What Is Lip-Blushing? And Should I Do It?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

Dear Jenn,

I’m very interested in lip-blushing! Allegra Shaw gets it done and it looks so good. Seems crazy, though. Do you think this will become more common and talked about?

You can call it lip blush, Russian lip-blushing, candy lips, micropigmentation, semi-permanent makeup, or Nanocolor Infusion (that one’s trademarked by Beverly Hills artist Dominique Bossavy), but all these procedures are basically the same thing: cosmetic tattoos. That may seem wild to you, but humans have been tattooing their faces for millennia. And permanent makeup (PMU) has been around since at least the beginning of the 20th century, when English tattoo artist Sutherland Macdonald “perfected his method of giving a lasting complexion of the utmost delicacy to pale cheeks,” according to a 1902 article in Pearson’s Magazine.

What’s different this time around is the finished look — and how long it lasts. “Back in the day, permanent makeup was harsh, but semi-permanent lip blush is soft, as if you went to a sauna for 15 minutes and blood rushed to your lips and you have that plump, natural-looking, flushed lip,” says Tia Clarke, a semi-permanent-makeup artist and trainer in Scottsdale, Arizona. To be clear, lip blush won’t alter the shape or volume of your lips the way filler can, but the two procedures “go hand in hand,” says Clarke. “I think a lot of people get lip blush to ease themselves into it, but realistically what they’re envisioning is still a filler. Paired together, it’s like the ultimate combo.”

How Does Lip-Blushing Work?

Technicians typically blush your lips by depositing PMU ink that complements your natural lip color into the skin of your lips using a motorized pen or tattoo machine with a fine needle that has a stroke length of less than 2.5 millimeters. (For a regular tattoo, artists often use traditional tattoo ink, which tends to have a higher concentration of pigment, and machines with multiple and/or thicker needles that go deeper into the skin.) “Unlike a traditional tattoo, the color will fade because the machines and inks don’t pack in as much pigment as deeply — it’s more like a wash of color,” says Clarke. (You may go to an artist who says they use special inks with tiny color molecules that are designed to fade or that they have a computerized pen that regulates the depth of needle strokes, but many inks are mislabeled and there’s little industry regulation, so there’s no way of knowing for sure.)

How Much Does Lip-Blushing Cost?

It can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars — RealSelf reports an average cost of $321, but that’s only based on ten reviews — to more than $2,500 with someone like Bossavy. Your lips may be swollen or darker in color right after the procedure, but once they’re healed, the results can last six months to two years. (FWIW, my friend Monica got her lips done by Bossavy back in 2019 and was really happy with the results. She said the color was noticeable for about a year and faded naturally. And she thinks her lips are still slightly more pigmented than they used to be.)

What Is the Lip-Blushing Procedure Like?

Lip-blushing usually takes an hour or two, including numbing time, and fully heals in six to eight weeks. “It should not be excruciatingly painful,” says Dr. Gloria Lin, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. If the pain is intense, ask to stop the procedure immediately: “Although rare, it’s possible to have an allergic reaction to either the numbing agent that is used or the actual ink itself.”

Is Lip-Blushing Safe?

In the United States, there are no federal laws regulating the practice of tattooing — cosmetic or otherwise — and licensing and training requirements differ between states and cities. In Arizona, where Clarke works, there aren’t any tattoo regulations; artists just have to use sterilized needles and limit their practice to people 18 and up. In New York City, tattoo artists must have a license, but that just means they’ve completed a three-hour infection-control course conducted by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Health Academy. In many places, you actually need more training to braid hair than you do to tattoo someone’s face! And that means there’s no guarantee you’ll get the same results as Allegra Shaw (she got hers done by Emily Milewski at Top Cosmetic Artistry in Toronto) or others who share their positive experiences on TikTok.

All that said, I don’t think the lack of regulation will limit the procedure’s popularity. As people have gotten more comfortable with the idea of Botox and filler, I’ve noticed a halo effect of comfort with other needle-centric beauty procedures (see freckle tattoos, microblading, and the like). But there are still risks! Lin says the lip-blushing machines make microcuts in the skin, so there’s the potential for an infection. And if the equipment is not sterilized properly, then there is a risk of blood-borne infections as well. “Very rarely, scarring can occur, so those who are prone to keloid or hypertrophic scarring might want to avoid this procedure altogether,” she adds. “The body can also create granulomas, an inflammatory response where the ink is treated as a foreign body, so the immune system will try to wall it off, creating nodules in the area.”

There’s also a chance that you won’t like the color your artist uses or that the blush lasts longer than (or not as long as) you expected. So if you decide to go for it, research the regulations in your area, vet your semi-permanent-makeup artist thoroughly, and make sure you see before-and-after photos of their work. “You want to see photos of the healed work, not just immediately after,” recommends Clarke.

Finally, do not let an artist tattoo outside your natural lip line, either to make your lips look fuller or to correct for asymmetry. Lin says this can lead to pigment migration. “The minute you move onto the regular skin, things can get funky. You do not want to overline with lip blush,” adds Clarke. So consider yourself warned.

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