Mom got a tattoo

So my mother waited until she was almost 70 to go out and get a tattoo — a cosmetic tattoo that is; a thin, sharp, attractive strip of eyeliner, also known as “permanent makeup.” She is quite active, playing golf, running, and hiking, and says she “just didn’t want to mess with makeup” that smears when you sweat and has to be applied and reapplied. Mom is very practical, and quite comfortable in grungy camping clothes, but as she said, “when you can look more styli n’ this easy, why not?”


Permanent cosmetic makeup is cosmetic tattooing. The specialized technique deposits colored pigment in the upper layer of the skin, just like a regular tattoo. In the hands of a trained permanent makeup professional, it is a safe and quick procedure that can provide a soft, natural enhancement to one’s appearance, eliminating the hassle of regularly applying makeup.

People seeking permanent makeup have various reasons for their interest in such a procedure. Like mom, many are active and on the go, and appreciate simplifying their daily routine. Athletes like the fact that permanent makeup does not smudge with sweating. Some folks with health conditions, such as poor vision, arthritis, or neurologic disease have difficulty applying makeup.

One of the main areas for permanent makeup is the eyebrow, which disappears or fades especially with aging or health conditions such as low thyroid. The base of the eyelashes where eyeliner is applied is also a common area to treat.

I asked an RN, and cosmetic tattoo artist, Karen Kotleba, what are the main concerns of patients inquiring about permanent makeup? She says “will it hurt and how long does it last” are the top two questions she gets. Kotleba has been doing permanent makeup for years and she has a good deal of feedback on the procedure.

According to Kotleba, it is variable in how much discomfort people experience, seemingly related to patient’s general pain tolerance.

“It is a tattoo after all,” Kotleba said. “For some people it is a minor irritation while for others it is a bit more sensitive. We do use topical anesthetic which really helps.”

Karen is reassuring about the procedure explaining that, “education and preparation really help take the fear factor out of the procedure, and most people do just fine.”

As for the “permanent” aspect of cosmetic tattooing, there is a bit of wiggle room here. Like traditional tattoos, colors will fade and require periodic maintenance referred to as color refreshing.

“This is actually a good thing as it is an opportunity to reevaluate one’s color and design preferences,” Karen said.

How long the color lasts will depend on sun exposure, topical skin products used, and the color used.

The procedure usually takes several hours depending on the area being treated, while color refresher treatments go much quicker. Side effects are minimal and are rare in the eyebrow area. Swelling and slight bruising is more common on the eyelid where eyelash enhancement or eyeliner is applied. Slight bleeding may occur during the procedure, but again it is minor and more likely in people taking aspirin or prescription blood thinners. There is usually minor tenderness for a day or two after the procedure.

The color of a cosmetic tattoo is typically darker than anticipated the first week or so and normally fades. Karen said “this is why professional cosmetic technicians really spend a lot of time with the patient before the procedure to evaluate particular health issues and anticipate just what the patient envisions. Experience with a wide variety of colors and skin types help the technician get the color and appearance just right.”

The cost of permanent makeup varies quite a bit of course, depending on the area or areas treated. Typical prices are in the $300 to $600 range. Like many things, the cost of the procedure should not be one’s first priority. Most important is the training, skill, and experience of the person performing the procedure.

I asked Mom if she was pleased with her decision to get permanent makeup, and she replied, “it is a great idea and I often have women ask me about the process. It’s a very good idea for women who don’t want a heavy or ‘made up’ look and want to look more natural. I especially like it because I’m involved in a lot of outdoor activities like golf, camping, and jogging, and I don’t want to mess with make up, but like the look that the permanent provides. Yes, I’m an advocate. I’m honest with people though and tell them that the process is a bit uncomfortable, but not a long one.”

Permanent makeup is not something to rush into, as it is not easily removed. Make good decisions up front by working closely with your technician.

Kotleba imparts these final words: “Cosmetic tattooing isn’t something you should blink an eye at, but once you are comfortable with the idea it’s a tattoo you will never regret!”

Karen Kotleba is a RN and cosmetic tattoo artist. She is available for free consultations at ( Call 561-886-7863 for an appointment or more information.

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