Permanent makeup doesn't rub off, but makes doctors see red

July 31, 1991|By Roy H. Campbell | Roy H. Campbell,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA Betty Ann Stewart, 43, a nurse who lives in Cherry Hill, loves wearing makeup. But she hates applying it each day. So recently, Stewart did what hundreds of women nationwide have done.

She opted for permanent makeup.

Now Stewart's lips glisten with color that doesn't rub off, her eyeliner will never smudge, and her eyebrows, once plucked out of existence, are thick-looking and jet-black.

And it only cost her $1,600.

"I love it," said Stewart, soon after undergoing a controversial new procedure in which microdots of pigment (color) were applied to her face in a technique similar to tattooing. "A lot of people thought I was crazy for doing this, but I think it's great."

Five years ago, about the only permanent makeup available was eyeliner a beauty treatment that raised eyebrows in the medical field but enticed top models and doe-eyed megastar Michael Jackson to undergo the procedure.

Now, the eternal beauty quest that brought on the cosmetic-surgery rage has led women to seek out technicians, beauticians and cosmetics experts for permanent lip color, lipliner and rouge.

The process is also being used on men to enhance eyelashes, eyebrows and to camouflage thinning scalps. Another form of permanent makeup is used to cover moles, scars and uneven complexions.

Permanent makeup is achieved by injecting pigment under the skin with the needle of a refined tattoo gun. The makeup fades to more subtle shades after a few weeks, but does not smudge and cannot be removed.

The number of practitioners of this procedure, which started in California, is slowly increasing. But, while many women testify to the benefits of permanent cosmetics, there are some concerns.

The industry is so new that it is virtually unregulated. There is no licensing agency or governing certification board.

There is also no specific state or federal agency that monitors the practitioners for safety or health concerns.

Some in the medical community voice strong opposition to this latest wrinkle in the multibillion-dollar beauty industry.

"No one in their right mind would have this done," said Dr. Gerald S. Lazarus, chairman of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. "I think that this is something that people should really talk to their physicians about. This is not something that anybody would endorse; something that dermatology and organized medicine finds objective."

Lazarus and others in the medical field, including some of the country's leading ophthalmology and dermatology organizations, say that the procedures are fraught with potential problems from allergic reaction to the dyes to scarring and the spread of hepatitis and other diseases through the needle used to inject the dyes.

Eye doctors are particularly worried.

Dr. W. Baker Anderson, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at Duke University, said he would not recommend permanent eyeliner.

"The pigment used for the eyeliner tattoo behaves just like every other tattoo the pigment tends to fade with time," Anderson said. "The pigment also migrates so that what may be a thin line ends up being a wider line. There are patients that have lost lashes because of ... the procedure."

Also, when the procedure for eyeliner first debuted in the mid-1980s, it was performed by ophthalmologists or plastic surgeons. Now that laymen are doing it, doctors say that the practice should be more closely monitored.

Said Lazarus: "There are all sorts of reactions to pigment and dyes. In my view this permanent makeup is really inappropriate and irresponsible."

Permanent-makeup technicians strongly defend their practices. They say that they test for allergic reactions, use disposable needles to avoid the risk of infection, and that, while medical problems could arise, they are rare.

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