Microstroking or Microblading
Jeffery Lyle Segal
Microblading is the popular term today for a manual method of creating simulated hairs in the eyebrow. But it's not really accurate, because there are no "blades" in microblading. That's why our professional society, the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, prefers to call the process "microstroking," whether done with a hand tool or with a tattoo machine.
In manual microblading, a row of fine needles attached to a handle are dipped in color and then drawn across the surface of the skin. They create a fine cut in the surface of the skin into which the color flows. After the initial microblading, more color is rubbed into the minor wound to darken it. This mimics fine hairs when applied correctly in the natural direction of growth. Microblading can be done to simulate missing hair in brows, temples and hairlines. Other terms which variously describe the same process for eyebrow enhancement or simulation are "Brow feathering", "3D brows", and "HD brows". All refer to the same, hairlike illusion that this process can create.
Although microblading is the hot new thing in permanent makeup, it actually is a step back wards in technology. Permanent makeup was popularized by the invention of the electric tattoo machine in the late 19th century. Manual microblading is actually closer to the ancient methods of tattoo application in tribal art and primitive cultures.
All microblading is tattoo. When some microblading artists who don't understand this compare their work to" tattooed" brows, what they generally mean is tattooed brows which have been applied in a dark, solid patch of color. That's how most people were taught to tattoo brows with their machines in the early days of the business. But that appearance is not a function of the tool. It's a function of the skill and technique of the technician. Today, with finer needles and digitally controlled machinery, my office can also offer "digital microstroking," to create the appearance of individual hairs in the skin with machine work, which is quite comparable in appearance to manual microblading.
The other method of color application is called tapping, or Softap after the leading manufacturer of tools for the manual method. In tapping, the manual tool is placed on the skin and rocked forward in the opposite direction from the microblading movement. Instead of cutting the skin, as microblading does, tapping lifts tiny, invisible flaps in the skin surface under which color gets inserted in a pointilistic manner. Needles can vary from a few on a tool to over a hundred! This can create dots, lines, or large shaded areas, as lightly or as softly as the client desires.
Different skins require different techniques and different tools to get the best result. Not all skins are good for microblading. When done correctly, microblading should not draw too much blood. It should heal with very little crusting, like fine paper cuts. Very thin, fragile, older skins or highly vascular skins, such as clients with rosacea, may bleed too much for microblading. Clients on blood thinners, or clients who heel poorly such as diabetics, may also be poor microblading candidates.
Microbladed hairstrokes may blur or not show up enough in thick, dark, oily skins. So those clients often look best with powdery brows, or an Ombre style, which can be applied better with the tattoo machine or the tapping tools instead of microblading. I often combine hair strokes with a shaded background.
The most experienced and qualified artists will have all these tools and techniques at their disposal, so that they can choose the right tool to create the right look for each individual client. That is why I generally offer what is called a "combination technique," using the best of all these methods as needed to create the desired results. The explosion of interest in microblading has led to a proliferation of undertrained microblade artists who haven't trained in all aspects of cosmetic tattoo, and often don't know about other tools and methods. When you go to that kind of technician, you risk not getting the best result.
To properly microblade requires a very practiced hand. Too much pressure can cause the microblade tool to cut too deeply, leading to blurred color, scarring, and possible infection. Also, not all microblade tools are created equally. I prefer for most clients the superfine and very flexible microblade tool from Softap, which allows me to control my depth of application much more easily than with other tools. It's more expensive to use, but worth it to me and to my clients.
Control of bleeding and healing are important parts of the process. I use epinephrine enhanced topical anesthetics to help close down surface capillaries during the procedure. I also use red light therapy immediately after treatment to speed healing, reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and minimize the risk of scarring in scar prone skins. These extras help clients look and feel better after my procedures.
Really beautiful results depend on the talent, taste and skill of the technician. The best technicians also must be experienced, talented artists. Hair strokes with either method must be very fine, must be placed in the direction of natural hair growth, must be the correct color for the skin type, must be placed within a symmetrical design, and must make brows which are neither too thick nor too thin. I always give the client a "sneak preview" of my work by simultating the final result with a fine brush and removable cosmetics which I then use as a template to work over. Wherever you go, make sure the technician you choose is a qualified artist who can give you the asthetic results you want.
When done properly, microblading will look beautiful and last about a year or more before needing refreshing. The lighter the application, the faster it will fade. The jury is still out on the risks of repeated microblading. We are seeing more scarring in the hairstrokes from repeated microblading than from the machine work. That is another reason why subsequent visits may be done with tapping or digital microstroking. Also, those techniques can be used to reinforce color at the initial microblading session, instead of repeatedly blading, to minimize risk of scar formation.
Demand for microblading services has led to inadequate courses pumping out dozens of poorly trained people who are now offering the service. It's up to the client to do her own research. Never assume that someone is experienced or has enough knowledge just because they have some kind of certification.
The problems caused by these practitioners, including bad work and infections, has led Illinois to issue regulations limiting the legal practice of microblading. The law in Illinois is clear, but most practitioners haven't read it and don't really know it. Cosmetologists are not legally allowed to tattoo in Illinois at all. Estheticians are only allowed to microblade in a doctor's office,on patients of the office, under doctor supervision, and only if they are not holding themselves out as estheticians under their cosmetology license. Also in Illinois, all permanent makeup, including microblading, may be performed ONLY in licensed body art facilities by legally designated body art practitioners. But working in a regulated facility does not make it legal for cosmetologists or estheticians to provide this service. They are still in violation of their licenses if they do so.
In order to comply with the law, I surrendered my cosmetology license in 2002. But increasingly, cosmetologists are unwittingly and illegally mingling their cosmetology and permanent makeup practices. Legal action will soon be in process, which will hopefully close down many of these illegal operations in the future. So going to an illegal practitioner doesn't mean you'll get bad results. But it may mean that technician might not be there tomorrow to take care of you.
Faded hairstrokes over color shifted tattoo
After microstroking and shading
Alopecia client after microblading