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Woe Be Gone: Complete Guide to Removing Permanent Makeup and Microblading

A majority of the people who get permanent eyebrows are satisfied with their results.  But with more people than ever getting permanent makeup (PMU), there will also be more whose results didn’t turn out as they’d hoped.  

These folks go through a lot of painful reactions.  They report feeling ashamed to go into work, being depressed or anxious, thinking “I can’t believe I did this to myself,” and worrying removal will cause permanent damage or make their eyebrows look even worse.  

If you’re one of those who are less than happy (maybe even horrified) with your microblading or permanent makeup outcome, don’t panic!  There are quite a few strategies people have used to deal with a micropigmentation mishap.

Here they are, arranged in order from least to most aggressive:

1. Wait It Out

You probably don’t want to hear this suggestion if your permanent makeup has been a huge letdown.  It’s completely understandable that you’d want to get these markings off your face as soon as possible!  But at a time like this, it’s easy for emotion to trump reason, and you may overlook your option of simply doing nothing further to your micropigmented areas.

Removing permanent makeup can be at least as risky as implanting it.  Both can cause infection, scarring, or changes in skin pigmentation. And don’t forget the temporary redness and swelling likely to happen after each of the multiple treatments often necessary to remove permanent makeup.  A full series of treatments can take weeks or sometimes months to complete.

Two to five days after your microblading, embroidery, or 3-D brow service, your eyebrows will look very dark, but they won’t stay this way after healing.  After about the fifth day post-procedure the small scabs flake off and your eyebrows may look patchy for a few days. Your brows may even look like the micropigmentation has disappeared.  Finally, at about 15 to 20 days after your brow service, the work probably looks as close to perfect as it’s going to get.

Of course, everyone is different so this timetable is just a guideline.  The point is that it takes awhile for your final results to be revealed.

At that time, if you decide you still don’t like what you’re seeing, remember that you can skip the 6- or 8-week touch-up appointment that is typically scheduled after your original PMU eyebrow service.  The touch-up is meant to extend the length of time your new eyebrows last, so skipping the touch-up will speed up the fading process.  

The touch-up is also an opportunity for the technician to fix any minor issues, such as the pigment not taking hold in a certain area.  If you feel a problem is very minor, you might consider talking with your technician about it.  Maybe it can be fixed during the touch-up. If a technician denies there’s a problem despite your belief there is, this is a sign to move on.

Pigmentation typically fades away on its own after 6 months to 2 years, or a similar time period, unless you get refresher PMU services.  In 6 months, your look might be quite acceptable to you.

Keep in mind, too, that before your microblading disappears from view in the 6-month to 2-year time frame, it fades significantly, becoming less and less noticeable.  

While waiting for the fading to happen, you can cover or blend away the parts of your PMU you don’t like with a concealer and/or another color of conventional makeup.  

Although this response to your PMU disaster might require daily application of makeup (probably what you were trying to avoid by getting PMU in the first place, right?), this solution is cost-free, pain-free, noninvasive, and safe.

If simply waiting for permanent makeup to fade is not an acceptable option for you, the next suggestion speeds up the fading process while also being virtually free of risk.

2.  Do the Opposite of Conventional Post-Procedure Care

You probably left your microblading or PMU appointment with a list of instructions on how to keep your new brows looking sharp and fresh for as long as possible.  

Take that advice and turn it on its head.  

To get rid of your microblading or permanent makeup disaster, do the opposite of what you’re supposed to do to help your skin to retain the pigments.

For example, to prevent newly microbladed brows from fading, clients are routinely told to avoid sweating heavily for the first few weeks after the procedure.  If you’re unhappy with the way your brows are turning out and you want them to fade as soon as possible, you can encourage sweating by exercising or taking a sauna daily.  The heavy sweating will help flush out some of the newly implanted pigmentation.

