Cosmetic tattooing has quickly become the norm, with more and more women adding microblade eyebrows, tattoo eyeliner and even permanent under-eye concealer to their beauty menu.And while the idea of permanent and semi-permanent makeup may still be scary to some, the reality is that cosmetic tattooing is now so intricate and precise, the results can range from subtle and natural to life-changing
The advancements in technology and technique are part of the reason why lipstick and lip liner tattooing is gaining in popularity. Despite being such a small and delicate area, professional inking can help to add definition, enhance colour and create symmetry.
My lips have always been my favourite physical feature. I’ve gone through phases of feeling self-conscious about other parts of myself, but I love my lips. They’re thick, pillowy, and the perfect canvas for colour. They’ve even been featured modelling lip art at my previous magazine gig.
Ironically, they’re also one of the very few things I’ve chosen to have “enhanced.” While I have access to all kinds of treatments, I felt uncomfortable doing something drastic to alter my weight or my nose before attempting to deal with my insecurities about them first. I’m glad I made that decision because neither of those things bothers me anymore. My lips are another story—I love them, so why not try something to play them up even more?
Enter lip blushing, a semi-permanent tattooing method designed to enhance the natural colour and shape of your mouth for one to two years. Using a technique called pixelating, the aesthetician deposits small, undetectable dots of pigment to line and shade. The result is a colour that looks as if it could be your own—but with a boost (and a more pronounced shape). Now performed by aestheticians rather than traditional tattoo artists (as it was in decades past), it uses organic pigments and modern, digital tools that feature several needle configurations instead of one harsh setting.
I was fortunate enough to get my lips blushed by the pioneer of the treatment himself: Christopher Drummond, PFrankMD Skin Salon’s in-house aesthetician and cosmetic tattoo master. If you’re as curious about the process as I was, make sure to do your research first. Below, seven things to consider before booking your own appointment.
Saying full lips are a beauty trend implies—falsely—that the tide will soon change and small, thin lips like mine will be all the rage again. But the fact is, skinny lips haven’t been in fashion since Clara Bow was Hollywood’s It girl. In 1927. I’ve been in search of a fuller top lip from the time I was eighteen and started doing painful collagen injections. I was living in Manhattan and doing some modelling work, and my agency told me that without better lips, I’d never book a gig. It was 1994, the early days of injections, and to say the pain was excruciating would be an understatement. But I looked fantastic. I would be back in four months.
If you’ve been on social media in the past five years, aesthetically, it’s clear—the lips have it. In the past, lip injections were often an undiscussed augmentation. (Then again, most aesthetic alterations were hush-hush until the online beauty renaissance.) Now, there are over 1.6M hashtags on Instagram with tagged photos of lip injections and lip fillers, and Google searches for “lip injections near me” have continued to increase since 2014. People discuss their injectors openly. In short: filler provides major lip service for the non-invasive aesthetics industry.
From injecting filler directly in the lips to plump, to adding filler under the bottom lip to make what you already have looked more pronounced, there are several options out there for increasing your lip real estate, including tattooing. It’s not a new service by any means—permanent makeup has been around for decades—but gone are the days of the stark, fade-to-blue lip liner tattoos. Meet lip blushing, the tattoo that not only colour corrects but enhances the shape and size of your lips, too.
What is lipstick, tattooing?
There are many different types and names for lip tattooing, including lip
contouring, tattooed lip liner, lip blush, and a full tint.
Each of these “involves carefully impregnating a specialist colour pigment into the skin”, says Celebrity Skin Specialist, Cosmetologist and Elite Permanent Makeup Artist, Lesley Wilks.
“Working with a special tattoo machine that is at a lower speed and frequency than a traditional tattoo machine, ultra-fine needles gently deposit the colour throughout the lip area, using a selection of different techniques depending on the look you want.”
Lesley tends to favour the lip blush method; “it’s a far more beautiful finish of shading and blending, with a softer more natural look”, while Andrea Grollet, Permanent Makeup specialist for Neville Hair and Beauty prefers the ‘contour and blend’ treatment, which “aims to replace lost or faded pigment to the outer edge of the lips.”
“This treatment reinforces the shape and accomplishes a ‘natural’ look to the lip while avoiding any harsh or obvious demarcation lines.”
Before I’d ever met Lynn, I was very insecure about the grey colouration on my lips caused by hyperpigmentation. When I was a teenager, my first time shopping at Sephora resulted in an overzealous sales associate pushing tons of products on me, and she also pointed out I needed a lip balm with SPF in it because I had hyperpigmentation. This was never a concern of mine until she’d pointed it out! I began experimenting by filling in the darker grey colour with a lip pencil that resembled my natural lip and saw such a difference in my overall look once the grey was covered up.
Unfortunately, my natural lip liner trick didn’t work so well. The lip liner would come right off after a meal or several sips out of my water bottle. It was a hassle for me to constantly have to line my lips with a pencil every day just to give my lips the natural colour they should have by default!
“Lip blushing is a form of semi-permanent makeup. Essentially, it is a cosmetic tattoo of the lips that enhances the beauty of the natural lip colour, improving the shape of the lips, giving definition and the illusion of fullness,” said Christina Son, owner of Sugarin Studio in Los Angeles. “This treatment delivers very natural results, once healed. The filler is great for creating volume in your lips, but lip blush delivers a more natural look and gives the illusion of fuller lips.”
Lip blushing is a form of semi-permanent cosmetic tattoo that enhances the lips’ natural tint and shape, giving them a boost and a glossy touch. It’s designed to define and outline your lips, not actually to make them fuller. It gives the illusion that they’re fuller, but in a very natural way. It’s more or less like microblading for your lips!
