Ep 46: Microblading, Brow Lamination & Soap Brows – A Dermatologist’s Guide to Eyebrow Care
Dr. Teo: Hi guys, this is Dr. Teo Wan Lin, and welcome to my podcast Dermatologist Talks: Science of Beauty. In this episode, we’re going to talk all about eyebrows, the different eyebrow treatment for sparse brows that are available such as microblading and brow lamination, and the benefits and risks of these eyebrow treatments.
Eyebrows are the focal point of the face
Dr. Teo: We’ve heard it said that the eyes are the windows, or the mirror to your soul. But, the eyebrows actually frame the eyes, as well as your entire face. Especially these days when we are all wearing a face mask in public. Your eyes are actually what people are first drawn to as a key focal point. Not just of how you look, but of your expressions and your personality. It often offers a clue to how you may feel.
The eyebrows are also the ultimate key to appearing well groomed with minimal makeup. Let me explain that a little bit more. A pair of well groomed brows is the ultimate thing that will draw people’s attention to your face. I want to share a little bit about my personal preferences about eyebrows. I would like to share that I do not like eyebrow tattoos. Not on myself but also when I see it on others. The older methods of eyebrow tattooing are no different from true tattoos. It includes a greenish-black ink, which over time, if not done well, also changes colour. It can also look rather unnatural.
Microblading: eyebrow treatment for sparse brows
Other newer techniques of eyebrow treatment for sparse brows, such as microblading, are actually borne out of the traditional method of tattooing. This is definitely a lot more natural looking. But, it still is injecting types of pigment in small amounts using a traditional tattoo gun in which many small needles are used. These needles will also draw these tiny hair strokes at the same time when they are depositing pigment under your skin. While it’s definitely a lot more natural-looking, from a medical perspective, it is very similar to the tattooing process. As it is essentially depositing semi permanent or permanent pigment.
Chelsea: Microblading, the modern form of eyebrow tattoos, works as a sort of semi-permanent eyebrow makeup that is used to fill in the brows. This process of inserting pigment into the skin’s upper layers allows the shaping and alterations of the brows. Resulting in brows that appear fuller and thicker.
Dr. Teo: The process of tattooing involves injecting pigment to the level of the skin known as the dermis. This is where if one were to suffer an allergic reaction to the tattoo ink, for example, inflammation will occur, causing something known as foreign body type of reaction. I have seen, for example, cases of granulomatous reactions, a systemic disorder known as sarcoidosis, which is triggered by tattoo procedures.
I think it’s very important for both dermatologists who are in the field of medicine and science, as well as lay persons to really understand these various eyebrow treatment for sparse brows, and what they entail. Because, it is marketed as a sort of cosmetic procedure that’s done easily in a beauty salon by beauticians and not by medically trained staff. The key here is that there is a realistic need for individuals, for example, who have lost their eyebrows, either due to chemical damage, or even a medical condition such as alopecia universalis – an autoimmune disorder. Microblading is then a very legitimate cosmetic procedure that can help to restore an individual’s self esteem by creating the appearance of natural looking brows.
Chelsea: Because the brows are a focal point on the face, I definitely agree, microblading can be extremely helpful. Especially for those who have lost their brow hair for whatever reason. While the immediate effects of microblading are pretty apparent, what about the long term effects?
What are the risks of microblading?
Dr. Teo: At the same time, we want to be aware of the potential downsides of these procedures. I am most concerned with the fact that there is a needle used in this case. You have to ensure that it is performed in a surgically sterile setting. This is not just about making sure that your instruments are new or say if they’ve just been heated over a flame. We’re talking about certain types of microorganisms that survive on clean instruments. However, when these clean instruments, which are not sterile are being used to inject pigment, say via a needle into the deeper layers of your skin, that can actually cause certain types of infections. I have seen atypical mycobacterial infections that arise from facial procedures. Even with facials where the beautician or the esthetician is merely trying to extract a comedone, or trying to squeeze a pimple.
Allergic inflammatory response
For microblading eyebrow tattoo procedures, when there is this deposition of tattoo pigment, as we mentioned before, it can actually elicit a foreign body type of reaction. This is when your body is mounting an allergic inflammatory response. Which has nothing to do with whether the instrument used was sterile, say it’s autoclaved by gamma radiation, which is the case for surgical instruments. Instead, it’s simply what we call an idiosyncratic reaction, which means it cannot be predicted. It also need not appear immediately, it can be a delayed sort of reaction. So in that sense, one has to be aware of these risks. And it may, of course, be a trigger in very unfortunate situations. For more serious systemic diseases like sarcoidosis which we have seen in patients with tattoos.
I personally have not yet seen a patient with this condition for those who have undergone microblading procedures. But in theory, it is definitely possible. There have been cases reported. Therefore, definitely do your research where you’re having your microblading done. There should be some sort of training and certification. Most importantly, do not try to DIY or go on a budget method of achieving these things on your own.