In a similar vein, here are other steps you can take:

  • Don’t hide from the sun.  (Sunlight tends to fade permanent makeup.)  Of course, use common sense and precautions, and avoid overexposure to UV rays.  A sunburn could complicate your situation.
  • Go ahead and swim in chlorinated water.  (Submerging your face in chlorinated pool water is normally a no-no during healing because it promotes fading of permanent makeup and microblading.)
  • Swim in salt water, if that’s what you want to do!  (Another recommendation to prolong your permanent makeup is avoiding exposure to salt water.  So, it makes sense that if you want to remove your permanent makeup, swimming in the ocean or sea might speed up the process.)
  • Use facial cleansers and skin creams with alpha (AHA) or beta (BHA) hydroxy acids.  These ingredients are often found in anti-aging and anti-acne products. (AHAs such as glycolic acids and BHAs such as salicylic acids help get rid of permanent makeup by exfoliating skin and accelerating cellular turnover and the fading process.)  Read directions carefully and avoid these products if you have scabs, unhealed areas, or sensitive skin.

Note:  Please continue to follow the usual advice not to pick scabs during healing.  Doing so can cause infection and scarring.

3. Take Active Steps at Home

Exfoliation  

Any product or process intended to safely promote exfoliation at home can be used to help fade permanent makeup.  Using over-the-counter exfoliating facial masks or scrubs after you heal from your service will help the uppermost layer of skin to slough off and bring deeper layers to the surface more quickly.  In this way, daily exfoliation speeds up the natural fading process.

Retinol- or Acid-Based Skin Care Products

Normally, you’d want to avoid using Retin A (tretinoin), retinol, and skin care treatments containing ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and other acids on your microbladed or micropigmented eyebrows.  But if you’re trying to remove permanent makeup, you can use these ingredients to speed up fading.

How do retinols work in your skin to get rid of permanent makeup?  According to livestrong.com writer Sylvie Tremblay, M.Sc., “[a]n effect of retinol on your skin is the proliferation of skin cells. Since retinol is such a small molecule, topical application of a retinol cream allows the chemical to penetrate into deeper layers of your skin. These deeper layers contain live skin cells, which continually proliferate, giving rise to new cells that eventually move towards the surface of your skin.”  It’s thought that retinols’ support for skin renewal speeds up the process of removing permanent makeup and microblading.  

Hydrogen Peroxide Paste  

Some people use a hydrogen peroxide paste made with either salt or baking soda (recipes widely available through Google) as a way to reverse permanent makeup at home.  Some folks report good results in fading microblading and PMU in this way. As always, do your own research and consider your options carefully before trying any permanent makeup removal method.

Using a hydrogen peroxide paste can present problems, one of which is that the best results are possible if you apply the paste within 24 hours after the procedure (up to 72 hours is said to still be helpful).  

But after getting a microblading or permanent makeup service, you might not see the first glimpse of your final result for a week, due to crusting, swelling, or scabbing, and the presence of residual pigment in the uppermost layers of the skin (which will eventually be shed).  

Putting on a removal paste before you see the final result could be overhasty, unless it’s obvious that your new eyebrows will remain absolutely wrong for you even after they settle.  

You’ll also want to consider the possibility of color changes that could happen due to chemical interactions between the pigments and the peroxide.  

Another possible problem with using a hydrogen peroxide paste is that putting any homemade mixture on a fresh wound could invite infection and possible scarring.  If you decide to use a paste, please avoid putting it on open wounds, use the utmost hygiene and gentle care, monitor your progress cautiously, and seek medical advice if necessary.

Ready-Made Bleaching and Fading Creams

You can find a lot of over-the-counter topical ointments formulated to gradually fade cosmetic or conventional tattoos with repeated applications.  Many of these products are available only online. The industry is largely unregulated.

