The rise of the fake freckle: Tattooist's warning after facial ink goes wrong

Grace Wiseman whose freckles tattoo went badly wrong
Grace Wiseman paid £50 to have permanent freckles tattooed on her face by a newly qualified artist at a store in Essex, but the procedure went horribly wrong. (Images by Liarna Jessica Yearwood)

When Grace Wiseman decided to book an appointment to have pretend freckles tattooed on her face, her plan was to enhance her natural good looks. But, £50 later, she walked out feeling "ugly and distraught". Instead of a pretty new complexion, her face resembled a badly drawn game of join-the-dots.

Wiseman's next mission was to find a different – trustworthy – tattooist to fix the botched job. Luckily, she found cosmetic tattoo artist Liarna Jessica Yearwood, who is a specialist in micro-pigmentation and has been tasked with fixing many disastrous tattoo jobs over the years, including Wiseman's (pictured above).

Botched tattoo

“Grace’s was the most shocking case I have seen because the tattooed freckles were so dark and unnatural,” says Yearwood. ”She had paid £50 to get freckles tattooed on her face by a newly qualified permanent make-up artist under the agreement of being a 'model'. When she looked in the mirror afterwards, she felt so self-conscious, ugly and disappointed. She also felt deceived because she'd trusted the artist to do a good job.”

Thankfully, Yearwood managed to virtually remove Wiseman's fake freckles using a non-laser tattoo removal technique over a series of two remedial sessions, with just one more to go before they're fully erased.

"This technique is a great alternative to laser tattoo removal, because it targets all colours in the pigments, unlike most lasers which usually just target blues and blacks," Yearwood explains. "It doesn't have a risk of scarring on the face either and is far less painful than laser tattoo removal."

Model at London Fashion Week
Freckles are back in fashion, inspired by Meghan Markle's naturally pretty pigmentation. (Getty Images)

Yearwood has seen a big increase in requests for freckle tattoos over the past three years, which she says "can be done both through traditional tattooing methods or through semi-permanent make-up, which doesn't last as long but has a softer effect".

Unscrupulous therapist

After seeing the devastation suffered by Wiseman in the hands of a 'cowboy' therapist though, she is keen to warn others to do their research on their chosen tattoo artist. “Look at their qualifications, reviews, and before and after pictures,” advises Yearwood. “Don't make the cost of the treatment the most important thing that you consider when choosing an artist. If the price is too low, that is usually an indication that they are cutting corners somewhere.”

Read more: Meghan’s royal wedding hair and beauty was refreshingly natural and let her freckles shine through

Freckles, as proudly sported by Meghan Markle, seem to be having a moment – the more prominent, the better – as long as you're naturally blessed with them.

Rise of the natural look

"We’re definitely seeing a more natural look to skin which is less about perfecting and covering up, and more about celebrating natural diversity in faces," says Victoria Woodhall, editorial director of

"Meghan speaking publicly about not wanting her freckles airbrushed out may well have given others the confidence to celebrate theirs and enhance them with freckle make-up and even semi-permanent techniques."

So what's the appeal? "Having freckles is seen as youthful and playful," adds Woodhall. "It harks back to when we were children and the first few marks on our skin started appearing in summer."

Read more: Michelle Pfeiffer, 63, praised for youthful appearance at power women event: 'ageless beauty'

Beauty of freckles

World-renowned photographer Brock Elbank is so fascinated by freckles he spent three years documenting them. He has taken powerful portraits of over 150 people with freckles in over 50 different countries.

“I’ve loved freckles for as long as I can remember," he explains. "What I find fascinating in my portrait series is that no two faces with freckles are the same. I’ve documented identical twins who I could only identify by their freckles, so they are really like a unique individual fingerprint.

"Out of 150 subjects, most people hated their freckles in childhood," he continues, "which was probably due to other children teasing them at school, but they learned to live with them, even like them in later life.”

The freckled look started to grow in popularly in 2018 after the Duchess of Sussex's wedding to Prince Harry was watched by millions worldwide. But, more recently the COVID-19 pandemic has played its part in changing the perception.

Meghan Markle's wedding day - seen with natural freckled look
Have Meghan Markle’s wedding day freckles have sparked a beauty trend? (Getty Images)

“Lockdown helped drive trends such as ‘skinimalism,’” explains leading beauty editor Cassie Steer. "This term was coined by beauty experts on Pinterest and is a movement based on the idea that we should embrace our natural skin texture – freckles, pores and all, and take a more stripped-back approach to skincare.

“During the pandemic we all got used to seeing ourselves with less make-up on – it was like an aesthetic palette cleanser – and this has been reflected in advertising campaigns as people have started to reject overly-airbrushed images,” she says.

“Make-up artists like Charlotte Tilbury often add freckles backstage using brow pencils (she calls them her ‘youth sticks’) as they offer instant warmth to the face without adding lots of bronzer.”

Read more: Meryl Streep fans celebrate star's ageless beauty on her birthday: 'Like a fine wine'

Meghan’s love of her own freckles has clearly inspired others. “I think Meghan has become the poster girl for the modern woman and her fresh, natural approach to beauty has inspired women to embrace their own skin tones and textures, something that you might not have necessarily seen in the past from someone in her position,” concludes Steer.

Meghan Markle's wedding day look was achieved by using a single layer of Dior's Backstage Face and Body Foundation. [Photo: Getty]
Meghan Markle’s wedding day look was achieved by using a single layer of Dior’s Backstage Face and Body Foundation. (Getty Images)

Going as far as wanting to have fake freckles permanently tattooed on seems a little extreme, but is becoming less unusual.

“As we’re all championing what makes us unique, some women have taken the more extreme step to add or enhance their freckles using semi-permanent make-up or even permanent tattoos,” explains Steer.

Stay safe

She warns though,“Aside from the usual risks associated with anything that breaches the skin, such as infections or allergic reactions,” she says, “there is obviously the danger that you might simply get tired of the look, especially as your skin ages (when freckles could start to look more like pigmentation).”

Beauty expert Woodhall points out however that "semi-permanent freckles are potentially a safer way of achieving the look than exposing your skin to damaging UV rays or, heaven forbid, sun beds, plus it’s more controllable.

"A good therapist can create a flattering year-round, semi-permanent look if you are someone who naturally has freckles in the summer," she explains. "They should also give honest advice as to whether you are a suitable candidate. The rise in semi-permanent make-up such as for eyebrows and lip lining has seen techniques and artistry becoming every more refined."

Just make sure you research your therapist carefully, to avoid a result like Wiseman's.

Watch: Grace Wiseman's tattoo went badly wrong

At her royal wedding, Markle’s own natural beauty look was created by make-up artist Daniel Martin, who achieved it by using a single layer of Dior’s Backstage Face and Body Foundation which let her natural freckles shine through.

Back then, Martin told Yahoo Life UK that the decision to let Meghan’s freckles shine through was a “mutual understanding”.

“The last thing you want your future partner to see is a mask of make-up,” he explained at the time. “You want them to see the person they fell in love with.”

Martin also revealed that Meghan’s only request for her make-up look was, “Just to feel like herself, but more polished than her usual day-to-day routine.”

“Meghan doesn’t like to have a full coverage of make-up on her face. She’s very comfortable in her own skin and doesn’t feel the need to cover it up. Especially on a day as memorable as your wedding. You want to feel confident and comfortable and allow your true self to come through.”