When cosmetic tattoo outcomes are good, they tend to be very, very good. And when they’re bad, they’re awful. Really awful.
We tend to hear more about worst-case scenarios; the internet and tabloid TV are full of cosmetic tattoo horror stories, such as that of Brisbane woman Mary Malargic, who was left with garish semi-permanent makeup after a “cut price” job.
Ms Malagic sought the treatment because of dermatomyositis, a rare skin condition that prevents her from wearing cosmetics, Channel 9’s A Current Affair reported.
She jumped at the chance to have her eyebrows filled out, her lips contoured and eyes lined with cosmetic tattoo for just $300 at a local Turkish bath, hair and beauty salon (this amount of work would often cost about $2,000). She was devastated by the results.
GP Dr Brad Mckay, host of TV’s Embarrassing Bodies Australia, said there are numerous risks when having cosmetic tattoo procedures at venues other than those properly qualified and accredited.
Clients can end up with not just hideous-looking results but permanent scarring, skin infections or even serious, life-threatening illnesses such a Hepatitis B and C when needles are not cleaned properly by dodgy operators.
This is why it would benefit you as a salon, spa or clinic owner/manager or therapist to became familiar with reputable and talented cosmetic tattooists to whom to refer your clients when traditional makeup techniques can’t meet their needs. Think thinning (or non-existent) eyebrows, thin lips, “bald”- looking eyes.
Not to mention have nipples recreated after breast reconstruction post-mastectomy, or even have scars from penile extensions disguised.
If you are considering training to be a cosmetic tattooist, or sending staff members to be trained, be prepared to invest heavily in education, says Val Glover-Hovan, Australia’s most high-profile cosmetic tattooist, who pioneered the art in Australia nearly 30 years ago.
“Extensive training is absolutely essential,” says Val. “I have spent fortunes on it. But just as importantly, it requires true artistic flair, an eye for intricate detail and the utmost precision to achieve optimum aesthetic outcomes for clients.
“Beauty therapists and makeup artists do not automatically make good candidates – sometimes their aesthetic skills don’t translate to what is required of a cosmetic tattooist.
“If you, or someone you are funding for training do not possess these qualities, you will risk your own reputation – and, more importantly, short-change or even disfigure the appearance of future clients.
“So for the majority of salons, spas and clinics I would suggest identifying a cosmetic tattooist with a good reputation, solid experience and who boasts plenty of before and after success stories to whom to refer your clients.
“When they achieve the outcomes they are looking for that you can’t provide, they will be very grateful for your recommendation and this will only enhance your reputation and their loyalty to you.”
At 77, Val still treats around 40 clients a week at Cosmetic Tattoo Australia, has at least a three-month waiting list, and is as passionate about her work and its rewards as she was at the outset.
“Cosmetic tattooing can be truly life-changing – that is no exaggeration,” she says.
For instance, for women over 45 they start seeing significant changes to their appearance as they approach or hit menopause. On top of this, stress can do some very damaging things to the appearance. The impact on their self-esteem can be very debilitating.
“Eyebrows may start thinning or falling out altogether – with some woman, tragically, all their hair falls out.
“By re-contouring and filling in the brows it can powerfully enhance the entire appearance of the face and give a woman a massive boost of confidence in herself again.
“I would always recommend that someone who is self conscious about lips that are thinning with age – or are naturally thin – have them defined by cosmetic tattooing in a medium colour, which immediately makes the mouth look fuller, younger and more appealing.
“I believe it gives more effective and longer-lasting results than lip augmentation with dermal fillers.
“However, for clients who want even fuller lips and do opt for injectables, I would recommend they have the lips tattooed first, as it creates a beautiful contour and gives the injector `guidelines’ to work with.”
As with eyebrows, Val says a woman’s whole face can be made to look brighter and more attractive with the addition of semi-permanent eyeliner, especially as they age and the eyes are not as “big” as they once were, and/or their eyelashes are sparse.
But among the most rewarding work Val does is restoring the appearance of an areola after a woman has lost her nipple(s) as a result of breast cancer surgery, or “colouring in” skin grafts to match existing skin after a client has had an accident or major surgery.
She says she has at least 10 plastic surgeons who refer their patients to her for post-operative corrective work.
“[Treating skin that has been grafted] is not an easy task but very satisfying,” says Val. “One of my more memorable successes has been treating a man in his 60s whose entire forehead has been skin-grafted after surgery to remove a melanoma.
“The grafted skin looked very different from the rest of his face and so he had worn his hair over it for about 30 years.
“It took quite a few treatments with a beige colour; he was very patient.
“When he came back to see me after the forehead had been fully treated, he was wearing his hair back for the first time in decades. He looked like a different person, and younger, happier.
“He gave me a huge hug and said I had changed his life.”
Another surprising aspect of Val’s work – at least, this editor had never heard of it before – was treating penises.
“Men who’ve had penis enlargement surgery often want to disguise the white `giveaway’ scar at the tip, and so I match it with the colour of their rest of the flesh,” she says.
“One of the most difficult – but, again, rewarding – treatments I have ever performed was on a young man who’d had a botched later-life circumcision (the doctor who performed it has since been struck off).
“The shaft of his penis was literally raw and it started to develop necrosis.
“The poor man was in hospital for weeks. When a nurse started talking about possible amputation he immediately released himself from hospital and consulted Dr Google to find out if surgery existed that could restore his manhood.
“He found a `template’ for an operation that was conducted by a Danish surgeon. He found a surgeon here who was willing to replicate the procedure, which involved major skin grafting.
“The operation and recovery were gruelling but a success. However, he was left with a white, unnatural-looking penis shaft.
“I spent many hours over a long period of time restoring it to a natural-looking colour, but it was well worth the time and effort both of us put in to see the difference it made to his life and confidence as a man.”