Each product is different, but many contain one or more skin lightening ingredients, such as

  • trichloroacetic acid (TCA), a powerful acid used to promote skin peeling and shedding
  • hydroquinone, an ingredient that interferes with melanin production in the skin.  It’s commonly used to fade freckles and age spots by lightening the skin and is thought to fade tattoos in a similar way.
  • natural ingredients
    • lemongrass, thought to encourage skin peeling
    • ascorbic acid (vitamin C), believed to lighten and renew skin
    • kojic acid, thought to interfere with the ability of tyrosinase protein to make melanin in the skin, and to fade permanent makeup in the same way
    • alpha arbutin, has a similar mechanism to kojic acid
    • azelaic acid, has a similar mechanism to kojic acid
    • white licorice, has a similar mechanism to kojic acid

A lot of these ingredients are FDA approved for other skin-related uses, but no cream is guaranteed to remove conventional or cosmetic tattoos.

Most creams claim only to fade the design, not to remove it completely.  How much fading can you expect? The results, according to labels and advertising materials, are said to vary.  

Because of the unpredictable degree of fading, it’s wise to think about whether you’d be satisfied with a lighter version of what you already have.  For some people, that would be fine. Other folks might find their faded eyebrow tattoo even worse than the original.

Tattoo removal creams often do contain ingredients that promote shedding or bleaching of the skin, but the products generally don’t live up to their hype.  Says Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D., writing for the Mayo Clinic website, “At best, tattoo removal cream might fade or lighten a tattoo. The tattoo will remain visible, however, and skin irritation and other reactions are possible.”

4. See an Esthetician

Professional Facial  

Good facialists will ask a lot of questions and help guide you in choosing the most suitable facial treatment.  If you let them know you’re trying to speed up the fading of your permanent makeup, they may recommend a steam treatment as well as masks containing AHAs, BHAs, or other acids, to mention just a few services.  

Professional Peel

Acid and enzyme peels remove skin surface layers and encourage skin renewal, so they may speed up the permanent makeup fading process.  Estheticians are qualified to do medium-depth peels. Ask your esthetician what peels can safely be used on the eyebrows.

In the wrong hands, peels with strong acids can cause blindness. Be sure to visit only a well-trained, experienced nurse or licensed esthetician.

Professional Microdermabrasion   

Microdermabrasion uses either loose crystals (for a “sandblasting” effect) or a diamond tip (for more of a “scrubbing” effect) to gently remove the uppermost layers of skin and encourage new skin to come to the surface. In this way, microdermabrasion promotes permanent makeup fading.  In the right hands, it’s a safe treatment that usually involves repeated applications over time.

You can repeat facials, peels, and microdermabrasion as desired and as recommended by your esthetician.

Microdermabrasion shouldn’t be confused with dermabrasion, a deep and aggressive procedure performed by a physician.

5. See a Microblading Technician

If you just received an unacceptable PMU service, you’re certainly justified not to be in the most trusting frame of mind!  

Depending on what happened the first time around, you may still be willing to allow another esthetician, nurse, or PMU technician (not the same one who gave you the original service) to help you remove or correct the botched work.

If so, these professionals have a few different ways of removing cosmetic and traditional tattoos.  These methods fall into a few categories. Some technicians use acid- or alkaline-based solutions, some use saline solutions, and some use proprietary processes to remove permanent makeup.  All use some sort of hand or machine tool to introduce the solution into the skin.

Use of Acids with PMU Tools

We’ve already seen that using cleansers and creams with various acids can help remove permanent makeup at home.  For people who want quicker results and are willing to accept more risk, acids can be applied at a technician’s office with the same types of devices used for applying permanent makeup (such as a digital rotary machine or a microblade pen).

An example of one such procedure is PhiRemoval.  It’s used to remove unwanted cosmetic and conventional tattoos.  

Before the actual procedure begins, the skin is cleansed and then numbed with 5% lidocaine.  The lidocaine is left on the skin for about 30 minutes to allow for absorption and effective numbing.  The technician puts a set of needles on the head of a microblade pen, dips the needles into an unpigmented 30% glycolic acid solution, and begins to stipple into the existing micropigmentation intended to be removed.  The stippling allows the glycolic acid to penetrate below the epidermis, to where the pigment was originally implanted. There, the glycolic acid mixes with and liquefies the pigment, some of which rises up to the surface of the skin and can actually be wiped off with a sterile pad.  

