Microblading: it may sound like a new potentially dangerous winter sport or form of medieval torture, but it’s the latest, most cutting-edge (pun fully intended) technique by which to achieve full, flatteringly shaped eyebrows, whether you’re starting with 90s style pencil brows or nothing at all. Madonna is said to have had the treatment and if it's good enough for Madge, it's good enough for us. But what is it?
Also known as eyebrow embroidery, microblading is a subtle, precise and softer take on makeup tattooing , which can be carried out on eyelids and lips but is most commonly applied to the brow area. Curious? I sat down with Sian Dellar , London’s most sought-after microblading and permanent makeup specialist, to talk natural-looking semi-permanent eyebrow makeup, brow trends and pain thresholds. For your ultimate microblading manual, look no further.
Microblading sounds frankly terrifying. Talk me through it.
“The difference between microblading and semi-permanent makeup is that microblading is manual; it’s all done by hand with no machines. The microblading tool looks like a pen, and you attach the tiny, pronged blades to the end. You create all the brush strokes individually, with none of the vibration that you get with a semi-permanent makeup machine. There’s no power behind it, it’s all you. With the machine, the vibration causes pigment to disperse in the skin, so the stroke isn’t as crisp- it blends out more. With the blade you don’t need to apply as much pressure, and it’s very superficial, which is why microbladed brows and makeup doesn’t last as long. That’s also why the dye doesn’t change colour, as it’s not pushed as deeply into the skin.”
“Microblading creates a very delicate effect that can’t be achieved on a semi-permanent makeup machine, even if you’re an extremely experienced technician, as the machine’s vibration takes away an element of control. Working freehand with the microblade tool, you can be more precise”.
Where did microblading originate?
“Microblading originated in China, over ten years ago. It’s a very refined technique and has slowly filtered through to us in the West. It’s become established over here in the last three years, but it’s in the past year that it’s just blown up. The results are so incredibly natural and realistic. I’m not knocking the machines because I’ve used them for years, but you can’t get the same kind of nuanced results as you do with a blade with regular semi-permanent makeup, hence its popularity.”
How and why did you come to be a microblading maestro?
“I came to specialise in it because I’m up for anything that’s going to make my work look a thousand times better and more realistic. I’ve used a machine for many, many years and I was just looking for something more.”
“About three years ago a client came to me with microbladed brows. It was really awful, and I just thought how could someone put a blade to a client’s face like that?! It had been done so badly, but I researched microblading and discovered that actually, when it’s done well, it looks incredible. That’s when I decided I wanted to train in it.”
How do I know if microblading is for me?
“It’s most suitable if you’re after a beautifully defined brow and you pencil them on pretty much everyday. It makes such a difference. You get that extra time to yourself and more sleep in the morning! If you’re not someone who does that everyday and you happily leave the house without pencil or product on your brows, then there’s probably little point, as that’s not something that you’d ordinarily spend a lot of time on. For me before I had microblading done, however, there’s no way that I’d have ever leave the house without having done my brows. In that case, it makes sense to have it done. You never have to faff around trying to get them even. If you’re not that person, it’s probably not for you.”
“A big majority of my clients are cancer patients, and microblading can really help to restore someone’s confidence. They might come in before, during or after chemotherapy or treatment, although beforehand is great as I can help to recreate their brow almost exactly. It’s not essential, as the browbone is there as a guide, but catching them before can help you to achieve even more incredible results. Depending on the strength of the treatment they’re having I might do microblading during, but it’s normally after chemotherapy, especially if treatment is aggressive as even one small nick can have an impact on the immune system. Doctors will always advise patients as to what’s best.”
Is there anyone for whom microblading is totally off the cards?
“Really the only people that definitely can’t have microblading are women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. You also need to be over 18.”
This tattooing business is serious stuff. How can I find a good technician?
“When looking for a great technician, look out for an extensive ‘before and after’ portfolio. It’s absolutely a must for me, because you want to see that that person has worked on young skin, mature skin, dark skins, fair skins; a whole range of people. If there’s not too much evidence of that, I’d question the experience of a technician. I’m training all the time to expand my experience. Just working with one type of client is limiting, which is one reason that I love working in London, as I see so many different people from different backgrounds. It really helps you to master what can suit an individual client.”
How long does a microblading session take?
“An initial session normally takes an hour and a half to two hours. The treatment time is actually the quickest part, it’s the preparation that takes time, from consultation to numbing time to making sure the shape is right, that they’re perfectly even and the colour is bang on. That can take over an hour, while drawing on the hair strokes might only take twenty minutes.”
Speaking of colour, are there lots of shades available? Will my eyebrows go green as some tattoos do?!
