Permanent makeup -- color applied to the facial skin to resemble lip liner, eyeliner or eyebrows -- is among the trickiest of tattoos to remove. Just ask the woman whose lips turned black and eyebrows yellow.
The case, reported by a team of dermatologists last year in the journal Dermatologic Surgery, was an extreme example of what can go wrong when doctors use lasers to attempt to remove certain colors of tattoos, such as the reds and browns used in permanent makeup.
Such tattoos are popular among women who want to save time applying makeup or who want to appear as if they have makeup on all the time. But, eventually, the colors can change -- as can the face's contours, resulting in makeup that looks distorted. Requests for removals are common, doctors say.
One Miami woman who had tired of her red lip liner and brown eyebrow tattoos requested laser removal of the ink, recounts New York dermatologist James Spencer. After the first laser treatment, however, the woman's red lip liner turned black and her eyebrows turned bright orange. The black faded after another laser treatment, but the eyebrow color turned yellow and dark green. Several additional laser treatments over a period of weeks were required to rid the eyebrows of most of the tropical hues.
"Cosmetic tattoos can be interesting," says Spencer, vice chairman of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and one of the doctors who reported the case. "But it can be alarming to the patient if you don't explain this could happen in advance."
Different lasers and numerous treatments must sometimes be used to address various colors. Spencer said the Miami woman's eyebrows might have proved problematic because the tattoo artist had used several colors to achieve a brown tone.
Removing permanent makeup requires patience, added Dr. Harold Lancer, a Beverly Hills dermatologic surgeon.
One of Lancer's patients regretted her tattooed eyebrows almost immediately. Sally Hermann of Acton, Calif., had the ink applied in April 2002 to thicken the appearance of her eyebrows. But she experienced inflammation and itching.
A medication prescribed by her doctor failed to calm the allergic reaction and Hermann, 64, was referred to Lancer, who began the long process of trying to remove the ink.
"It was so hard," Hermann said. "It took me going to Beverly Hills every week for a while, then once a month, for a year. It cost me $3,000."
"It was a matter of treating and waiting, treating and waiting," Lancer recalls. "Removals are never, ever, a quick fix."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.