Scalp micropigmentation, often called SMP for short, is a cosmetic tattoo which creates an illusion of denser hair by covering the scalp with tiny individual dots of pigment that look like hair follicles. It can also be used to cover scars on the scalp.
That said, you must keep in mind that cosmetic tattoos are different from traditional tattooing. They don’t last forever, because the pigments are gradually broken down by the body.
So how long does scalp micropigmentation last? We rounded up all the info on the factors that affect it, how to get the most out of your SMP, and even how to get rid of it sooner if you’re not happy with the result.
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What Factors Decide How Long Does Scalp Pigmentation Last?
The longevity of your SMP results is specific to you individually. Since everyone’s skin and overall system is different, everyone’s pigment retention rates will be unique.
With that in mind, the general factors that determine how long does scalp pigmentation last include:
- Your immune system
- Your skin type
- Your age and overall health
- The quality and saturation of the pigments used
- The skill of your artist
- How much you adhere to the aftercare routine
- Your lifestyle (sun exposure, how much you sweat, how often you swim, what products you use).
As you can see, there are a fair few variables to consider. Some of them are out of your control, but some others you can dictate. Let’s take a look at average SMP retention timelines and how you can affect yours.
Image source: Instagram @makeupbyalinenemer
Scalp Micropigmentation: How Long Does It Last on Average?
Generally speaking, a scalp micropigmentation will last from 4 to 8 years. In some people, however, it can fade after merely a year or two, while others might retain theirs for up to 10 whole years.
The thing to know about the whole fading process is that it happens gradually. Even the SMP that fades relatively quickly (like 1-2 years) doesn’t fade suddenly. This has to do with the nature of permanent makeup pigments that are used in cosmetic tattooing.
They’re formulated in a special way so that they’re meant to fade over time. Your body will naturally break them down over the years, plus small portions will get exfoliated away with the skin’s natural renewal cycle.
Pigment retention rate refers to your body’s willingness to accept and keep the pigment molecules. It will always recognize them as a foreign substance and gradually extract them. But there are other factors involved you do have some control over.
How Can I Make My SMP Last Longer?
There are a few steps you can take to extend your pigment retention period and make sure your scalp micropigmentation cosmetic tattoo stays in place for as long as possible.
First of all, follow your artist’s aftercare instructions religiously for about 10 days. That’s the first and most important step you can take, because any pigments that stay in your skin will be the ones you managed to keep immediately after your treatment.
Your aftercare routine will be tailored to you. Generally speaking, artists tend to recommend the following steps:
No getting the scalp wet outside of prescribed cleaning (no swimming, excessive sweating, saunas, etc.)
- No touching, rubbing, etc.
- Optionally applying a healing ointment
- No picking at the scabs that form
- No razors – use a trimmer instead
- No sun exposure
- No harsh cosmetics
- No swimming in chlorinated or saltwater
Image source: Instagram @scalptist
After your SMP healing period is over, you can return to your regular routine and lifestyle, more or less. But to really maximize your results, try making these adjustments long-term:
- Avoid UV exposure for long periods of time
- Wear a hat, and apply SPF products of 50+
- Protect your scalp when swimming in chlorinated pools, the sea, or the ocean
- Avoid treating your skin with harsh (especially acidic) products
- Avoid products with alcohol or sulfates
- Exfoliate only lightly and don’t use salt-based exfoliants
Furthermore, don’t forget to get your regular touch-ups. As your body gradually breaks down the pigments and your SMP tattoo starts to fade, you’ll need to top up the color to maintain the optimal illusion of density.
Technically, your first touch-up will be 10-14 days after your first micropigmentation session, and you’ll need a second one another 10-14 days later. These are mandatory in most cases because most people don’t achieve their desired retention level after just 1 session.
For that reason, the majority of artists include the first and second touch up in the initial treatment and refer to them as the 2nd and 3rd micropigmentation session instead.
After that, you won’t have to think about it for a few years. Book a touch-up when you feel like your SMP has significantly faded – for some, this might be after a year, but for many clients, this is after 4 years or so.
Remember that your fading rate will depend on your lifestyle and the long-term aftercare strategies.
Image source: Instagram @internationalhairlines
Don’t delay your touch-ups unless you really have to. The more the pigments fade, the more effort, time, and materials it will take to restore them, and the more your touch-up session will cost.
How Long Does Micro Scalp Pigmentation Last Without Touch-Ups?
In short, it lasts until it naturally fades away.
The specific time depends on various factors and differs widely between individuals. SMP fade rate is affected by all the same variables we covered above regarding pigment retention.
So, on average, your micropigmentation will last 4-8 years without any touch-ups, but it will be getting progressively paler. It might even fade as quickly as 1-2 years out, or could stick around for up to 10 years.
If, for whatever reason, you get impatient and want to make it fade faster, you have a couple of options.
You can intentionally indulge in activities that will fade the pigments: tanning, swimming and diving in chlorinated or saltwater, exercising to work up an intense sweat, going to saunas and steam baths, etc.
You can expose your tattooed scalp to products that will react with the pigments and pull them out faster: cosmetics with acid ingredients, salt-based skin scrubs, etc.
Finally, if you’re really unhappy with your SMP, you can have it reworked or removed. Consult your artist about a correction treatment if you just want to fix the color or shape of your scalp tattoo. If you want it off altogether, consult them about a removal.
Image source: Instagram @smp_signature
Is It Possible to Remove Scalp Micropigmentation?
The simple answer is yes.
It’s a process, but if you’re stuck with a botched SMP job or it faded in a way that touch-ups can’t fix, there are a few options for removing the whole thing.
This removal method can be used both on small areas and on full-scalp micropigmentation. It works by targeting the pigment molecules underneath the skin with a laser beam. The laser breaks them down and then the lymphatic system extracts them.
Most people require 3-10 laser removal sessions, depending on their skin type, the size of the treated area, the density of pigment, and the depth at which it was deposited.
Image source: Instagram @vancouverscalp
Non-Laser Removal (Chemical Removers)
This approach is suitable for small areas, but not for full-scalp micropigmentation removal.
As opposed to the laser’s approach from within, non-laser removal methods rely on opening up the skin and extracting the pigments towards the outside, via scabbing. The procedure is similar to the SMP process itself.
They dry out the pigments and lift it out to the surface. The skin forms scabs that trap the pigments, and when they fall off they take the pigments with them.
The number of sessions needed is determined by the same factors as that of laser removal. Most people require 4-8 non-laser removal sessions to get the results they want.
For more in-depth information, check out our detailed guide on scalp micropigmentation removal.
Be advised that SMP removal is generally uncomfortable, especially if the whole scalp is being treated. It can also get pricey since it’s charged per session.
Even then, sometimes even many SMP removal sessions can’t get rid of it 100%. If the original pigments were injected too deeply into the skin, they might leave a residue even after several removal treatments.
Still, you’re guaranteed to see significant improvement, and then if you want to further cover up the shadowy traces, consult with your artist and skincare specialist whether laser skin resurfacing might be a viable extra option.
How Long Does Scalp Micropigmentation Last – Main Takeaways
The longevity of your scalp micropigmentation depends on many factors and is unique to you. Consider your natural healing rate, your pigment retention, adhering to your aftercare routine, and long-term lifestyle choices.
If SMP sounds too long-lasting for your tastes, you might consider alternative solutions.
For example, tricopigmentation is a very similar treatment to scalp micropigmentation, but its effects last shorter.
If that seems like something you might be interested in, check out our comparative guide on tricopigmentation vs. scalp micropigmentation.
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