More and more women are binning their eyebrow pencils and going under the scalpel. But is it worth the sting?

“You have tensed up!” the therapist says, snapping on her latex gloves. I look down at my balled-up fists and laugh nervously, trying not to think about the small scalpel that she is holding near my ear. Soon she will dip the blade in pigment and etch short strokes into the skin underneath my eyebrows in an effort to make them appear naturally fuller and more shapely. This is a procedure known as “microblading”. Provided I don’t sweat excessively or sleep on my face and rub it all off, the tattoo will, I’m told, last up to a year.

Semi-permanent cosmetic tattooing has a long history. Sutherland Macdonald, the first tattooist in Britain, boasted in 1902 of his ability to produce in ladies an “all-year-round delicate pink complexion” with a “slight pricking” of a needle. It has also long had an image problem, evoking an older woman who looks at best permanently surprised, at worst like a terrifying marionette, thanks to her overly thick lip-liner and needle-thin, over-arched, carbon-black eyebrows. But in recent years cosmetic tattooing has itself undergone a make-over. New techniques which use impermanent pigments rather than tattoo ink achieve a subtler look. Freckles can be applied to give the wearer the semblance of sun-kissed skin. The lips can be tinted to provide more definition.

The demand for treatments to shape and colour the eyebrows in particular is high. Thanks to Cara Delevingne, an English supermodel whose bushy brows have many admirers, eyebrows have become “the beauty obsession of the decade”, according to the Guardian. The hashtag #browsonfleek (meaning eyebrows which look particularly attractive) has been used 2.5m times on Instagram, bringing up selfies, beauty tutorials and before-and-after pictures; internet memes remind readers not to “let anyone with bad eyebrows tell you anything about life”. Little surprise then that microblading is the fastest-growing beauty treatment for the face in Britain, increasing by 424% since 2017, according to Treatwell, a booking platform. Indeed, most of my 20-something friends (and some of their mothers) express an interest in permanently tamed brows. “They are so important for framing your face,” one says, lamenting the frequency with which she has her blonde hairs tinted. “Microblading does the work for you.”

Ariana Bon, practice manager at a specialist clinic in Harley Street in London, says that semi-permanent make-up is popular with women of all ages and backgrounds, but particularly those who are low on time but highly conscious of their appearance. Many of her clients are professionals who, frankly, can afford a procedure that costs in the region of £500. They’re willing to spend the money because semi-permanent make-up saves them the time and hassle of applying slap in the morning and re-applying it after a sweaty commute, the daily grind or a bout of exercise. “It’s absolutely delightful to go on holidays and not have to think about make-up after a session in the pool, sea or after a workout,” Bon says.


The line of beauty Rachel’s eyebrows, before and after her “microblading” procedure.

I was intrigued by the effusive tone of these testimonials. When I do bother to make myself up in the morning, my eyebrows are the first order of business. They are low effort, high return: a few strokes with a pencil or gel and somehow my whole face is less awful. At my consultation, the therapist notes my preference for “natural beauty” – i.e. my laziness – and emphasises that the purpose of microblading is to incrementally fill in the gaps between existing hairs. A top-up session could be booked, Bon said, if I wanted a darker pigment or more shading. “It is easy to add, but impossible to take away.”

Are semi-permanent cosmetic procedures liberating women from the drudgery of daily beauty regimes, or reinforcing the idea that they can and must strive to live up to an ideal of beauty which is difficult to attain and expensive? It is a question I don’t have an easy answer to. While I accept that it’s faintly ridiculous that I would submit to the scalpel just to prune my eyebrows, at the same time, I’d probably do it again – if I could afford it.

For this article Harley Street Microblading provided a consultation and microblading treatment free of charge

Via 1843 Magazine