In 1902, legendary U.K. tattoo artist Sutherland MacDonald began using his skills to apply “makeup” to his clients that would never rub off. Soon, more and more people started seeing services promising “permanent complexions” and “rosy cheeks that will last all your life.” The cosmetic tattooing industry was born, although it would not emerge in its modern form until the early 1980s. As a permanent makeup artist today, you can earn good money coloring lips and cheeks, creating the illusion of fuller, more defined eyebrows, or even camouflaging scars from burns or surgeries. Either way, it all starts with learning the craft in a school and earning the license you need to start your career.
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What Does a Permanent Makeup Artist Do?
As a permanent makeup artist you’ll use specialized ink and several different kinds of tools to create a long-lasting change to the appearance, complexion, and color of your clients’ skin. The most popular treatments involve lip pigment, eyeliner, lash enhancement, and work to the eyebrows, where you’ll simulate thicker, more defined hair through modern techniques such as microblading.
These common treatments are the ones you’ll learn first as a beginner and will perform most frequently in a salon or spa setting. Spas and salons, however, are not your only potential work environments, and these procedures do not represent the totality of the craft.
As a cosmetic tattoo artist, you might also employ microblading techniques to create the illusion of thicker hair on the head. You might work with burn victims or cancer survivors to conceal scarring after reconstructive surgery or mastectomies. You could also learn the skills necessary to hide pigment defects or create consistent color on multi-toned skin. Our careers page explores these specialties and many others in greater detail.
Like everyone in the beauty industry, you’ll have to develop exceptional skills in hygiene, safety, sanitization, and cleanliness if you want to go far. Your success and reputation will be based on client perception, your level of professionalism, and the degree of confidence you instil.
How to Become a Permanent Makeup Artist
The path to becoming a permanent makeup artist varies depending on where you live, your education background, and what path you want to follow. You might start by earning an esthetician license, then pursue voluntary certification in cosmetic tattooing. Or, you might dive right into a permanent makeup program at the very beginning. If it’s not included in your program, an apprenticeship or other supervised mentorship can be incredibly helpful. In some states, you might have to pass exams to earn a license.
Permanent Makeup Programs
Applying makeup that your clients can never wash off is a hefty responsibility. You need to become a master of the trade’s tools and techniques before you sit down with your first paying customer. The program you choose, however, will depend on your state, as licensing and professional requirements vary considerably from one place to the next.
Most cosmetology programs don’t include permanent makeup courses, but many training academies offer multi-day sessions, some of which lead to certification in the specialties those programs teach. Some of those schools only accept students who already have esthetician licenses, since estheticians are already trained in traditional makeup application and well-versed in the fundamentals of skincare.
What Are the Requirements for Enrolling in Permanent Makeup School?
The requirements vary by state and occasionally by program, but the following are common prerequisites:
- A high school diploma, GED, or equivalent credential
- Be at least 18 years of age
- A valid Social Security number and driver's license, passport, or other official ID
- Some schools only take students who already work in a related field and/or hold a license in their area
How Long Does It Take to Complete a Permanent Makeup Program?
It can take anywhere from a few days to a few years to complete a permanent makeup program. Sessions generally last between one to three days for each training session, but in some cases, short sessions are supplementary and based on the assumption that students are already licensed cosmetologists, estheticians, or other trained professionals.
In other scenarios you’ll start with a foundational program that teaches the basics, then sign up for different training sessions based on your areas of interest. Full programs, which allow you to start from scratch and are designed to meet state licensing requirements, will last much longer.
How Much Does Permanent Makeup School Cost?
Permanent makeup programs generally cost between $3,500–$7,500—“generally” being the key word. Prices vary considerably from school to school, and your desired skill set will determine your cost. A single multi-day training course might cost $500–$900 per day. A full program that includes advanced techniques and certifications, on the other hand, could edge closer to $10,000.
What Will I Learn in Permanent Makeup School?
In permanent makeup school you’ll first learn the basics, like safety, hygiene, and client and station prep. You’ll be introduced to the tools of the trade, which include coil tattoo machines, rotary pen machines, the non-mechanical hand method, and the inks, dyes, and pigments that will make your work a permanent fixture in your clients’ lives.
You’ll likely start out by learning the most common techniques, like eyeliner, lash enhancement, and lip color, followed by more advanced training, including skin needling and microblading. There could also be specialty permanent makeup classes for advanced techniques included in your program, or you could opt to learn advanced skills on a session-by-session basis. These include high-level procedures like melanocyte restoration, burn scar camouflage, and areola repigmentation.
Other courses include, but are not limited to:
- Safety, Sterilization, and Sanitization
- Procedure Room/Station Setup
- Procedure Before and After Photography
- Procedure After-Care
- Needle Selection and Usage
- Makeup Artistry with Symmetry
- Technical Application of Permanent Cosmetics
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Color Theory and Color Mixing
- Skin Types, Colors, and Undertones
- Client Consultation
- Highlighting and Shadowing
It’s important to note that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires all workers who are exposed to blood to receive specialized safety training. This may be part of your program, or you might have to find a separate training course before you apply for your license. Tattooists specifically have to learn the appropriate protocols for handling infectious materials, waste disposal, and preventing the transfer of pathogens.
How Do I Find the Best Permanent Makeup Program Near Me?
Start by visiting the American Academy of Micropigmentation to learn about your state’s requirements. You should also be sure to visit your state’s governing board to verify that the information is accurate and up to date.
Shop around and look into at least three different schools—their instructors, their career services programs, and their online reputation among students and industry professionals. Make sure to check that the schools you’re considering teach the specialties that interest you.
Some states require supervised mentorships like apprenticeships as part of your education and training. Some states may accept only an apprenticeship. No matter what your state requires, real-world, hands-on training like this can be an invaluable experience.
The Final Step: Getting Your License
In some states, you’ll have to be licensed as a tattoo artist before you can begin work. Others require you to obtain an esthetician’s license then pursue permanent makeup training on a specialty-by-specialty basis. Yet other states don’t regulate makeup professionals at all.
The requirements for getting a license vary widely from state to state, and the American Academy of Micropigmentation is a good place to start your research. Also refer to our licensing page, which focuses specifically on licensing.