A little bleeding is common during the procedure, and scarring is possible (just as in the case of microblading).  Scabbing is typical during healing, and additional pigment is usually present in the scabs.

Removing permanent makeup and microblading with PhiRemoval usually requires multiple treatments, similar to laser removal.  PhiRemoval is considerably less expensive, often priced at $100 to $200 for a single session or $450 to $600 for a series of treatments.

Saline

Saline removal of permanent makeup and microblading is also offered by doctors and medi-spa professionals, but PMU technicians often handle the task because they already have the equipment on hand.

Basically, this process involves tattooing a saline (sterile salt water) solution into a previously tattooed area to remove the pigment from the skin.  The salt breaks up the pigment. The pigment then exits slowly up to the surface of the skin. Some color is eliminated with a scab that forms after the procedure.

Saline removal of PMU shouldn’t be confused with a process called salabrasion, where salt is used as an abrasive agent to sand off layers of skin, a technique which isn’t used much nowadays.

Unlike lasers, which typically remove only one color or color group per machine, saline treatment works on all colors simultaneously.  Saline is usually cheaper than lasers and better suited for the eye area. Numbing agents can be used, and saline removal is generally thought of as being less painful than laser removal.

Multiple sessions are required, and some redness after each session is common. During healing, you can expect bruising, bleeding or oozing, brightness, or darkness in the treatment area.

The waiting period between removal sessions is 4 to 8 weeks.  Cost is about $125 to $200 for both eyebrows per session. Three to 10 sessions are often necessary.

Tattoo Remoov™  

This is a unique method of ink extraction for cosmetic and body tattoos.  It uses a removal solution and a special device. According to its website, Tattoo Remoov™ doesn’t use lasers, acids, salts, or saline, nor does it cause bleeding, inflammation, or scarring.  Multiple sessions by a trained provider are required.

The ingredients in the solution are zinc oxide, magnesium oxide, calcium oxide, benzoic acid (as a preservative), N-propanol, triethanolamine, deionized water, and food and cosmetic molecules.

Here’s how it works: “The back and forth movement of the patented needles on the skin deeply exfoliates the stratum corneum (the layer of the epidermis consisting of dead cells) and elevates the temperature of the water in the skin. The needles scratch the skin just enough without cutting it due to the round square needle concept created by Linda Paradis. The elevation of the water temperature in the skin generates an invisible evaporation of the water inside of the skin, causing the tattoo removal product to be sucked inside of the dermis since the tattoo removal product consists of 30% of water. Once the Tattoo Remoov™ serum is inside of the dermis it recognizes the ferric oxide of the pigment molecules which are also inside of the dermis, causing the pigment to come out of the dermis. The pigment then comes out of the skin and up to the surface because of the elevation in temperature without cutting the skin. Thus, the procedure is non-invasive.”

Sessions cost about $150 and can be scheduled 2 to 3 weeks apart.  Multiple sessions are usually required.

Color Correction

Color correction involves implanting new PMU pigment over a botched area to improve the overall appearance.  It’s a difficult technique, much harder to do than applying the pigment well in the first place.

It’s been discovered through trial and error that implanting a lighter pigment (such as flesh tone) over a darker one doesn’t usually give a pleasing result.  Unfortunately, applying light over dark can leave traces of the unwanted pigment and thus draw more attention to what you want to conceal. Another problem with applying light pigments is that they can be invisible to many types of lasers, so laser removal in the future is difficult or impossible.

A better alternative is to change the color and/or shape of the eyebrow using relatively dark pigments.  Though less likely to result in a bad outcome, using deep tones for color correction is still very challenging to do well.  

Any type of color correction should be attempted only by the most talented and experienced professionals.  Taking your time, shopping around, and interviewing multiple technicians are ways to improve your chances of getting a good result.

PMU professionals’ fees will vary, but expect color correction to be more expensive than a typical PMU procedure.  One example of color correction fees is $750 for the first session and $199 each for follow-up sessions (with 1 to 5+ follow-ups required, depending on density and depth of the original pigment).