“Pigments are second nature to me now. I can look at someone and instantly know what kind of colour blend I’m going to go for. I have clients who are hair colourists and they’re the same- the theory is engrained. It’s always quite a test when they come in! Of course I keep clients’ colours on file, but sometimes they come back for touch ups and they’ve gone totally blonde, for example. I’ve had to almost completely change the colour in the past. That’s always a bit of a challenge, but they’ve normally faded a lot by that point so it’s not normally an issue.”
“Don’t be afraid of a green tattoo tinge- it’s very rare that you’d ever get that in the UK nowadays. It’s more common in the Far East, where a lot of deep black pigment is used. Colours produced in Europe tend to cater for a greater variety of skin tones and hair colours.”
Onto the pain issue. What can I expect? What does microblading feel like?
“It’s very scratchy. I wouldn’t say it’s painful per se, but it’s very uncomfortable. It’s not a relaxing treatment during which you’ll drift off- you feel it, but you also hear it a lot more than you feel it, which can be strange. You hear the scratching, but the area is numb. Everyone has their own pain threshold. Some people say it’s totally fine while others are more sensitive to pain. It can also depend on how you’re feeling on the day, for instance if you’re on your period, or leading up to it, you’ll feel it more.”
Any risks to bear in mind?
“Everyone in my clinic is patch tested pre-treatment. In eight years no one’s had any adverse reaction, so that’s encouraging. The correct aftercare is really vital though to prevent infection. You need to keep the brow area very clean and keep your hair away from the area. You musn’t get brows wet or apply any cream to the area apart from the healing balm you’ll be given for around 7-10 days. After that time you can fully wash but just be careful around the brow area as it’ll still be healing. For some people the healing process can last up to two weeks. After that point you can carry on as normal.”
Microblading is semi-permanent. When might I need a touch-up?
“How quickly colour fades totally depends on the individual and their skin. There’s no one size fits all with this treatment. Sometimes I might have a top-up at six months, and sometimes at eight months. It can depend on any number of things, from sun exposure to exfoliation. There’s no definitive answer in terms of how long microblading lasts, but most clients will return for a top-up within a year or so.”
“As a guide, normally I’d tell a client to return before brow colour has faded too much, but if you are wanting to change colour, you’re best of waiting a bit longer to allow you to switch to a different shade or go cooler or warmer.”
How can I keep my brows on fleek for as long as possible?
“I’d say that wearing an SPF 50 is essential, but then I think it is anyway whether you’ve had microblading or not. Be careful not to over-exfoliate the brow area too; not that you ever need to! It’s just something to be aware of, as this will cause colour to break down much faster.”
Is microblading a lifelong commitment?
“If a cancer patient had their brows microbladed, and then eyebrow hair grew back, they wouldn’t need to continue with the treatment anymore, so commitment wise it’s very dependant on the person, their preferences and the situation. The top-ups are always considerably less cost-wise than the first treatment (Sian charges £195 for these sessions, with the first session coming in at £495). Once a year, if the brows make a big difference to confidence and lifestyle, as they do for me personally, I think it’s worth it. The time and effort it saves me justifies the cost.”
What’s the number one advantage afforded by microblading in your view?
“The definition that it gives. I analyse brows for a living (I can’t help myself) and see lots of women who would benefit from even the smallest amount of definition. It can make you look instantly amazing, and for many of my clients, it changes lives. The hair follicles in the brows are so delicate, for many people once they’re gone, they’re gone, so this is such a great treatment if you’re in that situation.”
Have you always been a brow whiz?
“Brows have always been my passion. I didn’t really start off in life with a lot of brow hair, and when I was about 15 I started tweezing them, and managed to tweeze them to within an inch of their life. Then I’d draw them back on, but admittedly pretty badly. I carried on like this for over ten years, but when I had semi-permanent makeup done, it was life-changing.”
Any eyebrow icons?
“It sounds cheesy but brow icon would be anyone with great brows. I guess because I had literally none! Still to this day clients ask me why my brows are so thin, because at the moment there’s a huge trend for big, thick brows, but I don’t have that, and I never have had, so for me it’s about having a nice set of brows that suit me, rather than following fashion. In five years time skinny could well be ‘in’ again. It should be about what looks good on an individual, and while people come in with photos, I say that I can give them their ideal brow, but within reason. I have to work with client’s faces, and each is unique.”
“I travel to Kuwait a lot, and interestingly people over there prefer a flat, straight brow. It’s now coming around that having an arch is fashionable, and I’m getting clients saying that they now want that, but the problem is that they’ve been tattooed on fairly straight. That’s why I would say never to follow trends when it comes to semi-permanent makeup or microblading, because, in short, fashion changes but your face doesn’t. You can have laser removal and start again, but obviously that’s not ideal. You don’t want ‘good for now’, you want ‘good for you’.”
Wise words indeed.
Think that microblading might be right for you? Book a consultation with Sian to talk through your options
See examples of Sian’s work on Instagram @siandellar_permanent_ makeup
Follow Anna on Instagram @annyhunter