Before my first foray into getting permanent makeup (PMU), I didn’t exactly feel comfortable about the process. I associated PMU with traditional body art tattoos (nothing wrong with tattoos, but I’d never had any done) and those fake-looking tattoo eyebrows of the 1980s.
It turned out I had the wrong idea about PMU. But it’s easy to be mistaken about PMU because of the curious path it’s taken to where it is today.
PMU does have its roots in conventional tattooing, and some of its early results as a distinct technique were indeed less than spectacular.
But PMU has come a long way since then, and it’s fun to trace it from its embryonic days to its time as an emerging technology to its place today as a potentially life-altering treatment.
The Origins of Permanent Makeup
People disagree about exactly when permanent makeup originated.
Mummies from ancient and prehistoric times have been found with well-preserved tattoos. Experts believe early people used tattoos for ornamental and religious purposes.
Some folks say ancient people also used tattoos for cosmetic beautification, much like makeup, but this purpose is less certain.
Others believe using tattooing as cosmetic enhancement is more recent innovation.
The BBC has reported about a 1902 article in Pearson’s Magazine in which Sutherland Macdonald, a prominent tattoo artist of the time, said he could give women a year-round pink complexion by tattooing their cheeks. Traditional tattooing was well-known in Edwardian Britain, but this article gives a rare mention to cosmetic tattooing.
It’s also been reported that permanent cosmetics may have been used as a “beauty treatment” in the 1930s, while the unsuspecting client had no idea she was getting a tattoo.
Permanent Makeup Comes Into Its Own
It’s safe to say that PMU as we know it (a mainstream service to enhance or restore people’s features) started in the 1970s as a particular type of tattooing. One of the early uses was to give eyebrows to people with alopecia, a condition that causes partial or complete hair loss. At first permanent makeup was usually offered in tattoo studios.
Permanent makeup gained recognition and popularity in the 1980s, and specialized training programs and salons for this niche emerged.
This early generation of permanent makeup tended to look much less subtle and natural than the results achieved today. All the same, the convenience and other benefits of PMU tempted many people to try the procedure. Many were satisfied, and positive buzz spread about permanent makeup.
In the 1980s and 1990s PMU was applied with the same technique for all features. Lips, eyes, and eyebrows all received a solid-looking application of color.
At this time, pigments for permanent makeup were still quite similar to those used for traditional tattoos: carbon-based. Some people were satisfied with their permanent cosmetics results, but in some cases eyebrows would fade to unnatural colors or blur as they faded.
But advances were made during this era in the instruments used in the PMU process. Electrical rotary devices for implanting permanent makeup came into use in the early 1990s. These devices featured sterilizable and disposable parts and were widely adopted by the PMU industry. Updated versions of these tools are still very popular among technicians today.
Over the years, the tools, pigments, and techniques for permanent makeup have been customized for the purpose of subtly enhancing facial features and doing corrective and reconstructive work all over the body.
Technicians have pioneered new techniques featuring individual hair strokes and using specialized, custom-mixed pigments that aren’t carbon-based and don’t change to unnatural colors as they fade. Needles have become thinner, new tools have been invented, and the technician’s touch is now lighter.
The latest generation of “permanent” makeup isn’t as long-lasting. But that’s considered a benefit because procedures can be updated to changes in styles and clients’ features.
Although it’s still sometimes referred to as cosmetic tattooing, the practice has developed into a distinct entity with its own unique techniques, pigments, clientele, and hand and machine tools.
Today permanent makeup is popular. As styles change and techniques and tools evolve, who knows what the future holds for PMU.
Over the last few years, certain techniques have sparked interest. One is PMU undereye concealer to camouflage dark circles. Another is the use of permanent makeup for facial contouring, implanting lighter and darker tones to shape and add depth to the face. Both of these are fairly new procedures, and not yet widely available. Only time will tell if they’re ideal for permanent makeup or better suited for conventional (temporary) cosmetics.
One thing is clear: Uses for PMU are limited only by the imagination.
We’d love to hear from you if you’ve ever had permanent makeup. Was it long ago or just recently? What was your experience?
Please take a moment and share in the Comments section below.