'It's a tattoo on your face': Experts say do homework before indulging in microblading

Celeste Buccino undergoes a microblading procedure at a Bellevue, Wash., clinic. (KOMO)

BELLEVUE, Wash. (KOMO) - Microblading is the latest beauty craze that promises full and perfectly arch-shaped eyebrows, but experts say make sure you do your homework first.

Some customers can end up with an infection, allergic reaction or mismatched brows.

Celeste Buccino is one who recently indulged in the hot beauty trend.

"I'm not a big makeup person, but I wouldn't leave the house without doing my eyebrows," said Bainbridge Island's Buccino.

Instead of penciling in her thinning brows, she is lying back and letting Jacqueline Perry of Bellevue's Permanent Appeal do the work.

Perry applies a numbing lotion and waits 20 minutes.

"I'm ready," said Buccino, who's been looking forward to this touch-up appointment, the second in a series of two microblading sessions with Perry.

She describes microblading as semi-permanent tattooing to the face that can last up to 18 months, depending on the client and how their skin reacts to the procedure.

Not all microbladers created equal

Perry, along with other industry insiders, says microblading appeals to men and women with thinning brows, patients who've lost their eyebrows for medical reasons or just those not born with a thick, full set.

At an average cost of about $500, microblading clients with their tattooed brows can shave precious minutes off their daily makeup routines.

"It is trending everywhere," said Perry, who compared microblading's popularity to that of eyelash extensions a few years back.

Inside a spotless, tiny, box-sized studio surrounded by glass, mirrors and white leather, Perry swivels on a stool around a reclining makeup chair and uses feather-like strokes to begin Buccino's session.

With a precise hand, Perry penetrates the skin with a microblade to resemble hair strokes, adding pigment to each tiny feathering stroke to match Buccino's hair color.

When done right, it looks like the real thing.

"Oh, I love it," said Buccino, checking herself out in a mirror. "See how it just lifts [your] face?"

But not all microbladers are created equal.

There can be a risk to this beauty trend that's not pretty: botched brows -- everything from allergic reactions and infection to scarring and bad design work.

"It's a tattoo on your face! You have to do your research," implored Perry.

No formal training required

Doing your homework is a must, because clients may be surprised to learn that in Washington state, there are no training requirements for microblading itself -- no education, no exam, no certification for the technique.

Microblading technicians can be self-taught or get training on their own. Perry knows of plenty who do get training, but she was stunned to learn no training hours for the microblading technique are required here.

"Zero training," said Perry.

But microblading does require a state license; either a tattoo or permanent cosmetic license is a must in Washington. To get that license, you head to the same agency where you get your driver's license, the DOL.

DOL's Susan Colard, administrator of Professional Licensing Support Services, said Perry is right -- the DOL does not mandate any education or exam requirements when it comes to microblading technique.

"There basically is absolutely no requirement for training at this time," said Colard.

There are only a few license requirements: Applicants must be at least 18, take a state-approved bloodborne pathogen class and pay a $250 application fee.

That's it.

"Everybody is like, 'Whoa, that is crazy,'" says Perry, who has multiple microblade certifications and wants to see some kind of training standards adopted. "You are opening someone's skin, you are tattooing their face. I wanted to know everything about it. I didn't take just a microblading course, I took everything under that: color theory, permanent cosmetics, advanced training, and scalp micro pigmentation."

We checked with the state and only a handful of customers have filed complaints unhappy with their microblading results.

Colard says not every unhappy customers files a complaint, but she hopes anyone with concerns will report, regardless of how insignificant.

The state investigates every claim, and even without a complaint inspects facilities to make sure they meet state safety, sanitation and sterilization standards.

Violators can be issued letters of correction, fines or even be shut down.

Colard says despite only a few complaints filed, she has heard from trained techs who've dealt with unhappy customers asking them to correct someone else's microblading mistake.

"There are a lot of concerned individuals who have to clean up the messes per se," said Colard.

Complaints posted nationwide

We found microblading complaints nationwide posted on YouTube.

"I have clients all the time coming in crying," Perry said. "I had a girl who dropped to her knees."

One of her clients got botched brows out of state. They were so bad, Perry couldn't do much and sent her to a plastic surgeon.

"She has literal zebra stripes on her eyebrows," said Perry.

That client told me she had color correction, but has been left to cover her brows with makeup while she waits for the pigment to fade.

It's been seven months and she says the pigment has barely faded.

"This is an advanced procedure for us, absolutely advanced, we are actually slicing into the skin," said Penny Rudy of Chrysalis Clinic of Permanent Cosmetics in Arlington.

Rudy has been in the industry for 16 years. She is certified in microblading and is a microblading instructor.

She said with the procedure's popularity, she, too, has seen an increase in bad design work.

DOL in collaboration for potential regulations

Now, Rudy sits on a DOL industry Advisory Board -- organized by the DOL and made up of industry stakeholders, including tattoo artists, permanent cosmetic artists and state inspectors. They formed the group as a way to talk about industry concerns and work together to make recommendations.

They insist right now, the bulk of violations come from facilities offering microblading without a license.

Those licensing requirements for tattoo and permanent cosmetic artists are relatively new to Washington and took effect in 2010. The Advisory Board was formed after that. Members met in August in SeaTac.

There, Rudy proposed microblading education and exam requirements that would affect permanent cosmetic artists, but not tattoo artists. She wants the state to adopt statewide training requirements.

"We are using implements that are very sharp, we are piercing the skin, creating channels and that is something that cannot be put in the hands of someone who is just beginning," said Rudy. "We have people that are doing this type of procedure who have had no training whatsoever, undertrained or poorly trained."

The DOL said adding training requirements is possible, but would require a rule or law change. "If the industry feels there should be education and exam requirements, we are going to help them get there," said Colard.

"[The DOL] has helped us beyond measure and we are excited about their continued help," Rudy said.

Rudy, Colard and Perry all insist doing your homework can be the difference between bad or beautiful brows.

"I love it! Thank you," said Buccino, with one last look in the mirror at her new brows.

She chose Perry based on a friend's recommendation, but also checked out her testimonials on her Instagram page, made certain she was certified and checked out her salon before going under the microblade.

She's so glad she did.

Cancer and chemo robbed her of her brows, but microblading made her feel like herself again.

"This is what I need to do 'cause it makes me feel better," said Buccino.

"I love the ability, whether they are a cancer survivor or not, to change their life with something so subtle and simple and make it so they're happy when they leave," said Perry.

So, what can you do to make sure you are dealing with a trained professional? References, references, references.

The Society for Permanent Cosmetic Professionals promotes permanent makeup safety, professional standards, and provides education, certification, and industry guidelines.

SPCP requires a minimum of 100 hours of training and has a link to technicians who have been properly trained through its certification recommendations; it also offers a link to each state so customers can check out any state requirements or rules.

Be sure to check out the DOL's website to make sure any facility you consider is licensed with the state, in good standing, and is insured.

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