Permanent makeup through the ages

Permanent makeup is already considered to be a type of art. However, the origin of this art starts with the very beginning of human history. All world civilizations used different types of tattooing. Age Stone people made efforts to flourish their faces making flower ornaments, animal elements, and various symbols. Tattoos were aimed to express individuality as well as to increase the level of attraction between a man and a woman; therefore it was important in terms of fertility. Tattooed mummies with the age of more than 4000 years were found in Egypt. Ancient Chinese were using different techniques of tattooing for many centuries starting from 1000 BC.


Original photo link.

It is a well-known fact that Japanese women used to decorate their faces; by creating a certain picture, women would show their status and even a number of children. Historical research reveals that the first mention of PMU is dated back to Cleopatra’s reign period.

Most internet resources claim that modern permanent makeup is closely linked to the USA. In 1891 a man from New York called O’Reilly made a breakthrough in beauty industry by inventing an electric tattooing machine. This invention made a big impact on the further development of tattoo industry. Later the American surgeon Crowell Byrd for the first time in history performed the procedure of tattooing with the use of the machine…

But some researchers have other opinion which we’d like to share with you.

First permanent makeup artist in the world

According to certain website, the modern cosmetic tattoo or permanent make up was born in July 1902 in London, and the the inventor was not George Burchett, who is considered by tattoo historians as the best tattoo artist in the world of all time, but another famous U.K. tattooist – Sutherland Macdonald. Location – his studio at # 76 Jermyn Str. The original article about this event was contributed to the August number of Pearson’s Magazine by Mr. Gambier Bolton. And the first PMU treatment suggested was “all-year-round delicate pink complexion” on the cheeks. Interestingly that the idea didn’t belong to the tattooist but to the client – an American lady. And she was also the first PMU model documented in the industry’s history.

St. Jame’s Gazette. London. UK. August 1, 1902

It’s worth to mention, that MacDonald got the patent to his machine 6 years before – 1894. It was considered the best device at that time. And we can assume that the grandfather of all PMU devices was rotary, and even the design of the handheld device didn’t change much!

Sutherland MacDonald. Electric Pen for Tattooing, 1894

PMU crosses the pond

Even though the first PMU client and model was an American “fair lady”, it looks like she kept the secret of her “freshest and daintiest of completion” of “delicate pink” to herself, or maybe, in spite of the article promises, the color faded. Who knows now? But it seems that America didn’t discover the new secret until 1919 when Electrical experimenter in its December, 1919 issue placed an article about the new “fad in London” – “electrically tattooing a permanent complexion or blush on the face”. This might have been teaser poster for a first traveling PMU artist, since it promised “applications can be graduated to suit any physiognomy, and further, that tattooists report that they have never done such a thriving and profitable business among women as now”.

Interestingly, the magazine’s publication authors had no clue how device looked like. They assumed that the pigment got into machine from huge barrels containing inks through a rubber hose. Who knew then that the biggest money in the industry will be done by selling the pigments in a tiny 5-10ml bottles/tubes 100 years later!

We can find a lot of facts about how PMU looked like in 1920. The artist used shading technique with fine edge skin blending skill. Most popular treatment was still doing the cheeks though eyebrows, scar concealing, bold spots coverage (first SMP?) and lips were common procedures.

The Washington times. (Washington [D.C.]), 25 Jan. 1920 Source

There was a substantial choice of pigments, enough to make “all hues of rainbow”, while “In the old days of tattooing by hand only two colors were available – a harsh, glaring red and an equally unpleasant blue. But now we have at our disposal nine different colors, all harmless to human flesh and all fine enough to grace an artist’s palette. By blending these nine primary shades we are able to produce every hue known to mortal eye”.

Such artist knew the concept of pigment-skin matching. ”Each color employed must be in perfect harmony with a woman’s natural coloring, and they must all blend so well with one another and with the colors around them that the point where the needles stops and natural skin begins will be visible only to the eyes of an expert”.

Tools sterilization was in place as well. Several tattoo removal methods were known and used. Even the concept of nano needle: which was called “hair-breadth delicacy”! Working with the coil machine, with a single needle at the speed of 6000 time a minute (100 per sec), it took an artist about half an hour for each cheek. Since “painless” procedure characterization is  used here as well, that can easilly mean the use of anesthetics.

First medical aesthetic treatments

It took three more years, and the new trend started to penetrate to medical offices. It’s no longer the exclusive territory of the tattoo artists.

Charleston Daily Mail, 27 January 1923 in its Sunday Morning issue placed an article about surgeon Dr. Henry J. Shireson, “who straightened the Fannie Brice’s nose and who specializes in cosmetics”, claiming that his newest innovation – tattooed “Cupid bow lips” and “life-like inconspicuous coloring on cheeks” “to black birthmark patches on the face”.

The Charleston Daily Mail. Sunday Morning. January 27, 1923

And first truly medical warning that it “will be as permanent as “figures on sailors’ arms, notwithstanding their delicate tracery and beautiful coloring. The girl so adorned must keep her design, unless she undergo a skin grafting operation to remove it”. The doctors were firm already back in 1923 on the efficiency of tattoo removal methods: no saline or acid wash, only grafting! Today they say – only lasers. Seems about right.

Modern times

Cosmetic tattooing after 1930s did not get more popular. Though we find evidence it was practiced by both tattoo artists and doctors. The beginning of modern era permanent makeup trend re-started in the 80s.

The term “permanent makeup’ was used for the first time in the USA and Taiwan; in Europe this term started to gain its popularity around 1984. Sometimes, the term PMU coincides with the term “micropigmentation” which is commonly used along with other terms: cosmetic tattoo, permanent, dermal pigmentation.

There is even more detiled mention of this particular term in little ad in the Fitness & Health classified section of on April 20, 1986.

Linda Cowan from Huntington Beach Dermatology Clinic, called her “Pigment Implant Specialist”, who performs “Permanent cosmetic make-up”. That was the birth of the term PMU and also the reason that the PMU and Microblading artists inherited the terminology mistake: they refer to the substance injected under the skin as “Pigment” vs. correct term “Ink”.

This article is largely based upon material from by Ana Perrone, with original owner’s permission.

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