Similar to a cosmetic service like microblading—which utilises a blade to manually create small cuts in the skin, which are then filled with ink—the results vary person to person. Generally, lip blushing can last several years, although your lifestyle contributes to how well it maintains; smoking and sun exposure can speed up the fading process, and if you’re oil-prone, have an iron deficiency or use a lot of exfoliating products in your skin regimen, the pigment could fade more quickly, too.
A tattoo on the lips sounds painful—especially for someone who might be looking for an alternative to getting injected with a filler. Son said most of her clients rate it three or four out of ten, with ten being the most painful; Drummond said his clients say there’s little to no discomfort. Both numb the lips prior to the service. If you’re worried about your pain tolerance, a pain reliever like Tylenol can be taken before the appointment; should avoid aspirin and ibuprofen, though, since they can thin the blood and cause more sensitivity. Drummond also suggests avoiding fish oil and vitamin E.
Lip tattoos are meant to enhance lips, not create actual fullness.
This procedure is designed to define lips, not to create volume or puffiness, says Kernahan. “It will just give you the appearance of a full lip,” she says. “Since part of the process is outlining right on the border of the lip, I’m only helping to give your lips the appearance that they’re fuller.” It’s all about the illusion.
So what happens in an appointment? First, there’s pout prep. A topical anesthetic is applied to pre-numb the lips for 20 minutes. Afterwards, the technician will draw the shape of the “new” lips so that you can evaluate and make any changes.
“Generally, I love to make the cupid’s bow a little more pronounced and add fullness to the sides of the lips, as sometimes the natural colour is lost in those areas. Once the client is happy with the shape, we begin the actual tattooing,” said Son.
The procedure takes place over the course of an hour to an hour and a half, if not longer, depending on the look you’re going for. Once the appointment is completed, your lips may be swollen—it is a tattoo, after all—so you can ice them if necessary. Over the next week, your lips will start to heal, meaning they may scab, so it’s important to time this carefully around your schedule.
“For the first 24 hours, I advise my clients to gently blot their lips with a wet cotton pad and let them air dry. This is to keep the lips clean and remove any body fluids that have surfaced and prevent the fluids from forming scabs.”
When it comes to scabs, they must fall off naturally—picking them can result in scarring or loss of pigment in those areas. Son also suggests avoiding workouts and sun exposure for two weeks (a great excuse to avoid the gym if we do say so ourselves) and if you plan on getting injections, wait a full month. Sleeping on your face could also cause the scabs to fall off prematurely. An occlusive ointment like Aquaphor should be worn to keep the lips properly moisturised. (But then again, Aquaphor should always be worn because it’s a god-send.)
Initially, the color will be super vibrant, almost like a lip stain. “It is important not to be misled by the immediate ‘after’ results. The immediate results look nothing like when the lips are healed. Once healed, the colour fades approximately 30-50 percent and also blends in with the natural lip colour,” Son said.
Scabbing typically lasts five to seven days, and after four weeks, the lips should be fully healed to completion. Still, Son suggests a touch-up appointment around six weeks in the event the client wants to alter the shape of the blush or to fill in areas that may have rejected pigment, although it’s not mandatory.
Years ago, permanent makeup was applied with regular tattoo ink. That’s why it often looked so unnatural. “When you get a body tattoo, it’s usually done with ink, which has a very watery consistency,” says Kernahan. “Pigment is thicker, so it gives that more natural powdery finish. But it does exfoliate out of your skin after 12 to 18 months. And since you eat and drink with your lips, it’s going to happen faster.”
Aside from having a lip colour that won’t fade or smudge no matter how much coffee or cocktails you down, lip tattooing also defines the shape of the lips and depending on the technique, can make them look slightly more substantial too.
If you have uneven lips, Award-Winning Permanent and Semi-Permanent Makeup Artist, Sian Dellar says this can also be improved with tattooing, “Our advanced techniques can correct the shape of your lips to make them seem more balanced and symmetrical. We can also add definition to the edge of your lips to minimise the appearance of fine lines and give you a fresh and youthful look.”
A full consultation is always carried out before commencing tattooing, which will help to ease any of your anxieties. “We begin by discussing with the client exactly what they want to achieve including shape and colour, taking into account the client’s natural colourings and giving our expert advice regarding what may suit them”, says Tracie Giles, Bespoke Permanent Makeup Expert, based in Knightsbridge.
“We then pre-draw the lips using a pencil, carefully measuring them and ensuring they are as close to perfect as possible before showing the client in the mirror. We don’t begin the tattooing until the client is totally happy with the pre-drawing, and then the tattooing itself usually takes around 45 minutes.”
“The colour we use is really up to the individual,” says Drummond. “We discuss what they want beforehand, and I create a custom colour for them.” Before your appointment, try on your favorite lipstick colors in different neutral shades of rose, coral, and brown tones to see what meshes best with your skin tone. Then bring those with you (it doesn’t hurt to have some reference photos either). That way, on appointment day you’ll be able to give your aesthetician an accurate idea of what you want. Once they mix a colour up, you can always add or take away certain tones before the tattooing begins.
I can’t stress enough the importance of researching this decision. Emilia spends half her day correcting the mistakes of other semi-permanent makeup artists, so take your time finding a skilled professional, insist on seeing before and after pictures and ask to speak to a current patient. You can shop at Nordstrom Rack and go to Trader Joe’s, but you are not allowed to hunt for a bargain tattoo for your face.
If you don’t like your tattoo, you can get it removed with a laser.
“If anyone asks me to tattoo outside of their lip line, I won’t do it. If they don’t like their natural lip line, I tell them to go get a filler first,” says Kernahan. And if you absolutely hate your lip-liner tattoo, there are laser treatments that can sometimes remove the colour. But that involves more money and more pain.