I’d been hearing the word microblading for a year or two before I figured out it had something to do with eyebrows and wasn’t, in fact, a new, miniaturised, winter olympic event. It was at that point I began erroneously conflating microblading with eyebrow threading. Turns out that threading refers to the removal of eyebrow hairs with a length of thread that is doubled then twisted and rolled over the area to give the eyebrow shape and definition. Microblading, too, is a way to add shape and definition to eyebrows but instead of something being taken away, something is being added. That something is pigment and if you think that sounds a bit like getting tattoos on your face well, it sort of is.
Getting “face tats” may seem like an extreme measure but bigger, fuller eyebrows are having an extreme moment. Microblading involves shallow incisions being made in the skin with a tiny razor—hence the name—and pigment being deposited into those tiny cuts. The main point of difference with tattooing is that the pigment is placed in the epidermis—the outer layer of the two layers of skin—and not the deeper dermis—the depth at which tattoos ink is deposited. That shallower depth means that, despite being called “permanent makeup,” microblading only lasts for about a year and the look needs to be periodically touched up to be maintained.
People have been putting ink into fine dermal incisions for millennia but microblading eyebrows only became popular in Asia around 25 years ago and started catching on in the US within the last two or three years (microblading, like other types of “tattoos,” are not FDA-approved). Before agreeing to get it done, I Google-imaged “microblading before and after” and two things struck me: The results can be impressive. And a lot of scrolling has to take place before a search reveals microbladed brows on a male face. A male face like mine.
While I feel that several of my facial features are crying out for a cosmetic intervention, I’d been hard pressed to find fault with my brows. Then, this summer, makeup artist Matthew Drohan got to work with a toothbrush, some eyebrow gel, and pencil, and set me up with a fresh pair of what he called “bossy brows." While I was quite taken with the look, I kept forgetting to incorporate brow fluffing into my getting ready routine. The promise of microblading is that I’ll never have to give my brows a second thought and can roll out of bed with them looking their best. That promise brought me to Nadia of Eye Design.
I’m lead through their sleek Manhattan office and shown to a room where wispy Nadia Afanaseva—the operation’s founder, CEO and master technician who ordinarily charges $1,600 per treatment—assesses my face.
She asks me if I had a picture of some brows that could serve as an inspiration for my new look.
“Maybe there is celebrity with eyebrows that you like,” she offers as my mind goes blank.
While I’d consciously coveted Brad Pitt’s Fight Club physique, Kit Harington's hair and Tom Hardy’s lips, I now realise that I haven’t given a second’s thought to whose celebrity brows I’d want given the opportunity. I did a quick search of male celebrity eyebrows and discovered that Robert Pattinson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Pine, and Colin Farrell topped the leaderboard. Each of these men’s brows have substance and gravitas but it was a picture of Dave Franco that I eventually showed to Nadia: a decision that has more to do with my newfound crush on Alison Brie than what happens to be sprouting out of his pretty face.
Nadia makes a pained expression as her large, jade green eyes dart between my face and the picture of his. “I think for you, natural look is best,” she says. “You have a lot of hairs so we don’t need to do too much.”
I recline on a chair and Nadia commences measuring my brows, plotting their size and angle against the rest of my features and each other. She asks for my permission to pluck four or five errant hairs per brow then uses a pencil to sketch out what she’s going to do. Before handing me a mirror to get my sign off, she reminds me that the pencil she’s using is thicker and darker than the finished product.
Based on what I see, I like what Nadia has planned. I notice that she’s given my brows a more squared-off shape where they meet the bridge of my nose and has given them a little more weight throughout. I give her the go ahead and she proceeds to slather my brows in aesthetic gel.
“Don’t worry,” she says as she turns her attention to mixing pigment to match the colour of my eyebrows. “It is more like scratch than cut. You will hear but not feel.”
After the numbing gel has been given twenty minutes to do its thing, Nadia gets to work with an instrument that looks more like a fountain pen than the straight razor of my imagination. The sound it makes in my skin sounds like a fingernail being raked over polystyrene packing foam. After ten or 15 minutes, that main slicing phase is more or less complete and the pigment is rubbed into my brows and the tiny slices they now feature. While the pigment sets in, I have ample time to check out my ridiculous visage in the mirror. I’m in a cape, a hairnet and have a matching pair of inch-wide shit stains where my eyebrows used to be.
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“Don’t worry,” says Nadia for the umpteenth time after seeing my mouth agog. “I think you will like. They will look super natural.”
“Supernatural or super natural?” I ask, hoping that it’s latter.
“Yes,” she says.
The break in the action gives Nadia a a chance to tell me about what to expect in the days and weeks ahead. “They will look dark for the next two or three days, then begin to scab,” she says, adding that the healing process will take around four weeks at which point, I’ll need to come in for a touch up. The aftercare instructions implore me to not touch my eyebrows, get them wet, sweat and try and avoid my usual sleeping posture which is sleeping on my front. All this for a week.
“You can’t mess up,” she says. “Promise me you will take care.”
I make that promise. Several minutes elapse and Nadia wipes off the excess pigment so she can better gauge what remains to be done. I sit back down and she applies some more fine strokes, this time dipping the blade into the pigment and applying it into my skin directly. Before I take a final look Nadia reminds me that after my brows scab and heal, the strokes will be thinner and lighter than they currently appear.
The face I see in the mirror is slightly more masculine and serious than the one that greets me ordinarily but the difference is subtler than I’d imagined. I get back to my apartment and everytime I catch my reflection, my face seems less and less familiar. I tell myself that I’m fixated on my brows and that my perception is unreliable. But after a Friday night spent vainly attempting to sleep on my back, I wake up indisputably looking like Bert from Sesame Street and I begin to wonder if I’ve made a semi-permanent but wholly-terrible mistake...on my face.
I made a conscious decision not to tell anyone I know about my microblading adventure and the first two friends I hang out the next day with say nothing about my brows but then I do have my baseball cap pulled down so tight that I can hardly see.
“What happened to your face?” is the first thing that comes out of my girlfriend’s mouth when she sees without hat. “Oh my god! You look so weird!”
For the rest of the evening she can’t look at me without giggling and sometimes gasping. Given the intensity of her reaction, I call each of the friends I’d seen earlier and ask them if they noticed anything different about me earlier. Independently they each told me that they had indeed noticed my eyebrows but figured I was up to some wacky shit for work and didn’t bother asking about it.
For the rest of the weekend I begin to look less like a muppet and more like one of the Gallagher brothers. Not Liam or Noel but a lesser one. Curly Gallagher. Consequently, I keep a low profile but by Monday—as promised—my brows have settled down considerably. They are a little darker a little fuller, a little more symmetrical then when I started but essentially I feel as though I look like me and not my own evil twin anymore. Seventy-two hours after being shocked by my appearance, my girlfriend is now inquiring about getting her eyebrows microbladed for herself.
When I made my touch up appointment with Nadia, I hadn’t considered that it would be in the middle of holiday party season and didn’t know what I would look like in the days immediately post treatment. As a result I decided to postpone my touch up session until the new year. I’ll gladly have my touch up then hybernate for a few days before emerging, butterfly-like: a better, bolder, bossier-browed me.
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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.