to be a daily habit — but you probably won't regret it.
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