Skin deep: Local woman’s experience shows permanent makeup is no easy fix

Even within the industry, there’s confusion about what kind of license is needed to perform microblading and permanent eyeliner.
GettyImages Even within the industry, there’s confusion about what kind of license is needed to perform microblading and permanent eyeliner. GettyImages

Google “permanent makeup gone wrong” and you’ll see a horror show of angry eyebrows, clown lips, and watery red eyes.

After Susan Enos had her brows microbladed and eyeliner applied in a procedure that’s essentially a tattoo, what happened was actually worse than a cosmetic botch.

“I had terrible eye pain,” she says. She also had a headache. That evening, her husband took her to the emergency room—twice. During the first visit, doctors noted she had scratched corneas. She was home for about 30 minutes when she told her husband she needed to go back.

The second time, doctors told her she’d had a hemorrhagic stroke, and she says she has no memory of the next 10 days.

No one, including Enos, 71, is suggesting the permanent eyeliner caused her stroke. But her ER medical report says her scratched corneas were “likely a mechanical abrasion caused by the procedure that she underwent today.”

The pain started when the practitioner applied a numbing cream, she recounts. She says her complaint that it hurt was brushed off.

The pain, she says, was “horrendous.” She says she later called to find out what had been used to numb her for the lower lid eyeliner, and wasn’t allowed to talk to the practitioner, Mariam Ghulam. “They wouldn’t tell me and told me never to come back,” she says.

Ten days after her October 12 appointment, she received a letter from Moxie owners Mike Herzog and Todd Toms that said, “Due to your recent interactions with our staff…, we feel like we can no longer offer you services at Moxie.” Included was a refund check for $375, half of the $750 she’d paid.

“We don’t write that many letters,” says Toms, who describes Enos as “rude,” “agitated,” and unhappy with the environment at the salon.

And he says if Enos’ corneas had been scratched, “we would know immediately. I find it hard to believe we didn’t know.”

Ghulam says Enos was pleased with her eyebrows and eyeliner, and had no reaction to the numbing cream, which she applied 50 minutes before the needle work began.

“If she had been in pain, I would not have proceeded,” says Ghulam.

The Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation licenses salon employees, from hair to nails to cosmetics. To do permanent makeup, says spokesperson Mary Broz Vaughan, a tattoo or permanent cosmetics license is required.

If someone has a problem, she advises filing a complaint with the agency, where it’s possible to look up licenses—and disciplinary actions.

“A cosmetologist license does not authorize someone to perform permanent makeup,” says Vaughan.

And that’s part of the confusion. Ghulam explains that the work she does is not permanent and lasts eight months to a year. She shows a certificate from March 2017 to do semi-permanent makeup and microblading for eyebrows, eyeliner, and lips from Lux Lash & Brow Company, and has an application with the state for a cosmetologist license.

“If we’re going to do something,” says Moxie’s Toms, “we’re going to be certified, we’re going to be insured. Our foremost thing is that no one gets hurt.”

But Steve Kirschner, regulatory operations administrator with the DPOR, says that from the agency’s perspective, “there is no difference between permanent and semi-permanent. If you can’t remove it, it’s permanent. Whether you call it permanent or semi-permanent, it requires a tattoo or permanent cosmetic license.”

He concedes, “There’s a lot of misinformation in the industry.”

Mary Hunter owns Eyebrow Renovation & Permanent Makeup and has been doing permanent makeup in Charlottesville for 10 years. “It’s all semi-permanent,” she says. “I call it durable.”

Before embarking on the procedure, she recommends doing research. “Meet the person,” she says. “You have to trust the practitioner and they have to stay with you.”

Dr. Bonnie Straka, a dermatologist who owns Signature Medical Spa, ends up with patients who have had complications from permanent makeup done elsewhere.

A stroke from having permanent eyeliner done “is pretty much a stretch to me,” she says. However, a corneal abrasion “could absolutely happen.” If the numbing cream seeps into the eye, “it can be extremely painful,” she says. “If a patient says it hurts, the reaction should be to flush out the eye.”

Straka advises clients to check the credentials, training, and expertise of people doing invasive procedures like putting a needle into skin.

And she laments that with the demand for aesthetic treatments, “instead of looking for the best trained professionals, people are looking for the cheapest.”

A friend had recommended Enos have the work done at Moxie. “Usually I research everything,” says Enos. “This time I didn’t.”

Says Enos, “I just don’t want anyone else to go through this.”