WASHINGTON — A few months ago, Courtney Duran did something she never in a million years dreamed she would do: She got a tattoo on her face.
Like many women, the Chevy Chase, Maryland, resident grew frustrated with the daily effort of filling out her eyebrows before work, after the gym or following a trip to the pool with friends.
“They weren’t bad — they just weren’t there,” Duran said about her eyebrows.
“I just wanted my face to look more structured, and [my eyebrows] kind of just disappeared, and I looked really tired all the time, and I was tired of doing them.”
While researching different ways to apply eyebrow makeup, Duran stumbled across an article that caught her attention. It was on microblading — a cosmetic tattoo process that enhances the eyebrow. She became obsessed with the idea, and after reading up on microblading and combing through reviews, she booked an appointment at D.C.’s Dollistic studio.
“I don’t have a tattoo or anything, so I was [nervous]. I mean, it’s a tattoo on your face,” Duran said.
The “I just woke up like this” look is no longer reserved for celebrities with deep pockets and access to a team of specialized beauty professionals. Like Duran, a growing number of everyday Americans are seeking permanent makeup solutions, whether to make for an easier morning or to correct devastating effects from Alopecia or chemotherapy.
In the last few years, services such as microblading, cosmetic tattooing and even semi-permanent lash extensions have taken off in the U.S.
Emily Joy, founder and creative director of Dollistic, opened her shop in 2015 and has since seen demand for ink-enhanced eyebrows skyrocket. New clients are placed on a waiting list that is several months long, even as more studios open throughout the D.C. area, as well as in cities such as New York and Los Angeles.
“We knew that it was going to rapidly pick up in popularity. I don’t think we realized how rapidly it was going to grow,” said Joy, adding that the service has long been popular throughout Europe and Asia, where there are “shops on every corner.”
In microblading, the pigment is applied under the eyebrow with a pencil-like tool that’s topped with a fine comb. The artist etches in fine, feather-like hairs that mimic the client’s natural eyebrows.
The pain is less severe than that of a traditional tattoo. Duran says it was uncomfortable at most. More alarming was the sound of the comb above her eye.
“I thought it was scraping; I thought they were literally getting a blade and cutting and then putting ink across it,” she said.
The microblading process takes anywhere from two to three hours and results can last a lifetime, although most artists recommend annual or biannual touch-ups.
“No one should be under the impression that it is only going to last for a year or two,” Joy said, emphasizing that shadows of pigment can remain under the skin for much longer.
Joy and her team of four artists work with the client on the design of the brow before any pigment is applied to the face. Since she started microblading, she’s seen requests for everything — from thick and fuzzy eyebrows, to thin and dramatic lines. What’s most popular in the D.C. area, however, is the natural look.
Duran says after her appointment, she told very few friends what she did. Most commented that she looked rested or that her makeup looked especially great — even though she was wearing less makeup than ever before.
“I don’t do anything now unless I just do a quick thing of concealer and lip gloss and I go to work. I feel much less high maintenance, even though I got a tattoo on my face. It’s kind of backward,” Duran said.
Lizzeth Gutierrez, partner and artist at Dollistic, added, “It’s the best feeling to wake up and completely forget that you even have to do your eyebrows.”
In 2016, sisters Josie Philippe and Stephanie Nguyen opened their Georgetown salon, DC Lash Bar, after noting the rising popularity of the “wake up ready” trend happening in other urban areas.
People were no longer saving eyelash extensions for special occasions, such as weddings and award ceremonies — they were becoming a Monday through Friday accessory.
At DC Lash Bar, artists apply lash extensions to the client’s individual lashes — not directly on the skin — for a longer, fuller look. Philippe explains that when the client’s lashes shed naturally, so do the extensions. Because of this, a set of lash extensions typically lasts about two to three weeks, after which clients return for a few replacement extensions.
Nguyen says the lashes replace the need for mascara, eyeliner and even eye shadow.
“In D.C., especially, since everyone’s on the go, they’re attracted to services that will make their life easier,” said Nguyen, adding that after 24 hours, the lashes are waterproof and sweat-proof.
“When you go to sleep, you look pretty; when you wake up, you look pretty; when you’re sweating, you look pretty, so that’s definitely an appeal.”
The added convenience does not come cheap. In the D.C. area, microblading runs between $400 and $1,200. Joy says you can find artists that do the work for less, but warns consumers to do their research before committing to anything, especially since it’s permanent and even potentially dangerous, if not done correctly.
“There are a lot of people popping up at lower price points that may seem appealing, but you never want to put a price on your face,” Joy said, adding that the cost of tattoo removal is much more expensive than the tattoo itself.
A full set of lash extensions runs between $190 and $400, depending on the fullness of the set; fill-ins range from $90 to $200.
However, Philippe says that’s a price a lot of people are willing to pay.
“To me, time is invaluable. I have two kids, so if I can wake up and not have to do anything, it’s the best thing in the world,” she said.
Despite her initial hesitation about applying permanent ink to her face, Duran says she couldn’t be happier with the results.
“You’re doing it for yourself. You’re not doing it because you want your brows to look good for anyone else. You’re doing it because you notice that you feel better about the way you look,” she said.
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