Permanent Makeup vs Tattoo: What’s the Difference?

By Katarina V.| Last updated on September 21, 2022
Permanent Makeup vs Tattoo
⏱️ 3 min read

Those of us who aren’t particularly interested in the latest beauty trends may identify permanent makeup with tattooing and discard it as too radical or too edgy. However, although the technique is similar in the sense that both results are achieved by inserting tint into the skin, there are numerous differences between the two. So here’s permanent makeup vs tattoo 101 – an overview of the major differences and similarities.

While tattoo ink is injected deep into the skin, into the dermis, pigments used for permanent makeup are injected right above the dermis into the basal layer of the epidermis.

The artists

Tattoo artists have been around for a long time. They are professional artists and for most of them, tattooing is a full time job and their only occupation. While tattoo artists don’t require any formal education per se, in most states, one must complete a certain number of hours as an apprentice to a skilled and approved artist, as well as a certain number of tattoos to become a registered professional.

The requirements to become a permanent makeup artist vary from one country or state to another, but it mostly comes down to completing a course in a beauty school or a certified training centre. Some of the courses require a degree in cosmetology, while others do not.

Permanent makeup is an umbrella term for a whole range of different procedures such as microblading, powder brows, permanent eyeliner and even lip blush. Each of these is a separate discipline that you need to take a separate course in. Having completed one of the courses that take a few days, you can basically start working immediately. Of course, the skill is improved with experience, but even the most basic training makes you qualified.

The technique

It is a common misconception that permanent and semi-permanent makeup is basically just a face tattoo. In fact, the techniques are fundamentally different. Let’s talk anatomy for a second. The skin has three layers: the epidermis, the outermost layer on top of which we apply makeup; the dermis, which is made up of connective tissue and contains hair follicles and sweat glands; and the hypodermis which is part connective tissue, part fat.

While tattoo ink is injected deep into the skin, into the dermis, pigments used for permanent makeup are injected into the epidermis. This is the reason why:

1) tattooing hurts a lot more, and

2) tattoos last a lifetime (though they may need refreshing), while permanent makeup does not

The results of microblading last up to two years, permanent eyeliner needs a touch-up after about a year, while lip blush can last up to five years.

permanent makeup vs tattoo

Image source: Freepik

The equipment

Tattooing also requires different devices from permanent makeup application. Coil tattoo machines are the most common ones, while hardly anyone uses the rotary machine for tattoing. Permanent makeup, on the other hand, is almost exclusively done with a rotary machine, as they use thinner needles and allow more precision. The diameter of a tattoo needle most often used is 0.30 or 0.40mm, while needles used for permanent makeup range from 0.18 to 0.28 mm.

Tattoo ink vs pigments

Getting permanent makeup doesn’t exactly mean getting inked. When tattooing, what is injected into the skin is ink, while permanent makeup uses pigments. Pigments used are iron oxides, usually with some water and glycerine added. Tattoo ink is made up of pigments combined with a carrier and a number of chemicals such as lead, chromium, nickel, titanuim dioxide… The list goes on. Tattoo ink comes in all colors, while permanent makeup uses black pigments, different shades of brown, and shades of pink for lip blushing.

Due to the complexity and the number of ingredients tattoo ink consist of, it is far more likely (but still rare) to have an allegic reaction to tattoo ink than it is to pigments. In both cases, it is advisable to choose an experienced artist and a licenced salon or tattoo parlor with decent hygiene. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to inquire about the ingredients of the tattoo ink used.

It’s also worth mentioning henna as a more natural alternative to pigments. But mind you, the results of henna brows last a significantly shorter time.

The healing process

PMU takes a bit less time to heal due to the fact that the procedure is less invasive and the pigment isn’t injected as far into the skin. In any case, it is important to keep track of possible reactions in the form of a rash, swelling or redness (they should subside a few days after the procedure). You also need to follow an aftercare routine in either case.

Cover image source: Freepik



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