Semi-Permanent Makeup?

During the past year there have been press releases and other media publications on the subject of “Semi-Permanent Makeup” as it might relate to cosmetic tattooing. The Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals (SPCP) has monitored these public media releases and patiently waited for these non-truths to become evident to the public and for those who would use the term to “adjust” their positioning according to facts, not fiction. For those who might still be in a state of confusion, the SPCP, the largest organization for the permanent cosmetic industry, is pleased to provide further clarification.

Semi-Permanent Cosmetics – the term has been introduced by those less knowledgeable about tattooing and is not a reality. At a recent SPCP convention the question was asked of one of our industry experts, “How do you feel about using the term semi-permanent for our work?” She responded, “It sounds like a good excuse for inferior work not to stay in the skin as intended.” This humorous, but very true answer sums up the general consensus about using the term semi-permanent in the cosmetic tattoo industry.

A more complex explanation has to do with biology and how pigment or ink should be and is placed in the upper dermal layer of the skin by experienced technicians. If the technician is inexperienced and shy about their tattooing technique, it is feasible the pigment or ink is incorrectly placed only in the epidermal layer of the skin. The epidermal layer of the skin is comprised of skin cells, which are dead or dying awaiting new skin cells to take their place. It is a fact that in the process of implanting tattoo pigment/ink into the upper dermal layer of the skin, the needle and pigment/ink must travel through the epidermal layer of skin. As a result approximately 15-25% of the pigment/ink is trapped within the epidermal layer and subsequently sheds as the dead skin cells in the natural process of cellular renewal carry it away. This results in a softened version of the freshly applied permanent cosmetic procedure. When a technician has not properly reached the dermal layer of the skin, the result is that most or all of what was implanted and trapped in the epidermal layer will be lost.

It is unfortunate that inexperienced and unknowing technicians might convince an unsuspecting public that excessive fading and very frequent touch ups are normal. Too-frequent touch-ups can be expensive over time and also carry the potential of harming the skin by way of scar tissue production.

Further reasoning for the attraction to the term ‘semi-permanent’ is that the technician does not have to seek out tested, high quality pigments with a history of longevity, nor do they have to invest in high quality needles, all of which are components of a correctly placed, time enduring cosmetic tattoo. Such a low expectation of the art works very well to the advantage of the technician, who has had no, little, or poor education, and uses inadequate and substandard products and equipment.

Although all color fades, regardless of the medium, the semi-permanent proponents would have the public believe the pigment/ink magically disappears in a short term leaving the skin as if the procedure never occurred! Any break of the skin’s surface, including tattooing, alters the skin where the surface was broken. If by chance, 100% of the color were to magically disappear (which it will not,) the skin would not be exactly the same as before the procedure took place.

One must be very careful not to buy into the semi-permanent propaganda for several reasons. This philosophy has been touted to be an attractive marketing ploy to present to those clients whose religion would otherwise prohibit tattooing. They say it is different. It is not different from tattooing; it is a type of tattooing. The financial investment in the maintenance aspect (touchups) of permanent cosmetics rises considerably when a client feels it is normal to return every few months to have an all too soon faded procedure color refreshed. This represents financial gain on behalf of the inexperienced technician and the less than honest supplier of poor quality products and equipment.

For educational purposes, a brief overview of a few of the elements that affect pigment/ink longevity is provided:

  • An experienced cosmetic tattoo artist who uses quality products and equipment must conduct the procedure.
  • The lightness or darkness of the pigment/ink used for the procedure bears a relationship to the anticipated longevity. In this respect the term longevity is used in regard to fading, not disappearing.
    1. Lighter pigments such as very pale blondes have a shorter pristine term than do darker pigments. Yellow is often used for the paler blonde pigments used for eyebrow procedures and yellow is the weakest primary color. Black is often used to darken a color and black has a longer pristine term than does yellow.
    2. Red is a very warm color, the second strongest primary color, and is the base or an included color for many lip pigments used for lip procedures. Lip procedures fade the least and require the least touchup maintenance as compared to light eyebrow tattooing.
  • The quality of and/or the processing methodology of the pigment/ink affects pristine longevity. The more hydration that is used to dilute the product, the weaker the product becomes.
  • The quality of the device plays a very important part in the delivery of the pigment into the skin, as does the quality of the needles for the device. Experienced and qualified technicians seek out superior equipment that performs consistently prevents cross-contamination and quality production of needles intended to cause less trauma to the skin and deliver more pigment during the tattooing process.
  • Unprotected sun exposure is the number one enemy of tattooing. People with medium to dark skin tones often feel they do not require sunscreen. As a result their procedures are subjected to direct UV and UVA sunlight which is very damaging not only to the skin but to the pigment causing a breakdown of the illusion created by pigment implantation.
  • Clients have a different perspective as to when they feel their procedures need color refresher. Some feel this is needed at the very onset of natural environmental fading. Others are quite content to return for a refresher at a much later date.

The beauty industry, which encompasses many services, medical and non-medical, revolves around successful, qualified people who have invested in superior initial and ongoing education, use high quality products, and know their medium. Conversely, there will always be those who merely stand to profit from the uniformed.

The SPCP does not support the use of the term semi-permanent in the cosmetic tattooing industry for all the reasons stated in this article and therefore, has developed this formal position:

Position Statement Regarding Semi-Permanent Makeup

It is the position of the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals that pigments (colorants) placed into the dermis using needles are considered to be permanent. Results of fading, color change or lack of color are expected and are the result of factors such as skin variations, and sun fading. Improper application or faulty equipment can also affect the length of time color appears in the skin.

Permanent Cosmetics, Permanent Makeup, and Cosmetic Tattooing are all terms used to correctly identify the process of implanting pigments (inks) into the skin for cosmetic purposes. The term “semi-permanent” is reserved for long-wear topically applied makeup and is misleading to be associated with the tattoo industry. It implies mechanical control of the length of time a pigment may remain in the skin. There are no documented findings to suggest cosmetically tattooed skin can be reverted to its previous unaltered state within a specified timeframe stated by the technician or any other person.

For further information, visit the Technician Semi-Permanent Makeup Guidelines page