Does Microblading Hurt? I Tried It.

Does microblading hurt? Depends on who is doing it.

My late Grandma Freda said a lot of wacky things when I was a kid, but the one I found the most appalling (well, aside from the occasional racist comment) was her lifelong mantra, “You must always sacrifice comfort for beauty.”

While I have a great appreciation for aesthetics, for the most part, I’ve been able to pull it off while maintaining at least a moderate level of comfort. You may spot me in heels once or twice a year, for a few hours at most; I don’t get anything waxed; and when I had my wedding dress custom made, I told the dressmaker it needed fully functional pockets, but more importantly, that I didn’t want to have to wear Spanx.

This is me before microblading — you can see I just used eyebrow pencil and taming gel.

Still, last week I found myself lying stiff as a board on a salon table while a woman named Sarah made tens, if not hundreds, of tiny cuts in my face with a very sharp blade — all in the name of beauty.

I was in for microblading — semi-permanent makeup applied in a similar manner to a tattoo, where a technician makes thin strokes in the brow area to resemble hairs. The idea is to give the illusion of fuller, and sometimes darker, eyebrows. And I wondered before Sarah began, does microblading hurt? I would soon find out that it most certainly does.

My eyebrows weren’t exactly terrible to begin with, but I’d over-plucked them in my ill-fated attempts to be just as adorable as Drew Barrymore in the 90s, and they never quite recovered. Plus, I’m pale and have naturally blonde hair, so my maintenance routine consisted of Just For Men beard and mustache dye every few weeks, as well as the Anastasia brow pencil followed by the Glossier Boy Brow gel every morning. Even with all that work, my brows were still spotty and thin — and definitely not the Jennifer Connelly brows I’d dreamed of for the last decade. Even if I skipped my signature orange-red lipstick, I’d always do my brows before leaving the house, which got to be a real drag once I had a kid. And I still really hated catching a reflection of myself in certain light and seeing the obviously penciled-in, gel-hard brows.

See? Not even kidding. This is me using Just For Men on my brows.

From the little reading I’d done on microblading, the procedure wasn’t too painful, thanks to a topical anesthesia applied at the beginning. I have a high threshold for pain, anyway, and I’m fairly heavily tattooed, so I figured this would be nothing compared the giant peony I’d had inked on my upper right arm just a few weeks before. Plus, I was so damn excited to have eyebrows that wouldn’t wash off that I didn’t really care, or even consider, that it might be painful.

Sarah, my technician, trimmed my natural brows then drew on the outline of my soon-to-be-perfect ones. Just before she started, she leaned over me and casually said, “Now, we don’t pre-numb here.” When I asked why, she explained that in her training, she’d learned that topical anesthesia stiffens the surface of the skin, making it harder to get a natural-looking curve in the strokes.

Considering the fact I was getting TATTOOED ON MY FACE, that seemed like a good enough explanation to me. I mean, I wanted it to look natural. And how painful could it be? Definitely not more painful than a giant tattoo, right?

WRONG.

Does microblading hurt? Yes! It hurt. A lot. Each little cut felt like, well, someone slowly and methodically slicing into my face with a sharp blade. I mean, it sounds like literal torture. And the brow area isn’t exactly a soft, cushy area of the face. The skin is right over bone, and it’s shockingly tender.

This is the outline drawn on me pre-microblading.

Each time she made a cut, my body tensed and my eyes welled up with tears. Unlike the constant, humming pain that comes along with a traditional tattoo, this was was a deep, stinging, burning sensation. To add insult to literal injury, each tiny microblading incision also came with an awful sound — which made me think of scraping a knife over bone or rock, though others have compared it to tearing fabric. Sarah had kindly warned me about the sound, so I had my phone queued up to play some girl-power music and rested it on my chest to make it as loud as possible. It helped a little, but you can’t really drown out sound happening on your head. Luckily, the first round only took about six minutes (or the length of two Thao & The Get Down Stay Down songs) per brow.

And once that first round was over, I got the sweet, sweet numbing gel. Of course, after the actual incisions were done, they didn’t really hurt anymore. But it wasn’t for the pain I’d just experienced; it was for the second round, where Sarah then went over the incisions she’d already made. And aside from the horrible sound — which was just as horrible the second time around — I hardly felt a thing.

This is me in the car right after my painful microblading procedure.

The moral of the story is that yes, microblading hurts if you don’t get numbed ahead of time. And if you do, you may still feel a slight stinging. And all of that will depend on who does your procedure and how that person was trained. Either way, the actual cutting doesn’t take much time, and once it’s done, there’s only some very mild residual pain for a few days as the wounds heal. And while it may be shocking to look in the mirror and see your new facial feature, there’s really not much redness or irritation as long as you follow the care instructions and keep everything clean.

Sure, there’s been a little tenderness since then, especially if I touch or furrow my brow. And I have to stay out of the sun (which I usually do, anyway). But I wouldn’t expect anything else with tons of little cuts on my brow bone. And I’m so damn happy with my big, full eyebrows — even though they’re not completely healed and I’m still due for a touch-up, which Sarah says is even more painful — that in this case, I have to admit Grandma Freda was right. I’ll take 12 minutes of discomfort for a few years of fabulous, beautiful brows any day.

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Emily Farris loves good whiskey, bad words, red lipstick, and gold spray paint. Follow her on Instagram at @thatsfestiveaf.