Solid, inky eyebrow tattoos are a thing of the past. Thanks to new technology, the times have changed to fulfill our bushy-browed dreams. “Techniques, tools, and products have evolved since then and they continue to advance as more technology is introduced,” says restorative tattoo artist Shaughnessy Otsuji.
With expert input from Otsuji and Blair Murphy Rose, MD, FAAD, discover everything there is to know about modern eyebrow tattoos, including how much they cost, what they feel like, and the care they require post-treatment ahead.
Meet the Expert
What Are Eyebrow Tattoos?
An eyebrow tattoo is exactly as it sounds: a tattoo in the shape of an eyebrow. While eyebrow tattoos of the past often looked solid and obvious, nowadays, brow tattoos look incredibly realistic. That’s because, according to Rose, eyebrow tattoos are designed to create the appearance of an eyebrow, with texture, fullness, and shape in mind. “The best eyebrow tattoos will use hair-like strokes for a more natural result,” she adds.
Otsuji notes that eyebrow tattoos can be categorized into a few types: microblading, nano brows, and powder brows. While all are created by implanting ink or pigment beneath the skin, the ways in which they’re created allow for different results that mimic popular brow styles, like fluffy brows (best mimicked with microblading).
With so many options, it can be confusing to know which eyebrow tattoo is best for you. With that in mind, check out Otsuji’s recommendations, below.
Ever since microblading exploded in the last couple of years, it has become one of (if not the) most popular forms of brow tattooing. “This process uses a handheld tool consisting of several tiny needles to implant pigment beneath the skin,” Otsuji says, “This technique mimics the look of very fine, realistic-looking hair strokes and is considered semi-permanent.” While microblading is a form of brow tattoo, the pigments used to create it are designed to fade over time to ensure that the brows can be updated with age. This approach guarantees the most natural look as the years pass by.
Also known as "hairstroke brow-tattooing" and nanoblading, nano brows use a precise technique similar to microblading. The biggest difference is that nano brows utilize a digital tattoo machine and a single needle. “This process can be beneficial for those who are wanting a natural-looking brow but have thick, textured, or oily skin,” Otsuji says. By using a single needle, the artist can go in and address problem areas one by one.
Commonly referred to as "ombré brows," powder brows are created using the same digital device and single needle as nano brows, but Otsuji says that the result has a more filled-in, powdery effect, which mimics the look of brow makeup. “This technique is also a great option for those who have thick, textured, or oily skin, and can be very helpful in color-correcting previously tattooed brows,” she says.
If no single eyebrow tattoo technique seems like enough, combo brows are a great option. They’re a hybrid of nano and powder techniques and, according to Otsuji, involve hair strokes and shading to create realistic fullness and texture.
Benefits of Eyebrow Tattoos
- Add texture and shape to brows
- Look realistic
- Stay in place, even after sleep
- Resist water and sweat
While many tattoos are a form of personal expression, eyebrow tattoos fall under cosmetic tattoos; they're beneficial for those simply looking to boost their brow appearance, as well as those managing hair loss.
“At Studio Sashiko, we specialize in replicating the look of realistic eyebrows for clients who have suffered from hair loss due to chemotherapy, autoimmune disease, or incidents resulting in scarring of the brow area, although special care must be taken when working with scarred or compromised skin so there is no further damage,” Otsuji says. “Eyebrow tattooing can relieve the stress of having to add makeup to the brow area every morning. It also allows those who lead an active lifestyle the freedom of waterproof, sweat-proof brows.”
While eyebrow tattoos can be beneficial for all genders, ages, and skin tones, Rose says that some skin types should steer clear. “They should be avoided by those who tend to develop keloid or hypertrophic scars,” she warns. “Because a tattoo requires injury to the skin, scars can develop from the treated area.”
How to Prepare for an Eyebrow Tattoo Appointment
Like most cosmetic treatments, Otsuji says it’s important to be well hydrated, and to avoid alcohol and excess caffeine, prior to treatment. Additionally, she says to avoid extreme sun exposure for two weeks before and after your appointment so you don't risk any sunburns or peeling during your healing process. “Ask any and all questions before booking your eyebrow tattoo session, as it is important to manage your expectations and be aware of any contraindications,” she adds.
