How to Become a Permanent Makeup Artist

With a natural eye for balance and esthetics, and an interest in the latest trends in the beauty industry, it’s no surprise that you are drawn to permanent makeup artistry. With permanent makeup gaining in popularity among women who feel naked without lipstick or those who are tired of penciling in eyebrows everyday, this unique subset of the cosmetology industry has done nothing but grown since its introduction more than 30 years ago.

Permanent makeup artistry is a dynamic area of cosmetology that consists of using tattooing to define or enhance facial features.

Permanent makeup artists, also commonly referred tattoo makeup artists, tattoo specific facial features as to create the appearance of cosmetics, such as eyeliner, lip liner, and lip color. These beauty professionals may also use tattooing to cover up imperfections, such as scars and burns, or to create areolas on women (called areola re-pigmentation) who have had reconstructive surgeries and mastectomies.

Permanent makeup services may include:

  • Eyebrows
  • Eyeliner
  • Full lip color
  • Lip liner
  • Nipple/areola pigmentation
  • Scar camouflage/re-pigmentation
  • Tattoo lightening
  • Eye shadow
  • Cheek blush

Permanent makeup, also called permanent cosmetics, derma-pigmentation, or micro-pigmentation, had its beginnings in the late 1980s. Permanent makeup is a form of tattooing that involves inserting color pigments into the skin’s dermis to simulate cosmetic makeup. Permanent makeup artistry may be performed using a number of devices, including the traditional tattoo coil machine, the pen or rotary machine, and a non-machine (hand) device.

Who are Permanent Makeup Artists?

As a unique cross between tattoo artistry and cosmetology, permanent makeup artistry, according to the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, is a specialized service within the mainstream beauty industry that continues to grow in popularity and appeal to both men and women from all walks of life.

Permanent makeup artistry is clearly pursued most often by practicing professionals in the beauty industry. Nearly 37 percent of permanent makeup artists are licensed cosmetologists, while 30 percent are estheticians, and nearly 18 percent are nail technicians. Just 12 percent are licensed as traditional tattoo artists, as reported in the 2012 professional survey conducted by the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals.

The survey also found the following information regarding today’s permanent makeup artists:

  • The majority of permanent makeup artists (37.3 percent) perform permanent makeup artistry in the Western region of the United States, followed by the Southern region (28.4 percent), the Northeast region (19.6 percent), and then the Midwest region (14.7 percent).
  • California was the top state for permanent makeup artistry in the U.S., accounting for more than 63 percent of makeup artists in the Western region, followed by Arizona, Washington State, and Nevada.
  • The top state for permanent makeup artists in the Northeast was Pennsylvania, which was home to 55 percent of all makeup artists, followed by New York and Delaware.
  • Iowa was the top state for permanent makeup artists in the Midwest, with 26.7 percent of all makeup artists, followed by Ohio, Illinois, and Minnesota.
  • Georgia has the most makeup artists (31 percent) in the Southern region of the U.S., followed by Texas and Florida.
  • The vast majority (94.6 percent) of practicing permanent makeup artists are female.
  • Eighty-four percent of permanent makeup artists are self-employed, followed by 17 percent who work as independent contractors. Of those permanent makeup artists who are self-employed, about 81 percent work alone.
  • Nearly 40 percent of permanent makeup artists work in permanent cosmetics facilities, followed by full-service salons at nearly 24 percent, doctor offices at 18 percent, and day spas at 17 percent.

How to Become a Permanent Makeup Artist: Classes and Schools

No nationwide laws exist for permanent makeup artists; instead, the regulation and licensing of these beauty professionals is left up to each state. Permanent makeup artists are often licensed by their state cosmetology board, department of health, or tattooing board, and a number of states leave regulation and licensing of permanent makeup artists up to county or city governments.

For example, in Wyoming and Florida, the licensing of permanent makeup artists is left up to the state health department, while in Tennessee and Oregon permanent makeup artists must carry tattoo artist licenses. In Pennsylvania, the county health departments handle permanent makeup artist licensure, while in Alaska and Washington, these beauty professionals are licensed by the state cosmetology board.

Requirements for licensure vary quite a bit. For example, permanent makeup artists in Rhode Island must carry both a cosmetology license and a tattoo license, while in Nevada, permanent makeup artists must complete a six-month apprenticeship to qualify for licensure with the state cosmetology board. In Virginia, permanent makeup artists must complete an educational program of at least 1,500 hours, while in Alaska candidates for a permanent makeup artist license must complete an apprenticeship of 380 hours.

Regardless of licensing requirements, the majority of states will require you, at a minimum, to complete a training or formal educational program that includes study in health and safety protocols, including bloodborne pathogen training.

Bloodborne pathogen training is mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for workers who may be exposed to blood on the job. Specifically, a training program in bloodborne pathogens will teach you how to properly handle infectious materials safely, as well as proper waste-disposal and hand-washing methods.

Other minimum requirements for permanent makeup artists generally includes being at least 18 years old, submitting to tests for hepatitis and other communicable diseases, and completing first aid/CPR training.

The Institution of Education Sciences recommends that permanent makeup artistry training include the following components:

  • Anatomy of the skin
  • Disease and disorder training
  • Skin preparation and anesthetics
  • Color theory
  • Machine and needle selection and operation
  • Blemish or beauty mark addition/removal
  • Aftercare of permanent cosmetic procedures
  • Application of permanent cosmetics

There are a multitude of schools that offer specialized certificate and degree programs in tattoo makeup artistry, all of which are designed to provide both hands-on and theory study in this specialized cosmetic technique.

You may also find that a number of schools offer coursework specific to areas such as medical micro-pigmentation, tattoo removal, and medical tattooing.

Once a recognized program or apprenticeship has been successfully completed, you may need to take and pass a specific examination to demonstrate your skills and knowledge to become licensed.

Advancing Your Career in Permanent Makeup Artistry

Choosing a permanent makeup artist for most people is a daunting prospect, as permanent makeup artists must be talented, precise, and safe. Therefore, you may choose to become a member or earn certification through a national professional association as to display your commitment and dedication to the profession and to the safe and professional practice of permanent makeup artistry.

Because so many permanent makeup artists work as business owners or independent contractors, you may be well served by completing coursework or training in business management and marketing and learning more about the process of starting and operating your own business.

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