What's the difference and which one will give you your fullest most natural-looking eyebrows? We booked in
You’ve heard of microblading, the semi-permanent brow tattoo that gives fuller, more defined brows using ultra-realistic hair strokes. Celebrities from Helen Mirren to Serena Williams and Lena Dunham have all taken the plunge. Now meet microshading, its newer velvety pixelated cousin. It’s suitable for everyone but particularly good for dark and oily skins, which may respond better to it than microblading.
Full disclosure, I'm a serious microblading fan. Top London brow artist Suman Jalaf carried out my first microblading treatment two years ago and had me back in her chair for a top-up this week, where she shared all the latest developments in semi-permanent brows.
What is microblading?
What’s the difference between microblading and microshading and which one is for you? Microblading uses a scalpel dipped in ink to create hair strokes that give the illusion of a fuller brow, filling in sparse areas and creating a more defined shape. You’ll need numbing cream for half an hour and a patch test up to 24 hours ahead.
When deciding who to go to, choose someone whose work you have seen. The artistry of your practitioner is crucial, as wells as their lightness of touch. If the strokes are too heavy-handed, you may end up with thick deep lines that can look unnatural, blur or even leave scars. Go by recommendation, not because you have a voucher code, says Suman. This is especially important on older skin. “When you are working in someone in their 60s when their skin is very thin if you are heavy-handed and you go too deep, that stoke can leave a blotch of ink that’s very dark.”
Suman also offers Diamond Blading using an extra-fine 0.2mm diamond blade.
What is microshading?
Like microblading, microshading is semi-permanent makeup that needs numbing cream and patch test, however it’s applied with an electronic pen that creates a velvety airbrush effect. It looks almost like makeup and is buildable in the same way for a strong or subtle effect - the treatment is also called powder brows. It's nothing like the blocky semi-permanent brows of old. The pixels create diffuse rather than hard edges that look more natural. What you don’t get, however, is the microfeathering effect of hair strokes (but see ombré bows, below).
Microblading or microshading, which one is best?
It’s a matter of preference as to whether you like the hair-stroke or the powdered look. However, microshading can also be a better choice for dark skin and oily skin.
On black skin, the individual hair strokes of microblading aren’t always as visible, explains Suman. The darkest brown ink doesn’t show the practitioners artwork with enough definition and carbon black can look too harsh (she only uses it for tattoo eyeliner).
She might also recommend microshading for oily skin. “It’s good for someone who has oily skin because it will last better,” says Suman. Oily skins don’t hold the semi-permanent as well, meaning the fine strokes will disappear.
If you're someone who tends to bleed (some people do, some don't during the treatment) then microshading might be a better option than microblading, where the pigment can migrate and blur under the hair strokes.
What is ombre microblading?
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Ombre brows are a hybrid brow treatment, giving you the best of both worlds. Suman uses fine microbladed hair strokes on the inner corners of the eyebrows graduating into microshading towards the tail. It gives a very natural look.
“It’s also great for someone with alopecia or after chemotherapy because it’s sometimes hard to mimic a full eyebrow with microblading when there is no eyebrow,” says Suman.
How dark should you go?
Whichever treatment you go for, your technician can help you choose the shade of your ink, says Suman, but as with your hair colourist, you’re really reliant on their eye and experience to find one that fits with your skin tone and eye colour and your natural brow tone. Be aware that in the first few days your brows will look a lot darker than you anticipated: 30 to 50 per cent darker than the desired result, says Suman. They can take up to 10 days to settle.
How long does microblading or microshading last?
It can vary according to your skin type, oily skins fade faster, says Suman. But you can expect at least a year to 18 months. When you start using eyebrow pencils again, that’s the time to come in for a refresh. If it’s your first time, Suman calls you back in for a top-up after six weeks to fill in any gaps. After that, you only need one session every couple of years. Mine lasted a good two years.
Why does microblading fade or discolour?
The treatment will fade over time – mine started to turn from brown to pink after about 18 months, but this was barely noticeable and easy to cover with pencil. You could also experience discolouring with a green or grey tinge depending on your undertone. This can be due to hormonal changes such as pregnancy, thyroid issues or medication, although there’s no way to know if that will happen, says Suman and it’s rare. More common however is discolouration caused by using harsh anti-ageing creams over your brows as you apply your skincare, or not using SPF on your brow when you are in the sun.
If you want to make your microblading last longer – it’s expensive after all – always apply sun cream and avoid strong anti-ageing or anti-pigmentation creams on and near your brows.
Suman is an advocate in dry healing rather than with any specific creams or balms. She tells me to clean only with distilled water (boiled and cooled from the kettle) for the first ten days and avoid getting my face wet – which essentially means don’t shower, steam or do sweaty workouts.
It is essential that you wash your skin gently during the first 24 hours, in order to remove residual pigment as well as prevent the build-up of dust particles says Suman. “We recommend you dab your brow area regularly in the first few days." It goes without saying no makeup, tanning beds, no picking and no skincare in the first two weeks and no injectables around the brow for four weeks.
In the first two weeks your brow might become dandruffy, flaky and opaque. This is normal healing. They may scab or itch too. “But don’t touch them. Use a clean spoolie or brow brush to ‘tickle’ the brows if you are itching or take away any dandruff.”
Can you remove microblading?
Microblading plays into our decade-long fascination with strong fluffy brows. The trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, but what if you suddenly want thin brows after microblading? Mine brows faded after two years but the faint strokes are still visible, so may never truly disappear. Just like tattoo removal, laser microblading removal is an option, however it’s yet another procedure.
What if you’re too scared to have microblading?
That was me and it’s the reaction I most commonly receive when I evangelise about it. First of all, I went by recommendation. I didn’t actually know I wanted microblading until I met fitness trainer Zanna van Dijk and admired her extremely well-groomed brows. She told me that her natural brows were so pale as to be invisible and what I was looking at was all Suman’s work.
I didn't dive straight in though; I asked Suman to do a shape and tint that would look exactly like a microblading treatment. True to her word it was indeed a near replica of the blading I went on to have.
There are plenty of great alternatives such as brow lamination for big fluffy brows or a microblading eyebrow pencil or pen or even soap brows . I love the Lottie London Arch Rival Mircoblade Pen £4.49 which won best brow product in the Get The Gloss Beauty and Wellness Awards 2020 . The Code8 is the best ombre brow makeup there is, making it easy to combine strokes and a denser finish with the spoolie.
What does microblading cost?
Suman charges £650 for a first treatment including the six-week top-up and £400 for a retouch. I've seen others advertise it for much less. But my advice is not to make saving money your overriding factor. Better not to have it at all than have it done badly.
For me, it's been worth it. It frames my face and as I get older it gives me some of my colour back making me look less washed out as well as distracting from the hair loss at my hairline. What's more, I like my morning face better. In the words of Helen Mirren, who told the Daily Mail, "when I get up in the morning and I have no makeup on, at least I have eyebrows. It’s made a huge difference.”