What to Know About "Lip Blushing" Tattoos

Unless you're getting an ephemeral tattoo — which is made to fade after a year or so — it's pretty well understood that tattoos are meant to be forever. The only other exception is semipermanent cosmetic tattooing, an increasingly popular option that replaces a step in your makeup routine. Most common is microblading for your brows, but there's another that's emerging all over social media: lip "blushing."

Lip blush tattoos transform your lips by enhancing your natural color and providing more shape and definition. In fact, just a few scrolls down a rabbit hole of #LipBlushing photos on Instagram, and you'll see that this form of semipermanent makeup is simply an enhanced version of your natural lips. That means you can wake up in the morning and skip lipstick, balm, stains, or liner, which is ideal for people who rely on lip products for a kiss of color.

If you're curious to learn more about the lip blushing process, we spoke with master artist Savannah Kondratyev from First Class Cosmetics in New York City. Keep reading below for 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," says Kondratyev.

You might've noticed the procedure popping up on Instagram, 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. The night before your appointment, 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 before. 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 says. "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," says 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, 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 for lip blushing can vary, depending on the artist and your location. At First Class Cosmetics, Kondratyev charges $650 for the first session, and $200 to $350 for a second session, which is typically done four to six 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.

Is Lip Blushing Painful?

As Kondratyev explains, "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 and your lips are made up of sensitive lip tissue. Still, it shouldn't be any more painful than a regular tattoo — like a light brushing across your lips — and you can ask your artist to apply numbing cream to the area 10 minutes beforehand to help. "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."

How Long Does Lip Blushing Last?

Lip blush tattoos do typically last for two to three years, and they do require touch-ups. "Each year, you'll see [the pigment] get lighter and lighter until it disappears," says 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. "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."

What Should I Expect After Getting Lip Blushing?

The most common reaction is swelling, but everyone reacts differently — some people might not swell at all — and it should subside after 24 hours. 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 says. "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."