6. See a Medical Professional

Laser

The use of lasers for medical purposes is regulated by your national, state, and/or local government.  In some places it may not be necessary to have medical training to perform tattoo removal (including permanent makeup removal).  In other locales, only a doctor or an advanced licensed medical practitioner can provide this service.

Laser removal of permanent makeup is a well-known, established method.   

A laser is a beam of monochromatic light.  Laser light is coherent, meaning all particles of light are moving at the same wavelength.

A laser removes tattoos and PMU by breaking up the color into smaller particles, allowing them to be absorbed by the immune system.

In order for a laser to penetrate your skin and break up a certain color of tattoo pigment, the color has to be matched with the correct laser wavelength.  In general, each color or close range of colors requires a different machine to produce the right kind of laser light. A newer type of laser, the PicoWay, can target a wider range of pigment colors and skin tones than previous lasers.

This equipment is very expensive, and it’s often necessary for providers to own or lease several pieces of equipment.  The high cost of setting up an office makes laser removal of permanent makeup one of the most expensive types of removal to the patient.

Another item adding to the cost of laser removal of permanent makeup is the number of sessions necessary.   Each micropigmented area has its own combination of features that determine how long removal will take. These include the color of the pigment, the type of pigment used, the depth implanted in the skin, and the size and age of the PMU.  Color is especially relevant, with black and very dark colors being easier to remove, and with lighter and neon tones being more difficult or impossible.

Laser tattoo removal is about $250 to $500 per session.  A series of sessions to remove a tattoo may run from $1000 to $10,000 or more.

Dermabrasion

Dermabrasion is essentially sanding a tattoo or permanent makeup off the skin with a rotating wheel or brush.  It carries a comparatively high risk of scarring and skin discoloration, and is thought to be less predictable and satisfactory than surgical excision and laser treatments.  That’s why dermabrasion is no longer a common choice of treatment.

Excision

Excision is the surgical removal of a tattoo by a doctor.  Typically, the doctor sterilizes and numbs the area where the tattoo or permanent makeup is to be removed.  Then, just as in any other surgery, the doctor makes an incision with a scalpel. The skin bearing the tattoo is removed, and the incision is closed with stitches. Some physicians, often plastic surgeons, are exceptionally skilled in leaving minimal scars from a procedure, but regardless of the provider’s expertise, a scar is to be expected from excision.

If a tattoo is small, it will require only one excision.  For large tattoos, excision is often performed in stages. Doctors remove as much of the tattoo as they safely can without creating so much tension in the skin that an ugly scar would result.  This stage of the procedure has to heal and the skin has to relax before the next excision can be done.

Excision is the most invasive way to remove a tattoo, but it has a few real advantages.  First, for small tattoos it’s a “one and done” way of getting your tattoo removed with no need for repeated treatments.  Second, it’s the only way guaranteed to completely get rid of a tattoo without a trace (except, of course, for the scar from the excision procedure itself).

Surgical removal of permanent makeup or tattoos can be done in a doctor’s office for an estimated cost of $1,200 to $1,800 per procedure.

Takeaways

Despite the best planning, sometimes things go wrong.  It happens to everyone.

It’s good to know there are ways to put PMU mistakes in the past, from simply waiting for micropigmentation to fade, to getting it removed once and for all through surgical excision.  

You might want to consider taking “baby steps” in restoring your eyebrows because they’ve already been through the invasiveness of PMU.  Go from the less to more extreme ways of removing permanent makeup, and see if you’re getting any satisfactory improvement so that you can stop your efforts and protect your brows from any scarring or other permanent damage.  

When our attempts at enhancement go sideways, we can use the experience as an opportunity to love ourselves as we are, whatever that means to each person.  It could mean self-love and -acceptance both before or after the botched procedure. Very hard to do sometimes, I know. But self-blame and regret aren’t better alternatives.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve had a bad experience, and I truly hope this post helps you in going forward.

Please let us know.

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Wendy

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