Noticing more hair in your brush than before? If your ponytail isn’t as robust as it once was, you’re not alone. While we associate the issue more with men, nearly half of Americans dealing with hair thinning are women, according to the American Hair Loss Association. Though treatments for thinning hair abound, most don’t produce immediate results. (See: Everything You Need to Know About Hair Loss)
That’s why scalp microblading, which provides an instant change in your hair’s appearance, is quickly gaining popularity. (ICYMI, so is tattooing concealer your under eyes.)
You’ve probably heard the hype about brow microblading—the semi-permanent tattoo technique that mimics the look of real hairs to add thickness to sparse brows. Well, over the last few years, the same procedure has been adapted for the scalp area to camouflage hair loss. We talked to experts to get the deets. Read on for everything you need to know about this new treatment.
How does it work?
Like brow microblading, scalp microblading is a temporary tattooing procedure that embeds cosmetic pigments into the dermis (unlike a permanent tattoo where ink is deposited below the dermis). The idea is to recreate natural-looking strokes that replicate the appearance of real hair and conceal any thinning areas on the scalp.
“Microblading can be useful for someone seeking cosmetic improvement for hair loss, but it’s important to understand that it won’t regrow hair,” says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology. Conversely, the procedure won’t inhibit hair growth either, since the penetration of the ink is superficial—not as deep as the hair follicle itself.
According to Ramon Padilla, the founder and creative director at EverTrue Microblading Salon in New York City, the most dramatic results can be seen when the treatment, which requires two sessions—an initial one, plus a “perfecting” session six weeks later—is applied to the hairline, the part, and the temples.
A tattoo on my scalp? Won’t it hurt like hell?
Padilla swears the procedure involves minimal discomfort. “We apply a topical numbing, so there is virtually no sensation.” Phew.
So, is it safe?
“The risk of scalp microblading is similar to the risk of a tattoo,” says Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin. “Any foreign substance placed into the skin can potentially cause an allergic reaction, infection, or inflammatory reaction.” (Related: This Woman Says She Got a “Life-Threatening” Infection After a Microblading Treatment)
Since dermatologists don’t usually perform microblading, it’s important to choose a highly trained provider. Inquire about their credentials: Where did they train? How long have they been performing scalp microblading? If possible, find a technician who works in a dermatologist’s office in the case of any potential complications, says Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin.
Above all, your provider should work in a clean, sterile environment. “As with any tattoos, hygiene standards need to be at the highest level in order to eliminate microbial contamination from the needles, devices, and utilities,” says Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin. Having a consultation is a great low-stakes way to gather info about a microblading professional’s safety practices. Consider asking: Will you do a patch test to check for any possible allergic reaction? Do you wear gloves during the procedure? Do you use sterile, single-use disposable tools and discard them after the treatment?
It’s also a good idea to inquire about the pigments they work with—all ingredients should be FDA-approved for cosmetic use. Plus, be on the lookout for pigments that contain vegetable dyes, which may shift color over time and turn into a shade that doesn’t match your natural hair.
Who should get scalp microblading?
“If you have an underlying skin condition such as eczema, psoriasis, or vitiligo, it’s important to consult with your dermatologist as microblading can exacerbate these conditions,” says Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin. There are also possible risks for people with the herpes simplex virus, she adds, since microblading can potentially reactivate the virus responsible for outbreaks. Anyone with a history of hypertrophic or keloid scarring should avoid microblading altogether.
Apart from these concerns, the treatment produces the best results for those with some existing hair, according to Padilla. Microblading involves artfully blending tattooed strokes with your natural hair, so you’re more likely to recreate the realistic effect of a lush, healthy mane in areas where you still have hair growth. If your hair loss is more severe with larger bald patches, scalp microblading may not be your best bet.
“Clients who have very oily skin are not good candidates for the treatment,” Padilla adds. With oily skin, the pigment tends to smudge, making it difficult to achieve the illusion of individual strands of hair.
What’s the recovery process like?
“There’s no downtime,” says Padilla, so you can go to work, to the gym, or out for a keto-friendly cocktail the same day. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need to avoid washing your hair for a week to let the color settle. And on the subject of color, don’t freak out if the treated areas of your scalp appear darker at first. This is a totally normal part of the healing process—the color will lighten to your desired hue. “Since the ink is placed superficially into the dermis layer of the skin, your immune system will naturally remove the pigment over time,” explains Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin. (Related: People Are Tattooing Their Under-Eyes As a Way to Cover Up Dark Circles)
To ensure proper healing post-tat, Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin recommends using a water-based lotion or cream. And, if you’re going to be in the sun, don’t forget to apply broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen to protect your scalp (and to prevent the dye from fading).
How long do results last?
Up to a year, says Padilla, adding that results may vary depending on skin type, sun exposure, and how often you wash your hair.
How much does it cost?
You might need to crack open the piggy bank you were saving for a rainy day. Treatments can run you anywhere from $700 to $1,100 depending on the size and scope of the scalp area. But if you’re feeling really discouraged about your hair loss, splurging on scalp microblading might be worth the cost—there’s nothing more valuable than feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin, tattooed or not.