Inform Yourself - Permanent and Semi-permanent Pigments

April 18, 2017

Face it...

This is not something you see every day, I mean, why would you?

Although facial tattoos are mostly considered a bit taboo and out of the ordinary, permanent makeup is something that goes unnoticed. But are they the same?

The history of tattoo and cosmetic pigments stretches back to before recorded history and is mostly a history of trial and error. These pigments are not the same, although there are different facets to cosmetic tattooing.  


Tattoos have always played an important role in ritual and tradition, not only in certain cultures, but in almost all of them. Incidentally, tattoos did not originate in one particular culture/area, but rather independently all over the world.

Oetzi the Iceman, said to have walked the Alps anywhere from the fourth to the fifth millennium, was covered in tattoos, as were mummies found from northern Chile to Egypt and Russia. Pre-Christian Germanic, Celtic and other northern tribes wore tattoos, and tattooing in Japan goes back some ten thousand years.

Facial tattoos are probably one of the most striking of all body art because they are so permanent and in your face (literally). Among the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, permanent body and face markings were, and still are, prevalent. Called Ta Moko, the skin was carved, more than punctured, resulting in grooves. People of a higher social status would receive moko in a prominent place like the face so that their social status was immediately recognisable.

Receiving moko was a special occasion accompanied by many rituals that marked the transition from childhood to adulthood, for example. Moko was also considered to make a person more sexually attractive. Men usually wore moko on their faces, buttocks and thighs, while women wore it on their lips and chins. Those who received no moko were regarded as a lower status.

Today, facial tattoos are seen as a taboo or going against ‘normal’ societal behaviour. In Western society it is not the norm to have facial markings and finding a job or even being accepted by the larger part of society can be a hassle. This all changed with the tribal system going out of play. Now, if you happen to have a facial tattoo, expect to have all eyes on you when out in public...



Permanent makeup is a cosmetic technique which employs the permanent pigmentation of the dermis as a means of producing designs that resemble makeup.

The ancient Egyptians, both royalty and lower classes, paid attention to beautification. In some instances, they used ground stones, minerals and rocks including malachite, red ochre, kohl, ect. Around the eyes, lips and cheeks. They also created tattoos in geometric designs over their eyes to solidify their bond with the goddess of beauty. The practice was employed in a ritual fashion for protection and status, but mostly it was only for cosmetic beauty basking in the favour of the goddess of beauty, Hathor.


Although both would be classified as body modification, it is still not the same. The pigments, techniques and products differ quite a lot.

The human skin has three layers. From outwards in, they are known as the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis (also called the subcutaneous tissue). The epidermis is the most superficial layer of skin, ranging from 0.1 mm to 1.5 mm thick.

Tattooing punctures the skin with a fast-paced needle to place the ink in the dermis layer of the skin, which will stay there permanently,depending on the technique and tattoo inks used. While permanent makeup can also be applied into the dermis of the skin, semi-permanent makeup will be applied to the epidermis, and with time it will fade away as the skin rejuvenates and heals.

The equipment used in tattooing is also much more powerful than that used in cosmetic tattooing. Historically, needles were used to manually insert ink into the skin with a technique called hand-poking. After mechanisation, coil machines were used in tattooing, and now many artists prefer to use the lighter rotary tattoo machine. In cosmetic tattooing, only small pen-like rotary machines are used, alongside disposable needles. The disposable needles are used to manually insert ink into the epidermis and this technique is called micro-pigmentation.

Pigments differ in the sense that tattoo inks are specifically created to last as long as possible and be vibrant for as long a period of time as possible.

Cosmetic tattooing uses more natural colours and pigments, to mimic the natural shades of skin. They are not created to last as long as normal tattooing pigments, which could be considered as a more ‘heavy’ ink.

So, next time you see a person with a face tattoo, high-five them, because it takes commitment to your art to flaunt it for the world to see in a society that condemns anything they do not understand.


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