Fine Line: Highbrow Cosmetic Artistry

Where Tattooing and Makeup Meet
Dec 05, 2018
Photo by: Victoria Ford

When it comes to beauty, a new trend in eyebrows is more than skin deep. With microblading, brows are created and perfected using a small, bladed hand tool to cut many “hair strokes” into which pigment is applied just beneath the skin’s surface.

At Highbrow, located inside 777 Tattoos in Tuckerton, Samantha Muggelberg is a licensed specialist of the American Academy of Micropigmentation, certified and recognized by the state Board of Health and fully insured. She cautions would-be clients not to choose a so-called “scratcher” who works out of a salon or private residence, where they might be at higher risk of infection, unattractive outcomes or unsightly scar tissue. She said New Jersey has some of the strictest regulations on the procedure, which must be performed in a tattoo facility, medi-spa or doctor’s office.

“I’m overly transparent with my clients,” Muggelberg said. Results are determined by proper technique and the right amount of pressure, she explained, along with skin type and lifestyle choices. (Stay out of the sun! Avoid glycolic peels and dermabrasion!) Everyone heals differently, she added.

There’s a “window of candidacy” for the treatment, she explained. Clients must be 18 or older. Those with especially large pores or greasy skin tend not to be eligible. Also contraindicated are active dermatological disorders such as rosacea, eczema and psoriasis.

Microblading is part of the permanent cosmetics industry, but it’s really a semi-permanent effect – the look of fuller, more perfectly sculpted eyebrows – that must be touched up and maintained annually. Its practice goes back decades, believed to have originated in Asia. But its popularity has really exploded in Europe and the United States in the last few years, driven in large part by social media.

“Everyone wants a full brow now,” Muggelberg said. “Big and fluffy” is the goal. Some women start with almost no natural eyebrow and want a professional, in essence, to draw them on. Some have plenty of brow to work with but crave a different shape or style. Some want a very sharp, pointed arch. Some people have eyebrow hair that grows in all different directions, and they want a more streamlined look.

In California, Muggelberg said, microblading facilities are practically on every corner, though the practice is unregulated and can cost twice as much as the market standard in New Jersey – Muggelberg’s services start at $400.

“Women are treating themselves, getting this done,” she noted.

While a luxury, however, new eyebrows come with “an emotional roller coaster.” The immediate result is shocking; the healing process is bizarre (beware, the color gets darker before it softens); painstaking aftercare is crucial while the cuts are closing. But clients say it’s well worthwhile for the fresh appearance of perfectly defined eyebrows.

Muggelberg got started about a year ago. By marketing on social media and by referral, she has enjoyed a steady flow of new clients each week. Now she’s starting to see return clients, ready for their annual touch-ups.

Initially she was interested in having her own eyebrows done. So she started following @eyebrowqueensk on Instagram and, in doing her own research, was increasingly drawn to the idea of going into the business herself. She had always seen herself getting into cosmetology, she said. So, ignoring the naysayers in her life, she set out to make it happen. She enrolled at the Beau Institute of Permanent and Corrective Cosmetics in Mount Laurel, owned by the American Academy of Micropigmentation president and executive director, Rose Marie Beauchemin-Verzella.

Prior to embarking on her micropigmentation education and certification process, Muggelberg worked as an X-ray technician (which she continues to do part-time). Before that, she spent four years in the Army.

She credits her assuring bedside manner to her experience in the medical industry. In addition to being honest and direct, her friendly demeanor and compassionate touch are important traits to have, given the vulnerability of a client literally putting her face in Muggelberg’s hands. In her office, she has assuaged clients’ second thoughts, tears and even anxiety attacks. As a policy, though, once she gets started, “I don’t let you watch me work.”

The equipment she uses can also be used to create permanent eyeliner, lip liner and freckles, but those services aren’t nearly as in-demand.

An Eye on Eyebrow Magic

Last week, a first-time client of Muggelberg’s graciously allowed her session to be observed for journalistic purposes. Paloma Gibson works for EXIT Realty Smart Move in Manahawkin. As a professional in sales, she feels her appearance plays an important role in her work life.

“Personally, I think this is the best time of year to get them done,” she said, wanting to look her best for holiday parties and photos.

Muggelberg tells clients not to do any eyebrow grooming between scheduling and showing up for the appointment.

A typical appointment begins with “before” photos, followed by exfoliation and a topical application that numbs the area for the initial pass (of about three in total). “The longer we sit, the more numb she’ll be,” Muggelberg said. The downtime is perfect for signing the consent form, chit-chatting to put the client at ease, and the all-important color selection.

“It’s not really the color that matters as much as the undertone,” she explained. The relative coolness or warmth of the chosen color will achieve the desired effect.

The next step is brow mapping. Using an adhesive T-shaped ruler, Muggelberg measures points of symmetry along the client’s brow line – although it’s more about balance than symmetry, she said, since no face is truly symmetrical. Then she hand-draws the eyebrow outlines with a sterile, single-use wax pencil and surgical marker. An alcohol prep pad removes any slickness from the surface of the skin so her gloved hands can pull the skin taut without slippage.

Muggelberg then asks the client to examine her prep work in a mirror, to consider carefully and to offer feedback with no worry about hurting her feelings.

“Nothing you say to me right now is going to be offensive,” she told Gibson. “It’s your face; you have to leave with (the eyebrows).”

Pleased, Gibson gave the go-ahead.

The next step is for Muggelberg to pluck, trim and otherwise clean up the brow area as needed.

The tool Muggelberg uses to make the cuts looks like a slender pen, the tip of which is a U-shaped comb of 18 tiny needles. Holding the implement in her right hand, she dips the tip into a tiny inkwell she wears like a ring on her left index finger.

In terms of the pain, the first 10 minutes are the worst, she said. The first couple of cuts make Gibson sneeze – a common reaction. After the first full pass on both sides, Muggelberg applies a second layer of anesthetic, this one containing epinephrine for bleeding control, as well as an “ink mask” to allow the pigment to seep down into the open cuts. After a few minutes, the second dose of numbing agent sets in, and from then on the discomfort is far more manageable.

The experience varies according to skin type – drinkers and others with thin or damaged skin bleed more. Gibson’s healthy, Brazilian skin was ideal for the demonstration.

After an intensive 45 minutes of actual microblading, Gibson sat up on the table and was rewarded with an eyeful of her newly beautified face. She was thrilled with the work.

Muggelberg instructs: Skip a shower on the day of the appointment. Starting the next day, wash the eyebrows gently (no friction!) twice a day, air drying and applying ointment after each wash. Avoid sweating and sun exposure.

Six weeks after the first visit is the follow-up or “perfection session,” when Muggelberg fine-tunes and makes any needed adjustments.

Muggelberg books appointments Tuesdays through Thursdays. Follow her work on Instagram @highbrow_pca, on the Highbrow LLC Facebook page and at highbrowpca.com for more information, including a services menu and pricing.

— Victoria Ford

victoria@thesandpaper.net

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