Microshading: We Break Down The Natural-Looking Brow Procedure For Sensitive Skin
If you find yourself constantly filling in your brows, the question might have crossed your mind once or twice: Should I just get a permanent procedure? It might seem a little extreme—but tell that to the sparse-browed somebody who spends their morning routine with a brow pencil in hand.
But there's plenty to consider before giving your esthetician a ring: microblading, microfeathering, brow extensions (yes, really), and, finally, microshading. Let's start with that last one, shall we? Here's the breakdown of microshading, touted as the most natural-looking permanent brow procedure.
What is microshading?
If you're well-versed in your brow vocabulary, perhaps you're familiar with microblading—the permanent tattoo that promises full, lush brows. Well, microshading is another permanent makeup technique, similar to that of blading (or feathering). Only, it applies pigment using what's known as a stippling technique—where a technician creates a shading effect by depositing small dots of pigment. Those teeny dots create the illusion of fuller, fluffier brows: "It looks like the brow is almost powdered in," says brow expert Joey Healy.
Microshading versus microblading.
Essentially, the difference lies within the technique: Microshading uses that stippling effect to create tiny dots within the brow hairs. Microblading, on the other hand, uses full strokes to mimic the actual wisps of hair. "You can actually see the little hairlike strokes," Healy says, resulting in that heavily painted look you may have seen gracing your Instagram. "With microshading, the little dots ultimately end up looking more natural because it kind of looks like the brow is almost powdered in."
Microshading is also a little less invasive than microblading. According to Alicia Halpin, esthetician and owner of Foundation Beauty & Esthetics, microblading "essentially scratches the pigment into the skin," which can be mildly irritating. Because microshading pricks with small dots rather than handheld strokes, the process is typically much gentler on the skin.
Other than that, "They're very, very similar," says Healy. "It's just basically that the technique is different; you're not dragging the line." Some technicians will even combine both procedures, microblading with hairlike strokes in the front of the brow (to create more of a feathery effect) and shading toward the tail to emulate that natural finish.
Who should do it?
For those looking for a more natural fullness and symmetry in your brows, it might be worth it to look into microshading. With microblading, Healy explains that sometimes you can notice those faint, drawn-in lines; with microshading, the pigment is almost "powdered" in, creating a softer, more seamless finish. So for those just hopping on the tattooed brow bandwagon, perhaps look into shading; it's easier to create that barely filled brow and work your way up to a full look.
Microshading may also fare better for sensitive-skinned folk, as larger strokes of pigment (as with blading) can cause some irritation, remarks Halpin. Healy agrees, even noting that a microshading procedure usually hurts less than a typical microblading session. Of course, you should still proceed with caution, especially if you do have sensitive skin: Microshading is still a brow tattooing procedure, after all, and it might spark irritation for some. While the result may be more natural-looking, the procedure itself is certainly not—if you're looking for all-natural ways to sprout fluffy brows, we suggest investing in a brow serum with castor oil or peptides to spur hair growth.
How does it work?
It's essentially the same process as microblading: After applying a topical numbing agent, the technician will take a very fine-tipped needle and make teeny, tiny dots to deposit the pigment. (Perhaps it goes without saying, microshading is not a venture you should take on at home; always, always see a licensed professional.) "The entire process takes on average 90 minutes," Halpin notes.
In terms of aftercare, both experts suggest avoiding any heavy-duty chemical exfoliants for a few days, as well as any sweating or swimming. "You need to keep the area dry for 48 hours," says Halpin. Your technician will also likely give you a topical healing cream to apply for a few days. Which brings us to the final warning: Your brows might flake, itch, and scab after the procedure. Don't pick at those scabs! "If you do, you will be removing the pigment and create unevenness in the brows," Halpin warns.
Finally, let's talk touchups. There's some nuance here: Halpin explains that shaded brows can fade after three months, but Healy notes some people can actually wait up to 18 months without a follow-up. As a general rule, it depends on your skin type and preference. According to Healy, those with oily skin might need frequent routine touchups, whereas those with drier skin can get away with more time in between appointments. Nonetheless, routine upkeep is key: "The ink does change in color over time, and it often lifts off unevenly," he explains.
If you're in the market for permanent makeup, you might want to give microshading a thought. For those with sensitive skin looking for a natural fullness, it's an effective, yet gentler technique to give you the full, bushy brows you've always longed for.
Just be mindful that this permanent makeup is, well, permanent. If you have any qualms about tattooing your brows, you can always lean on the occasional brow tint (which fades after six weeks or so), or rely on brow serums to spur hair growth. Good news: There's much you can do if you feel your brows are more meager than most—perhaps try those avenues before diving straight into tattoos.
Jamie Schneider is the Associate Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.