Permanent makeup, a relatively new cosmetic procedure, uses tattooing to make it look like you’re wearing makeup 24/7.
The technique, also known as cosmetic tattooing, permanent concealer, or micropigmentation, can cover up other skin imperfections you’d like to address, including dark circles under your eyes. This type of tattooing can also help cover up scarring or improve nipple appearance after breast reconstruction surgery.
Permanent makeup is generally safe, but getting an under-eye tattoo does pose a few potential risks.
Read on to get answers to your questions about under-eye tattoos, how they’re done, and safety concerns associated with tattooing away dark circles.
Getting permanent makeup or a cosmetic tattoo involves much the same process as getting a tattoo on any other part of your body.
The difference lies in the fact that permanent concealer typically involves color pigments designed to match your skin tone. Tattooing this pigment underneath your eyes can help conceal dark circles — for a time.
Even though the tattoos themselves are permanent, the pigments used can oxidize and eventually change color, explains Dr. Anna Guanche, a board certified dermatologist and celebrity beauty expert in Los Angeles.
Like a regular tattooing session, a micropigmentation procedure involves using tiny needles to add pigment to the skin under your eyes.
Your dermatologist or cosmetic tattoo artist (and we definitely recommend getting this type of tattoo only from an experienced skin care professional) will use a special cosmetic tattoo gun to apply the pigment underneath the top layer of skin.
To put it simply, the under-eye tattoo serves as a protective layer between the dark circles themselves and the visible surface skin, which helps reduce the appearance of darker skin under your eyes.
You’ll discuss your desired makeup results with your dermatologist beforehand, just as you’d talk through your tattoo idea with your tattoo artist. They’ll also take some time to find just the right shade of pigment to match your skin tone.
Once you find the right match, they’ll apply a numbing cream and get to work.
They may space out the procedure over two sessions to give the pigment time to settle properly.
Yes, permanent concealer is an actual tattoo, so you can’t wash off the pigment later. That said, they don’t actually last forever.
Like tattoos on other parts of your body, you may notice fading over time due to normal skin cell turnover. Fading generally happens more quickly with micropigmentation, so you can expect permanent makeup to last just a few years, on average.
Basically, you may need to get touch-ups every few years, Guanche notes.
If you’ve ever gotten a tattoo, expect a micropigmentation procedure to feel similar.
Still, your experience with this type of tattooing depends on several factors, including your personal pain threshold.
It’s worth considering, too, that tattoos on certain parts of the body often cause more pain. Areas where your skin is thinner — like the skin around your eyes — tend to be more sensitive, so you’ll probably feel the tattoo a little more.
You’ll likely feel some discomfort, Guanche says, even though technicians do usually apply topical anesthetics.
You can expect some swelling and redness after the procedure, but these effects should go away within a couple of days.
You’ll want to follow any instructions provided by your dermatologist to promote healing.
Typically, this will involve keeping the area clean and applying a cream or ointment specially designed for the under-eye area. They may suggest using an antibiotic cream to prevent infection.
Guanche also recommends staying out of the sun during the healing process.
Getting a tattoo from a licensed professional in a hygienic environment is generally a safe procedure.
Still, a lot of things can go wrong, especially when it comes to tattoos near your eyes. The skin on your face, particularly the under-eye area, is very sensitive, so any procedure done near the eyes generally requires extra caution.
Some dermatologists do offer this cosmetic procedure, but others caution against it.
Guanche doesn’t recommend getting permanent concealer because the results can be a letdown: “Tattoo pigment changes color over time as it ages, and it can never exactly match the skin tone.”
She adds that skin tone can also change with sun exposure, which can alter the appearance of permanent concealer.
Under-eye tattoos pose several risks, Guanche explains, including infection and side effects like:
- discoloration over time
- allergic reaction to the pigments used
You could also, of course, end up disappointed with the results.
You face these risks when getting any tattoo, certainly. Unsterilized tattoo equipment, for example, can lead to infection and blood-borne illnesses.
That’s why it’s so important to do research beforehand to make sure you’re getting your tattoo from a licensed and experienced professional.
Keep in mind, though, that permanent makeup is a tattoo on your face, where you might have a harder time covering up discoloration or inexpertly applied permanent concealer.
Age can also factor into your risk of unwanted side effects, researchers noted in 2014 research. In one case report, a woman in her 80s experienced loosening of the skin around her eyelids after getting permanent makeup applied to her eyelids. The procedure also caused unwanted pigmentation in other areas of her face.
If you’d like to go ahead with micropigmentation under your eyes, choosing a trained, qualified professional to do the procedure, and following all aftercare instructions, can minimize your risk of infection and side effects.
Signs that you’ve developed an infection include:
- swelling, raised, or sore skin
- skin that’s hot or warm to the touch
If you think the tattooed area is infected, connect with your doctor as soon as possible. An infection near your eyes can be serious.
You’ll also want to get medical attention right away if you notice blurry vision, or any other trouble with your vision.
Guanche recommends seeking out a licensed and medically supervised professional who’s trained to perform micropigmentation procedures.
It may help to start by checking with local dermatologists to see if they perform this procedure. It’s always wise to research a micropigmentation technician the same way you would a tattoo artist.
The results will be permanent, so finding someone with the relevant training and experience is crucial, for safety reasons as well as the final results.
Once you settle on a care provider or clinic, it’s always best practice to check their credentials and maybe even look over a few before and after photos from other customers.
Under-eye tattoos may seem like a great way to conceal dark circles without a regular makeup regimen, but there’s not much evidence to support any long-term risks (or benefits) of this trending cosmetic procedure.
As some experts point out, matching your skin tone exactly can be tricky, even for a qualified professional. Plus, your results will fade over time, and you could also notice some discoloration.
If you’re interested in trying this particular brand of permanent makeup, your best option involves connecting with a board certified dermatologist.
Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.