Rose suggests going into your appointment with a clear style in mind. Bring reference photos for your artist and ensure that you visit a reputable artist skilled in eyebrow tattoos.
What to Expect During an Eyebrow Tattoo Appointment
As long as you visit a reputable artist, Otsuji says that they should want to work with you during treatment to ensure you’re happy with the eyebrow design.
“Your artist will work closely with you to design your ideal eyebrow shape and choose a pigment color that suits your hair and skin color best,” she says. Outside of the look of the tattoo, it’s important to prepare yourself for the feel of it, too. “Eyebrow tattooing can be mildly uncomfortable but is rarely considered painful or unbearable,” Otsuji says. “A topical anesthetic, such as Zensa, will be used to ensure a relaxing experience and to reduce any irritation.” Immediately following the treatment—which takes anywhere from one to two hours—Otsuji says you should expect some minor redness and potential swelling, but it should only last a day or two.
Eyebrow Tattoos vs. Microblading
Microblading is a form of eyebrow tattooing. However, unlike nano brows and combo brows, microblading is considered to be semi-permanent since, as Otsuji points out, the ink is deposited more superficially into the skin’s surface and doesn’t rely on traditional tattoo machines. “As a general rule of thumb, microblading is a great option for normal to dry skin types, and machine-made brows can work for a variety of skin types, including those who are very oily or scarred,” Otsuji says. Thanks to its semi-permanent nature, microblading is designed to last up to two years, depending on the skill of the artist and how well your skin takes to the application.
Tattoo ink, conversely, is injected deeper into the skin than the microblading pigment, ultimately lasting much longer, according to Rose. Even still, she admits that the color fades over time and can become an unnatural green-blue hue. But rest assured; with touch-ups, your eyebrow tattoos can always be restored to their original glory.
Potential Side Effects
There are always risks associated with tattoos, but, as Otsuji reassures, they’re typically minimal with brow ink. The biggest thing to remember is that you shouldn’t opt for a brow tattoo session if you’re pregnant or nursing, currently on Accutane, or taking any blood-thinning medications. Since there are many factors to consider, Otsuji suggests talking with your doctor before treatment to ensure it’s right for you.
Up until this point, everything about eyebrow tattoos probably sounds pretty great. The price tag, however, isn't particularly low. According to Otsuji, brow tattooing services can start around $500 and go up to around $2000. “Pricing will vary depending on the technique, artist's level of expertise, experience, and location,” she explains. Also, she says to remember that annual maintenance appointments are required, though usually at a reduced price.
The biggest things to keep in mind following a brow tattoo service are avoiding scratching, chemical skin treatments, and excess sun exposure. “Factors such as prolonged sun exposure, harsh exfoliants, and chemical peels can prematurely fade any type of brow tattoo,” Otsuji says.
If you’re worried about aftercare, know that your artist should assess your new brows and give you instructions on caring for them. If they don’t, be sure to ask for them. Typically, Otsuji says that customers should avoid sweating, swimming, sun exposure, and facial products in the brow area for the full healing process. “At Studio Sashiko, we recommend keeping your fresh brows clean by regularly blotting the area with a damp paper towel or sterile water wipe, and then gently patting dry afterward,” she shares. “This will help remove any excess build-up of lymph, pigment, or oil to reduce the amount of scabbing that occurs.”
Also, if you notice your brows start to peel, remain calm. “Light peeling of the skin will begin around day three to seven and should not be picked at or scrubbed,” Otsuji says. “Once your brows have completely healed, it is a good idea to continue to avoid using chemical exfoliants directly on your brow area and protect them with SPF to keep them lasting longer.”
The Final Takeaway
Whether you’re looking for permanent or semi-permanent arches, there’s a brow tattooing technique for you. While these treatments are pricey, considering you won’t have to spend money on brow products or time perfecting your arches each morning, they could be worth it. Only you can decide.