The History of permanent makeup

Aniko | Permanent Makeup

I still remember those years when mobile phones started to gain popularity and became accessible for the general public in the late 90’s. Everyone went mad for them, while I was one of the last ones who got a mobile phone. I thought it was somehow cool putting it off and not following the crowd. My resistance didn’t last long though after all my friends were communicating via mobile phones and I soon felt left out. So, I eventually got one. A Motorola.

As you can imagine, my first device was far from being as sophisticated, knowledgeable, elegant and sleek as the smartphones we are using today. Mobile phones have been through a rapid and massive evolution since the 90’s.

Opposed to mobile phones, I was the first in line for getting my eyeliner tattooed when permanent makeup gained popularity around the same time, at the end of the 90s.

And funnily enough, permanent makeup followed the same timeline in its evolution as mobile phones did. Who would have thought that two totally different concepts have so much in common.

I guess you are wondering by now; why the hell is she talking about mobile phones in a permanent makeup blog?! Well, there is no smart reason apart from that I like to discover similarities. Like the fact that I could not imagine a day without either my permanent makeup or my mobile phone.  So when I found out that he two very things that make my life a thousand times more comfortable and easy share the same birth date and childhood as well, I got even more excited.

But this blog was meant to be about history…

While I don’t have a particular interest in the history of mobile phones, I find the history of permanent makeup and tattooing fascinating.  So, don’t worry, I won’t bore you with mobile phone facts much longer but I will try to pick out the most interesting and relevant parts of the ginormous history of tattooing and it’s daughter, permanent makeup. Of course, I will be only touching the surface. But if you are interested, I encourage you to read some more from archaeologist that are devoted to this subject. You will soon understand why I am backing off from writing it all, I would probably have had to upgrade my hosting package to a whole different level. (https://www.archaeology.org/issues/109-1311/features/1360-cucuteni-jomon-lapita-thracian-moche-mississippian-ibaloi  or https://authoritytattoo.com/history-of-tattoos/ might be a good place to start)

Permanent makeup, or as we call it cosmetic tattooing, has been developing alongside the traditional body art of tattooing for a long time, probably just as long as long as tattooing itself exists. And by long time I mean, thousands of years. Did you know that the first known human, that shows evidence of a tattoo is said to have lived in 3200 B.C? I didn’t until I sat down to write this blog. He is named Otzi the Iceman.

Of course, Otzi’s tattoos had nothing to do with permanent makeup at this point, but rather were means to relieve pain, similar to acupressure or acupuncture. But it does prove one thing for sure; the concept of inserting pigments under the skin for various reasons is not new. In fact, it’s pretty damn old.

While Otzi is the oldest example we know of, more widely recognized are tattoos that were found on Egyptian and Nubian mummies dating from about 2000 B.C. Evidence of tattooing has also been found in China some 1000 years before Christ and the Incas, Mayans, Aztecs, Greeks, are also among the cultures to be using tattooing more than 2000 years ago. These cultures still fascinate people around the world today and tattoo artist regularly use their motives in their modern work.

To create beauty, to designate status or prestige, healing or spiritual purposes, these are just  a few of the cultural reasons that people have marked their bodies in the ancient years. Cleopatra, the Queen of the Nile, who was one of the most influential women of their age is known to have adorned her body with makeup and henna tattoos. She is also believed to have evidences of facial tattoos or in other words, permanent makeup. I think it’s safe to say, that permanent makeup as a trend, is not going anywhere. It’s far too long lived already to be a fad. 

So lets get to the 20th and 21st century as that is more relevant to us.

George ‘Professor’ Burchett or the ‘King of Tattooists’ is well known as one of the most famous tattoo artists in the world. He was the first “star tattooist” of the 20th century with two studios in London and favourite among the wealthy upper class and European royalty.  He was the first to be acknowledged for developing the techniques of cosmetic tattooing such as, permanently darkening eyebrows, in the ‘30s.

But even before this, in the ‘10s and ‘20s of women already having makeup tattooed on their faces. Traditional makeup was very expensive at this age and women had chosen to get this trendy look like eyebrows and lip liners tattooed instead. However, since tattooing was not socially acceptable at all, especially not for women, these procedures were kept secret for decades.

It was not until the 70’s when tattoos became more mainstream and popular and therefore cosmetic tattoos slowly started to gain acceptance as well. At this age and for a long time after permanent makeup was still mainly performed by traditional tattoo artists, using tattoo guns and ink that was developed for body art. This of course, has not always ended well, not all tattooist understand the importance of aesthetic balance of the face and its skin structure. Many women were left with funky eyebrow shapes and colours that a few years later turned into fifty shades of grey, or for less lucky, blues and purples. And these tattoos never disappeared. No wonder the negative connotation to cosmetic tattooing has emerged. Still today there are quite few myths and fears associated with permanent makeup, thanks to its rocky baby years (and sadly, to some underqualified modern permanent makeup technicians).

But like the early mobile phones that were chunky and less sophisticated compared to the modern slim and smart ones, permanent makeup results of the early years are also incomparable to what we can create today.

Technology has advanced and by the end of the 90’s, beginning of the 21st century, permanent makeup has completely moved away from the idea of tattoo guns and inks. It’s developed into a practice and profession characterized by delicate, precise applications instead. Since the 2000s onwards permanent makeup professionals, who are very specialised and who’s practice differs greatly from tattoo artists, are on the rise. Traditional tattoo artists perform creative, colourful lines using artistic and creative drawings to create body arts that stand out. The permanent makeup professional however aims for her work to blend in, to look totally natural. She takes a more scientific approach to traditional tattooing, adopting even paramedical criteria with techniques and methodologies taken from cosmetic surgery. She uses pigments that are specifically developed and modified for the permanent makeup industry and has the most natural colour range. Unlike ink, these pigments do fade away in a couple of years, giving women the chance to follow new trends and combat their aging by getting their permanent makeup refreshed.

Tony Belfatto, a world leader in dermopigmentation has described the mission of modern permanent makeup artists beautifully. In his own words, permanent makeup artists now days are there to “reconstruct or recreate the colour of well-being or the magic of beauty, meaning what nature has created, thus re-establishing aesthetic balance and provide an immediate, positive psychological effect for the clients”. To reconstruct. To recreate. The colour of wellbeing. The magic of beauty. What beautiful words. Doing our job with this mission in mind leaves no room for anything less than natural, harmonious and beautiful to craft.

Little do the McDonald’s arch eyebrow tattoos of the 70’s have in common with the hyper-realistic hair-stroke style or soft shaded eyebrows, that are created with this in mind. Or the hardly noticeable lip enhancements compare to the dreadful purple lipliners of the past. Just like Motorola to the latest smartphones, they look like they came from a different planet. Yet you would never go back to the limitations of the very first Motorola phone, rather than buy the latest iPhone. What I am trying to say here in a smarty pants way, is that don’t let myths and misconceptions, or perhaps even past experiences or somebody else’s experience discard the idea of enjoying the freedom that permanent makeup can bring you. The longer you wait with letting your permanent makeup-less face become history, the more you’ll think; why on earth have I not get this done earlier?