The dangers of DIY Microblading
Chelsea: That’s very important, I’ve seen horror stories of DIY microblading gone wrong as eyebrow treatment for sparse brows. For example, there can be risks of infection, overly deep cuts in the skin that result in scarring. Or, just plain bad results where things go wrong, where instead of looking natural, the brows end up looking asymmetrical. So we definitely want to leave this to the professionals. Moving on, what are the other brow treatments available?
Dr. Teo: Another type of eyebrow treatment for sparse brows that I want to talk about today is brow lamination. With brow lamination, it’s interesting because it really treats your existing brow hair. Hence, it’s not applicable for those who have no brow hair to begin with. Instead, it’s addressing the shape, as well as perhaps the texture and the fullness of eyebrows. So they’re actually using certain perming or relaxing chemicals such as those used in salons for hair. Amino thioglycolates are examples of the chemicals which are being used to break the bonds of your brow hair. This is done in order to change the shape and also perhaps to increase the appearance of fullness for sparse brows.
Chelsea: Brow lamination is also another popular treatment that some may prefer over microblading. While this isn’t an invasive procedure, it is not without risks of its own.
What are the potential risks and side effects of brow lamination?
Brittle hair from exposure to harsh chemicals
Dr. Teo: I feel that there is a risk that individuals who perform this on a regular basis. They may lose their brows, simply because these perms or relaxers actually chemically treat your hair. This does make the hair more brittle. Furthermore, the skin over your eyebrows under your eyebrows is also considered quite delicate. First of all it’s facial skin. Unlike, for example, the skin on your scalp, which is a lot more resilient – it’s much thicker.
Additionally, brow hair itself can be quite fine. This is the same with eyelashes. So over many treatments, and especially if you have an allergic reaction that can occur immediately or over many months or years, your underlying skin can develop redness, flaking, and may even become a form of persistent dermatitis. The basic rule of thumb is this. Try to minimise exposure to chemicals that actually break or change the bonds of your hair.
Hair is actually considered dead. It’s made up of keratin, which makes it very amenable to styling. Brow lamination, for example, is a rather creative application. Additionally, it does give a rather satisfactory result for individuals who are sick of having to fill in their brows or having to groom them. But it is definitely not without its risks as well.
Eyebrow hack: Soap brows
On this note, there is a DIY hack of using a soap bar to try to laminate your brows on your own. This hack is quite ingenious. It’s sid to be an old Hollywood makeup trick where you use soap to shape your brows to hold it in place. I think that is a lot less harmful than the use of the chemicals in true brow lamination, which is performed in salons. However, the other thing of course, is the soap bar itself isn’t actually meant for leave on application.
For most people, it works a little bit like a styling wax. Especially if you do not apply large quantities of it onto your brows and it does not get into the skin. However, if it is a soap bar, the content of the laureth sulfate would be higher than in a shower gel or shower cream. This is why most dermatologists recommend avoiding bar soaps for individuals who have sensitive, dry skin.
Verdict: not suitable for dry or sensitive skin
Chelsea: I’ve come across the ‘soap brow’ hack! I always thought it was just a safe, fun way to easily style the eyebrows. But I do also have pretty sensitive skin, so this might be something I want to avoid.
Tip: Use well tolerated ingredients
Dr. Teo: I think the important point to take home here is we all want beautiful brows. However, we also should think of a sustainable, healthy way to increase the growth of your eyebrows and also maintain a beautiful, well groomed appearance. So how do we set about doing that? I personally treat my brows with a peptide formula that’s also meant for use on lashes. This has been proven in a clinical study to encourage the growth of eyelash hair. I have also applied this to the brows.
The Eyelash and Brow Growth Enhancer is a dual oligopeptide serum clinically designed to thicken and lengthen eyelashes upper and lower lashes after 2 weeks of use so they look lush, healthy and revitalized–for younger looking eyes.
The key thing here is it is very well tolerated by both the sensitive periorbital area as well as the brow area. Another thing is that I use a special wax formula to style my brows which is based on a certain fatty acid – linoleic acid,and also contains other antioxidants, which are healthy for your skin and your brow hair. Essentially we want your brow hair to be resilient to avoid breakage, not just at the roots, but also at the ends.
The Brow Laminator Kit is made with a nourishing formula of a proprietary mix of potent botanical oil trio, designed to thicken the appearance of sparse brows, repair the skin barrier, and deep condition for shine and softness
Chelsea: That makes sense! At the end of the day, we want to make sure whatever we’re applying on our face – and that includes the brows as well – are safe and beneficial for the delicate skin around the eye. Today we’ve covered the process of microblading and brow lamination, how they work, and the potential risks these treatments may come with. We also talk about seemingly harmless ‘hacks’ such as soap brows and why those with dry, sensitive skin should not be using this method.
Well that’s it for today’s episode. You can follow Dr. Teo on instagram @drteowanlin for the latest podcast updates, and remember to check out our website at www.scienceofbeauty.net for the full episode transcript.