We get this question all the time, every day, from nearly every client – and it’s a good question to ask! When we say that we custom mix every pigment to suit each individual client, many clients assume we’re talking about their brow hair color, and that that’s what we strive to match. Good guess, but nope!
While your brow hair and natural coloring do play an informative part in our pigment selection, what’s most important to us is your SKIN. Once your tattoo heals, it will permanently reside comfy and cozy inside your skin – another reason why a healed brow tattoo is never going to entirely replicate the look of brow makeup, which sits on top of the skin. Your healed brow tattoo will always be seen through your skin’s natural tone, sort of like a veil, and this plays a major role in deciding which exact formulation of pigment will ensure beautiful brows for the long term.
Let’s get nerdy for a sec. Skin tones are broken down into six Fitzpatrick levels (“Fitz levels”). When PMU artists first learn about these levels it can seem like common sense to look at a fair-skinned person and label them a “1”, and a darker-skinned person and easily say “oh, they’re a 5/6.” But again, it’s not that easy! What dictates a person’s Fitz level is the way their skin reacts to Ultraviolet light (think: the sun), NOT necessarily the way their skin looks to the naked eye. This means two people can have skin tones that look similar at first glance but if one tans more easily and the other tends to burn, this will put them at different Fitz levels. Similarly, one person’s skin tone can look darker to the naked eye than another’s, but they may actually be the same Fitz level if their skin reacts to UV light the same way. But we’re just getting started.
Ascertaining a client’s Fitzpatrick level is just one of the first pieces of information we use when deciding how to mix your pigment. Like I said above, we also take your natural coloring into account: for example, if a client is on the cusp of a Fitz 3/4 but has deeper undertones or darker hair, we know that mixing a lighter pigment will not yield the best healed results and that mixing a pigment with a little added oomph (depth, if we’re getting technical) will heal in their skin nicer.
As I’ve explained to many clients, this is also the beauty of having you return in 6-8 weeks to see your healed results – sometimes we, as artists, prefer to err on the side of caution when mixing pigment, and like to stay conservative at the first session. I would much rather have to add a bit of depth at a client’s perfecting session than risk packing too much pigment into their skin at the initial session; it’s much easier to add than it is to take away!
Another aspect we look at when determining your ideal pigment formula is skin type – normal/oily/combo/dry. This is why that’s one of the first questions we ask when discussing your goals for your appointment! Clients with oily skin or larger pores are going to heal and “retain” pigment differently from someone with normal/dry skin and smaller pores. We need to take as many of these individual lifestyle factors into consideration in order to best predict how the pigment will settle in your skin and remain there over time.
Selecting the color formulation with a given pigment is one thing, but PMU artists work with so many pigments – how do we decide which to use? If you’ve seen our pigments shelves at Inkvictus, you’ve likely noticed several different brands and lines that we work with. We combine all of the information we gather about you – your skin coloring, texture, age, maturity, and on and on – and make our most educated decision about choosing not only a color, but a pigment line.
Pigments can be formulated a variety of different ways and without boring you too much, all pigments begin with a compound (powder) that needs an excipient (carrier or emulsifier) to make it a liquid that we can work with to implant into skin. These powders can be organic, inorganic, or a hybrid of both, and two of the most common excipients are water and glycerin. Thinking of all the permutations that can be created with these variables is enough to make your head spin, and PMU artists are making these calculations rapid-fire on the fly like the math lady meme. Knowing which pigment lines contain which powder bases and which excipients creates a flowchart in our brains, and we input the information we gather on your skin type and tone, your lifestyle, your goals for your healed brows, and make our best-informed decision on the pigment formulation we feel will be best for your skin long term.
So many things go into the chemistry behind mixing the ideal pigment formula for you. This is why it’s true when we say that we could use the exact same formulation and set of ratios on two different people, and their healed brows would look nothing alike – your skin’s texture, age, porosity, undertones, and more all go into how your brows will look over time. We want your brows to look beautiful today, of course, but we also want them to look beautiful in six months, in a year, and beyond.
As all of these factors combine to dictate healed results, it’s so important to choose an artist who has an extensive knowledge of skin, is familiar with the pigments they work with, and has seen enough of their own healed results to make tweaks here and there and learn from their own experience. Nothing about brows is one size fits all, from the mapping down to the pigment – every set is bespoke and designed specifically for you!