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Photography Julie Poly

Inside the growing demand for permanent make-up removal

With the make-up trend cycle speeding up, what happens to the people who committed to one specific look?

It’s possible to get any modification to your appearance now. Not born with freckles? Tattoo them on! Always thought your forehead was a bit too big? Get reduction surgery! A fan of the snatched filter look? Show a doctor your digital avatar and let them work their magic!

The increasing accessibility of surgery and modification means our bodies are in constant flux alongside ever-changing beauty trends. What was once limited to celebrities and socialites is now accessible to – and increasingly expected of – almost everyone, with cosmetic surgery rising by 102 per cent between 2021 and 2022 in the UK, the highest annual increase in 18 years. And it’s not just surgical or injectable modifications – one way to ensure you are always adhering to beauty standards is by getting permanent make-up, from microblading your eyebrows to be fluffier, to undereye concealer being tattooed into the skin.

However, we’re seeing a rising trend of reversal emerging. Last year, people flocked to speculate whether Kim and Khloe Kardashian had had their BBLs removed. Courteney Cox expressed regret about getting overly injection-happy in the past, and Kylie Jenner recently said she wished she had never had her boob job. Meanwhile, the popularity of the “clean girl” aesthetic has seen minimal make-up prized over full-face glam, as the “natural” look (often aided by lots of expensive skincare, facials and injectables) becomes the most covetable.  

So what does this mean for those who have had permanent treatments done? With the make-up trend cycle speeding up, what happens to the people who committed to one specific look? Unsurprisingly, permanent make-up removal is on the rise.

Briony Garbett, CEO of NAAMA Studios, a tattoo and make-up removal studio in central London, says that permanent make-up removal is their fastest-growing service. “The number of clients wishing to remove permanent make-up has more than doubled over the last 12 months,” she says. “More often than not, the desire to remove is coupled with a desire for a more ‘natural’ look that reflects personal evolution and the evolution of wider beauty trends.”

The removal process for permanent make-up goes like this: a laser is used to break up the pigment, which then gets absorbed by the skin. Clients go into the studio for a procedure every two to three weeks, with appointments lasting between 15-30 minutes. Usually, permanent make-up removal takes fewer sessions to remove than a tattoo. Side effects of permanent make-up removal are generally very mild, but you might temporarily see some slight redness or have frosting,” explains Garbett. “Frosting is a natural reaction and causes the treated area to look white or slightly frosted.”

The lack of regulation in the permanent make-up industry means that there are a number of unlicensed practitioners out there, which can often lead to botched results. Permanent make-up also sometimes leaves a shadow, though it is supposed to fade with time, which can also lead to a necessary removal. As someone who got microblading done on my eyebrows when the Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow reigned, I’m now glad they faded over time. 

For Shan, who had eight sessions with NAAMA, getting her brow tattoos removed was a step towards rekindling her relationship with her natural look. “About 10 years ago, I got my eyebrow tattooed on,” she says. “My brother used to make fun of them and my niece would ask ‘what did you do to your eyebrows?!’ I realised then it was time to remove them. I also wanted to go back to a more natural-looking face. After all, beauty trends change. If I could have my natural brows back, then I can adjust my brows however I want to whatever trend is in at the time.”

For California-based studio Inkstant Beauty, this dilemma is exactly why they take an anti-trend approach. “We don’t follow trends, since trends come and go,” says a representative. “If you’re one to follow trends then I’d recommend you stray away from permanent make-up. Although some techniques such as ombre powder last approximately one to three years, these are permanent make-up procedures and should be treated as such.”

In our digital world, social media trends influence almost everything, from what we eat for breakfast to the books we read and the way we style ourselves. Taking part in beauty trends can be a source of solace and community for many, but the short-term trend cycle often goes against the permanent nature of cosmetic procedures. TikToker Cina, for example, has previously spoken about her regret in not being able to participate in the “clean girl” trend, as her permanent eyeliner meant she couldn’t recreate the no-make-up look.

@cina Replying to @libee4445 yes and no. Here’s why. What do you guys think about permanent makeup? #permanentmakeup #tattooeyeliner #permanenteyeliner ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

Mikai Mcdermott, a licensed trichologist, beauty theorist, and creator, believes that the rise in “natural” beauty trends and quiet luxury are responsible for the rising rates of removal. But of course, these “natural” beauty trends are no different from the full-glam looks we saw in the past. “These newly trending beauty looks are not natural, they cost an exorbitant amount and require constant upkeep,” explains Mcdermott. “Celebrities are spending thousands to look perfect as if they’ve had no work done. The five-minute face does not reveal the facials and aesthetic treatments happening behind the scenes to enable the person in front of the camera to start with a flawless, poreless, and free-of-wrinkle base.”

But it’s not just the ever-changing trends that are causing the rise in popularity. For some people, permanent make-up removal coincides with personal growth. For Farah, who lost all of her hair when 15 due to Alopecia, the journey has shaped her experiences of make-up application and confidence. “I was 16 when I first had my brows tattooed, then again at about 24. I found it really hard to do my brow make-up so tattooing was the only other option I had really. I was never happy with the results though. They were never the right colour or shape, they also faded so fast.”

She started her brow removal process this summer, a process which will take roughly five sessions. It has, she says, helped her embrace her hair loss on days when she wants to go natural, while she opts for temporary options on other days. “I now make temporary eyebrow tattoos. It might sound dramatic but they have been life-changing.” As Farah has discovered, there is beauty in the temporary. Nothing lasts forever and change is inevitable, so maybe we could all benefit from living by the concept of impermanence – it’s easier than constantly having to modify our bodies for unachievable beauty ideals.

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