Joy Magazine

Faces that last

Sharron Cunningham of Grants Pass gets a touch-up on her eyebrows from permanent-cosmetics artist Patti Britton at Complete Beauty Touch in Medford.Photos by Bob Pennell

At 70 years old, Grants Pass resident Sharron Cunningham is not your typical tattoo client.

Lying comfortably in a salon-style chair at Complete Beauty Touch in Medford, having a relaxed conversation with permanent-cosmetics artist Patti Britton, Cunningham recently had her eyebrows retouched. Britton had tattooed the brows years earlier.

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Cosmetic tattoos are offered by a handful of artists in the Rogue Valley.

Tattooing on the face takes about an hour and a half and includes the following options:

Eyeliner: $350 to $450; most artists offer free or low-cost follow-up visits for touch-ups

Eyebrows: $350 to $395

Lips: $350 to $395 for lining; add $100 to have lips colored

Blush and eye shadow are less common services but available for similar fees.

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"When I first had them done, I was a little nervous," Cunningham admits.

"But the only bruising I had was on my hands — from squeezing them thinking it was going to hurt so much."

Suffering from glaucoma and wearing trifocals, Cunningham says her eyes are sensitive, so putting on eyeliner was difficult at best. In her 60s, when she had the tattoos done the first time, she felt they were thinner than she wanted them to be.

Permanent cosmetics offer women the ability to look made up without having to constantly reapply or remove makeup, explains Britton.

"I love it because I wear trifocals, so when I take my glasses off, it's kind of hard to see to put makeup on," Cunningham says. "But also because it does so much for how I feel about myself."

Britton says Cunningham is one of hundreds she has tattooed since she began offering the service about two decades ago. Not a new technology, permanent cosmetics are applied, most often, with a small tattoo gun using special cosmetic-grade inks that hold up well and doesn't spread out like standard tattoo inks.

Britton began offering the service in the early 1990s, first doing "lots of eyebrows." From clients who didn't know how to apply makeup well to those with health issues — poor vision, shaky hands or allergies to traditional makeup — "it was a big help to these women," Britton says.

Central Point resident Debbie Bell says the time she saves getting ready each day and the money she saves on cosmetics paid for having her tattoos.

Permanent eyebrows, eyeliner and lip liner cost around $395 each, while having lips lined and filled costs about $100 more.

Bell, who had eyeliner done almost a decade ago, has experienced minimal fading and said she wouldn't be without her tattoos.

Both Britton and permanent-cosmetic artist Jeanie King urge women considering the service to get references, ask to see pictures and hire only a professional with years of experience.

"It's your face," says King, who has offered the service for about two decades. She says the most crucial part of deciding on permanent cosmetics is researching local artists and choosing the right person to do the job.

"It's easier to get it right the first time than have it removed."

Dermatologist Doug Naversen agrees.

Naversen, who sometimes removes unwanted tattoos and fixes mess-ups — such as eyebrows in the wrong place or colors that have became dated — says the process is not without side effects.

On the extreme end of things, permanent cosmetics can cause an allergic reaction in a small percentage of individuals. Certain colors don't hold up well, he says, and some are difficult to remove.

"Some of the flesh-colored tattoos, when we laser them, immediately turn dark and aren't 'laser-able,' " Naversen says.

"They have to be excised and stitched, and when you remove something surgically, you can end up with some scarring."

But if the right look is achieved, many women really enjoy their tattoos, Bell says.

"You can get up in the morning, and it doesn't look like an eraser hit you in the face — you're not blank or looking like you're needing your face put on," Bell says.

"With this, it looks like you're always OK and ready to go somewhere. You can cry, go swimming, take a shower. You wake up in the morning, and you still look halfway decent. Anyone who has had it done and liked their results would probably recommend it.

"I absolutely love it, and if it ever did fade away, which it can, I would want to have it be put back right away!"

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