I Got a "Lip Blush" Tattoo For the First Time - and the Results are Life-Changing

Kristin Harris

For as long as I can remember, I've been constantly wearing lip color: to the grocery store, to school, to the gym - everywhere. The only time of day I didn't was when I was sleeping. With my extremely pale skin and light features, without a brush of color on my lips I felt like a corpse whenever I looked in the mirror. So in an effort to look, um, alive, lipstick became my daily sidekick.

Things finally changed one day when I was scrolling Instagram and came across an unbelievable before and after of "lip blushing," a form of semipermanent makeup that transforms your lips by enhancing your natural color and providing more shape and definition. I knew about semipermanent cosmetic tattooing, but when I heard that phrase, I imagined an awkward, badly drawn lip liner tattoo. This new procedure was far from that; after falling down a rabbit hole of #LipBlushing photos on Instagram, I realized this form of semipermanent makeup was basically just a beautifully enhanced version of your natural lips, so I decided to take the plunge and try it out myself.

A few weeks later, I made an appointment with Savannah Kondratyev from First Class Cosmetics in New York City. Now, it's been two months since my lip blushing experience, and I'm completely hooked - every time I look in the mirror, I still can't believe that I'm not wearing lipstick. If you're wondering what lip blushing is all about, read on for my experience and everything you need to know before your first appointment.

What Is Lip Blushing?

Lip blushing is a semipermanent makeup tattoo designed for your lips, which allows you to enhance your natural color and shape, or camouflage some minor corrections like asymmetry, scarring, or hyperpigmentation. "As we lose collagen and elasticity in our skin, we lose shape, and the color starts to disintegrate into our skin," said Kondratyev.

You might've noticed the procedure popping up on Instagram like me, but the treatment has actually been around for years. Kondratyev, who is a state-certified educator within the cosmetology field, has been doing lip blush tattoos for almost three years after learning and training from Russian artists. "Lip blush pigment is different from traditional tattoo ink. It's a lot less opaque, and the finish is always natural. When you're first tattooed, it looks very bright - almost too bright - but when it heals, it heals to be 50 percent lighter. Cosmetic tattooing is different from traditional tattooing in that it's implanted only on the surface layers of the skin. I use Evenflo pigment, which is vegan-friendly and nontoxic."

How Should I Prepare For My Lip Blushing Appointment?

Your precare before getting tattooed is very important. You want to make sure you're hydrated - the more hydrated you are, the better results you'll have. As you can see if my "before" photo, New York's brutal winter left me with dry, peeling lips that were very much not hydrated. The night before, try to exfoliate your lips lightly and put on a lip mask. You'll also want to skip that afterwork glass of wine at least 24 hours prior to your appointment. If you're someone who gets cold sores, you'll need to take an antiviral medication at least three days before and at least three days after your lip blush.

"With this procedure, because of the injury that it causes to the lips, it can cause the dormant virus to come out," Kondratyev said. "It's supereasy to avoid - just take an antiviral medication prior." Lastly, you're going to want to also hold off on skin regenerating treatments and serums a couple of weeks prior: "Because the tattoo is on the surface layer of the skin, all those wonderful treatments that keep us young will take the tattoo off. So it's just important to give it a break two weeks before."

What's the Tattoo Process Like?

First, the artist will draw your desired lip shape with a lip pencil for you to look at and approve, which basically acts as a stencil. "I map the lips according to each person's facial features, so I kind of align everything, so it's the most natural way possible," said Kondratyev. "You have to stay on lip tissue when you do cosmetic tattooing; you can only maybe go one millimeter outside the lip line - where you see pores, you don't tattoo. So there are limitations, but it can be used to help create a fuller-looking natural lip."

When it comes to picking out a color, clients can bring in their favorite lipstick, or photos of healed lip blush tattoos they love. "I custom create every color for every person. How I decide that is looking at their natural lip color, skin, hair, and eye color. I do have some favorites that I go to more often that I think are flattering on a wide range of people. But it has to match their skin tone and color." If you're a little nervous like I was, you can opt for a lighter color that will heal most naturally, and then later bump the color up if you do a second session. Once you've chosen the color and your artist has created your lip shape, they'll set your lips with a setting powder to keep the shape in place.

How Much Does Lip Blushing Cost?

The cost can vary, depending on the artist. At First Class Cosmetics, Kondratyev charges $650 for the first session, and $200-350 for a second session, which is typically done 4-6 weeks later. If you're coming back to get a refresh within the next 1-1.5 years, it's $300 for an additional session.

How Long Does Lip Blushing Last?

After my lips healed, I can confidently say I wish that lip blush tattoos were completely permanent - that's how in love with the results I am. While that's unfortunately not the case, they do typically last for two to three years.

"Each year, you'll see [the pigment] get lighter and lighter until it disappears," said Kondratyev. "It's not going to have a weird patchy fade-out or change color; you'll just notice that more of your own lip is exposed." After your first lip blushing session, because of the layer of skin that the ink is implanted on, people often need a touch-up four to six weeks later, which is exactly what I did. "That's because your body wants to push some of the ink out when it's healing, so you might need to put some of those areas back. That said, lip tissue regenerates superquick, so that's why as long as it's implanted properly, it's never permanent. If you really want to keep up with it and keep it on point all the time, I recommend doing a yearly refresh session - especially for people going through a more transformative lip blush, like correcting and camouflaging scars."

Is Lip Blushing Painful?

As Kondratyev said, "the pain level is different for everyone. Pain-wise, some people are more sensitive, and usually those are the people who didn't follow the precare rules, by drinking alcohol and caffeine." But let's get real here: you're tattooing your lips. While I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, once the process began and I fully realized that, yes, I was getting a tattoo done on my very sensitive lip tissue, I had a minor freak-out. But as someone who has tattoos, I didn't find it to be very painful - most of the time, it felt like a light brushing across your lips - and the numbing cream my artist used definitely helped ease my nerves. "Some artists are against it, but I use a 5 percent lidocaine numbing agent because it makes it more comfortable, and your lips are sensitive tissue."

What Should I Expect After Getting Lip Blushing?

While my artist warned me ahead of time that my lips would likely swell, I had no idea what I was in store for. Everyone reacts differently - some people might not swell at all - but as soon as my first session was over, I pretty much looked like I had been stung by 17 bees. Luckily, it only lasted for around 24 hours. In my experience, the swelling and numbness completely faded within a day. As your lips heal throughout the next seven days, you'll want to coat them with a thin layer of Aquaphor, avoid eating or drinking spicy, citrusy, or salty foods, and it's also best to wait at least four days before working out again to preserve the ink.

As you work your way through the healing process, by day three or four, your lips will become dry and start the shedding phase. The biggest thing to remember is not to pick or bite your lips. As tempting as it is, you have to let your skin shed and flake off on its own - otherwise, you could lose your color. After seven days, your skin will be completely healed, but you'll notice a lighter, milky color. After 30 days, your color will be completely developed, and you'll see your final results.

How to Find the Right Cosmetic Tattoo Artist

"In my opinion, you need to see healed photos of their work - that is where the truth lies," Kondratyev said. "Right after, the lips are swollen, and bright, and juicy. But once they are healed, that's what you're going to be walking around with, so that's what you need to look for." You'll also want to make sure your artist has worked on a wide range of different skin tones, because that means they know how to formulate colors correctly. "Personally, I would not see someone that didn't work on all skin tonalities. Each person is entirely different, and you need to formulate and tattoo them to suit them."