Kate Foster
May 27, 2020 10:02 am
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Kate Foster

Welcome to Try Before You Buy, a monthly series where we talk about the pricey beauty products and in-office treatments that are getting major buzz and give our honest feedback. This month, freelance beauty editor Kate Foster covers lip blushing, the semi-permanent tattooing procedure that can alter the color, shape, and symmetry of your lips.

When it comes to beauty, I’ll try pretty much anything once. As a beauty reporter, I’ve tried many treatments such as bikini waxes and spray tans—not because I necessarily wanted these treatments, but because who was I to write about beauty with authority if I hadn’t experienced these two (very popular) treatments? I still pride myself on my experimental tendencies, so when I first heard about lip blushing (semi-permanent tattooing of the lips to enhance their color and shape), my gears started turning.

There was just one caveat, though: I really love my lips. As a woman, they’re one of the only physical features I haven’t felt self-conscious about. What if I had my lips blushed and something terrible happened? What if I ended up with the faded, discolored permanent makeup that was so popular in the ’90s? Still, my inner guinea pig told me to push through my hesitation. I’d only be enhancing my favorite feature, I reassured myself. But if I was going to do this, I was going to be tattooed by the best in the business—and experts unanimously recommended Christopher Drummond, a licensed aesthetician and microblading and cosmetic tattoo master at PFRANKMD Skin Salon in New York City.

When I arrived for my appointment, I was relieved to immediately have my lips slathered in topical numbing cream. (This may surprise some people, as I’ve lost count of the number of tattoos on my body. But I’m adamant that anyone who claims their tattoos didn’t hurt has a high tolerance for lying, not for pain.) While it absorbed, Drummond asked me all about my dream lip hue—a very subtle, rosy pink—and got to work mixing a custom shade. (Some clients bring in their favorite tube of lipstick to attempt to color-match, apparently.) Next, he outlined the shape of my mouth with a red lip pencil, pointing out imperfections in tone and symmetry he could correct, then handed me a handheld mirror. I checked to make sure his outline looked symmetrical to my eye, too. Essentially, this line would serve as a signal of “you shall not pass” for his tattooing machine.

Let’s talk about that machine for a minute. While traditional tattoo artists use a very strong machine to deposit synthetic pigments deep into the dermis, Drummond uses organic pigments with a more modern, digital tool that allows for multiple configurations of needles to line, shade and pixilate (or create small, indiscernible dots on) the lips. And, unlike traditional tattoos, lip blushing fades after one to two years, like microblading does.

When Drummond asked if I was ready, I attempted to give him an affirmative response and instead blabbered out a strange noise and drooled a little. (My lips were so numb. We both cracked up.) I braced myself and…huh? I felt almost nothing aside from a little pressure, almost as if someone were running a finger across my mouth. According to Drummond, our lips are so porous that they’re much more efficient at absorbing materials like numbing cream than other parts of our bodies. He went to work outlining my mouth, then filling in each lip. By creating a slight ombré effect that became lighter in the center of my mouth, he mimicked a fuller pout. The entire procedure took about an hour and a half with one break to reapply the numbing cream, and it was completely painless. I left Drummond’s office, picked up a tub of Aquaphor that I was to apply non-stop over the next several days (pretty much the only required aftercare), and headed home.

Between the subtle look, minimal discomfort, and low-maintenance aftercare of lip blushing, I’d recommend it to almost everyone I know. I say almost everyone because if you tend to panic if things don’t immediately turn out as promised, this treatment may not be for you. When I woke up the following morning, my lips were insanely dry and deep brown, not unlike a raisin. Honestly, it wasn’t ugly, but it was definitely not the adorable pink tone Drummond and I had discussed. As a frequent guinea pig, though, I knew that this was all part of the healing process. My mouth felt dry and flaky all day despite the many layers of balm I applied, and by the next day, only a brown outline remained. On the third day, my lips had completely shed their strange raisin-like cocoon, and the gorgeous, rosy pink finally emerged. My lips felt drier than usual for a few more days, then returned completely to normal—just prettier.

Also notable: If you decide to get lip blushing done, don’t be surprised if you require a touch-up appointment. It’s not only part of the process, but it’s expected. A line a few millimeters long on the edge of my upper lip remained darker than the rest of my mouth a few months after my initial appointment, so I booked a follow-up with Drummond. It was essentially a repeat of the first appointment, with a little extra attention given to the problem area to blend the line into the rest of my lip.

I’m nothing short of obsessed with the results. I get compliments on my “natural” lip color so regularly, I’ve come up with a quick, automated response that they’re not natural, actually, they were tattooed, but not in a scary way. It definitely made me, the ultimate lipstick junkie, feel less reliant on lip color as a source of confidence. And now that I’ve been quarantined in my Brooklyn apartment for two and a half months, my petal-pink lips have been extra helpful for looking polished on the fly for video calls—and generally feeling put together with zero makeup on.