At this point, Audrey Glass isn't sure which of her freckles are real. The LA-based cosmetic tattoo artist has been using a machine to paint natural-looking semi-permanent freckles all over her face — so much so that she can't tell the difference between what she was born with and what she's added.
"I've had mine for years, and sometimes I'll go somewhere and people are like, 'Oh my God, your freckles are so cute," Glass told The Lookbook. I'm like, 'Oh yeah, they're tattooed.' Then they're like, 'That's a thing?'"
Consider this the next phase in cosmetic tattooing: You can get fuller-looking eyebrows with microblading (a semi-permanent treatment where a pro paints in what look like individual hairs), and now a similar technique is being used to draw in the freckles for women who've always wanted them.
It's a beauty treatment that's growing in popularity, Glass says, and her clients can't get enough of it. "I would say most people are kind of nervous at first, so everyone wants to go really conservative," she says. "Normally they come back a month later and they're like, 'Just go for it. Just give me all the freckles.'"
1. How does this all work?
This is an art form: A cosmetic tattooist draws in faux freckles on your face, then uses a tool like a manual tattoo pen to make them semi-permanent. "In my opinion, to create a natural look, success generally occurs through a layering process to achieve different shades of brown, different sizes, and different patterns," says Sydney Dyer, a cosmetic tattoo artist in Calgary who has penciled in freckles on over 40 faces since she started offering the service.
2. What does it look like right after?
Intense. Just like microblading, the freckles are really bold until the skin begins to heal. "Think of it as a really shallow tattoo. Your first couple days kind of look loony and then it starts to shed off," Seattle-based cosmetic tattooist Ashley Leffler says. "You kind of lose the craziness in about four days or so. That's always the hard spot when people are like, 'I look insane.'"
3. Who wants them?
Glass says that redheads are a big demo for microbladed freckles. "A lot of them really love their freckles, but if they have so many, they're like 'I'm almost just one big freckle. I just want some of them to have a bit definition," she says.
But this treatment also has an appeal similar to microbladed eyebrows, where you can get your brows filled in permanently so you don't have to draw them on every day. Looks like Busy Philipps isn't the only one painstakingly painting on freckles.
"A lot of people got really in the habit of drawing freckles on every single day," Glass says. "People that have been doing it for a couple years are like, 'You know what, I like it and it's kind of part of me now.' So they just come in to get it done so they don't have to draw them in anymore."
Leffler was in that boat, dotting on freckles with an eyebrow pencil before she tattooed them on herself. "I love them on my face and I don't have any regrets," she says, and her clients get the appeal too. "Some people love the look of them," Leffler explains. "I think they think it looks youthful, it's super cute, and it's also the idea of people want what they don't have."
4. Do they last forever?
The cosmetic tattoo artists The Lookbook chatted with gave a window of anywhere between one to two or three years before semi-permanent freckles would fade and might need to be touched up. But if you're over your fake freckles, chemical peels, glycolic acid, AHA, or other skin exfoliating treatments can help speed up the fading process.
Know what you're getting into, though. "I am a firm believer that this is still a tattoo (by definition, ink into the skin) and I stress this to all of my clients. The freckles may fade but they are permanent," Dyer says.
5. Is there a larger meaning behind freckle tattoos?
Leffler got her start as an esthetician, helping treat dark spots or hyper pigmentation, so she sees the irony in permanently painting on what some people see as a "flaw." One person who'd been teased for having freckles told Leffler it was unbelievable that someone would choose to get freckle tattoos.
"People are very of two sides of this: they're either like 'What are you doing, that's insane!' or 'They're super cute, I want some,'" she says.
Besides folding into the larger trend of body modification, this could also be part of the whole "I woke up like this" movement in beauty. Unlike cosmetic tattooing of the past, where permanent eyeliner or lip liner gave the look of constantly being made up, microblading now focuses around a more natural-looking aesthetic — well, a perfect "I woke like this" version of natural. "It's this effortlessly natural finish, even though it does take work to get that look," Leffler says.
And if that adorable smattering of freckles splashed across your nose isn't really real, is there a difference between that and bleaching your hair platinum?
"In no way, shape, or form have I set out to offend natural-born freckled beauties (which has been suggested occasionally). Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and people color their hair to achieve a desired look all the time — I don't see this as really any different," Dyer says. "I've wanted freckles since I can remember and I just sort of assumed there might be other people out there like me."
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