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Images via @michalmakeup (Michal Cohen)

You may have already heard of microblading for full brows. Did you know there’s a similar practice for your scalp?

This procedure is known as scalp micropigmentation (SMP), which creates the illusion of fuller hair.

But what’s the exact difference?

“Although both fall under the category of micropigmentation, [microblading and micropigmentation] are very different methods of implanting pigment,” explains Michal Cohen, a Los Angeles-based makeup artist and SMP practitioner.

While microblading is typically done with a manual blade, micropigmentation is performed using an electric tattoo device. This is because more power is needed to penetrate the skin on your scalp, which is thicker than the skin under your eyebrows.

The goal of SMP isn’t to create hairlike lines as you would when microblading eyebrows, but instead to use tiny, layered dots in different hues of black to replicate the look of a shadow on your scalp. This style, referred to as pointillism, is done to create natural-looking depth and definition.

A skilled practitioner will work to ensure the dots look like a natural hair follicle and blend in seamlessly with your complexion.

This process may be useful for people who experience all forms of hair loss. This includes folks with:

  • cancer
  • alopecia
  • thinning hair
  • male and female pattern baldness

So, just how painful is this procedure? The short answer is, it depends.

Before the procedure, your SMP practitioner will apply a topical numbing agent to your scalp. That said, it’s good to keep in mind that there may still be some discomfort. However, how much discomfort largely depends on your pain tolerance.

People with scalp acne or other skin sensitives like psoriasis should avoid getting SMP during a breakout or flare-up, as it will be difficult to apply pigment to the inflamed areas. If you’re prone to developing keloids, which are more common in darker skin, you may also not be a good candidate for SMP.

Once you’ve done your research and sought out a responsible and skilled SMP artist (more on how to do this below), you’ll likely have an initial consultation. During this meeting, your practitioner will prep you for what to expect and how you should prepare beforehand.

For example, here are some general guidelines:

  • Shower before each treatment. You won’t be able to wash or wet your scalp (this includes sweating excessively) for four days after each appointment.
  • Each treatment typically takes between four and five hours.
  • How many treatments you need will depend on the amount of scalp getting SMP. Even if it’s only for a small area like a widow’s peak, Cohen says three to four treatments are still needed for long-term retention since SMP is a process of layering color.
  • Treatments will be scheduled a few weeks apart.

In the weeks between treatments, don’t go swimming, use steam or sauna rooms, or take extremely hot showers that may cause a steam storm.

Avoid exposing your scalp to the sun for the first four days (wearing a hat is fine). On the fifth day after treatment, you can expose the treated skin to sun for one hour, or 45 minutes if you have very fair skin.

Keep in mind, though, that less sun exposure to the treated area means better long-term retention.

After your final treatment, it’s essential to:

  • Avoid swimming, saunas, and steam rooms for 28 days after your final treatment.
  • Keep out of the sun for 28 days after treatment. Thereafter, use SPF 30–50 sunscreen.
  • Avoid heavy exercise for five days after your final treatment.
  • Begin to regularly moisturize the treated area after the fourth day of your final treatment (this is also true between treatments).

The price of SMP varies depending on how much of your scalp needs to be covered. Cohen says each treatment typically between runs between $400 and $1,000.

Micropigmentation is considered semipermanent. While the effects may last up to eight years, the treated area will fade over time since all skin naturally exfoliates itself.

While the color may lighten, it’ll only change if an incorrect pigment is used.

That said, if you have very dry skin, fading is likely to happen more quickly. As the skin tends to flake with dry skin, this can inadvertently exfoliate the pigment off at a quicker rate.

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As is the case with most medical procedures, there are risks involved with SMP.

While micropigmentation isn’t technically considered a tattoo — tattoo ink goes much deeper into the skin and is injected with a thicker needle — services like SMP and other permanent makeup do carry similar risks. These include allergies to certain components in the pigment and infection associated with the tattoo ink.

However, the most important thing to be aware of is that no formal training is required to become an SMP artist (the same goes for microblading). It’s for this reason that it really is vital that you do your due diligence when searching for a reliable practitioner.

Before you decide on an SMP practitioner, it’s crucial to do your homework. Make sure to visit the office where the service will be performed.

High-quality SMP treatment centers should have:

  • certification of SMP training
  • body art practitioner license on display (depending on state requirements)
  • bloodborne pathogens certification
  • county health permit
  • clean and sterile environment with a sink
  • packaged needles that can be opened in front of the client
  • barrier protection during treatment (nitrile gloves, mask, barrier tape, and guards on SMP treatment device)

When it comes to licensing and the general regulation of SMP, it varies by state. For example, in California, the process for practicing tattooing, branding, body piercing, or permanent makeup (SMP is included in this) is licensed and regulated the exact same way. That said, a licensed tattoo artist can often make the shift to SMP with little to no training.

Cohen explains that tattoo parlors or artists shouldn’t be offering these types of services. “If you see any tattoo parlor or artist offering a similar service, run the other direction,” she says.

Furthermore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns, “Consumers should be aware of the risks involved [with tattoos and permanent makeup] in order to make an informed decision,” especially as the FDA hasn’t traditionally regulated tattoo inks or the pigments used in them.

Cohen, who was formally trained specifically in SMP by expert Zang Miah of Zang SMP, says that results can be disastrous if done by an inexperienced practitioner.

If you feel any hesitation toward the practitioner, Cohen warns that this is a sign that the environment isn’t the best fit for you. Simply put, trust your gut.

Next, be sure to ask the artist how many appointments they schedule each day. This kind of service is time-consuming and requires an intense amount of focus. So, if a person is seeing more than four or five clients per day for SMP, that’s typically a red flag. It may indicate the practitioner isn’t giving each client the attention and time they deserve.

You’ll also want to find out more about the practitioner’s background, such as who trained them, length of their training, and seeing their portfolio (Instagram is often a good way to do this). It may also help to speak with a few of the practitioner’s former clients about their experiences.

Ultimately, it’s essential to remember that SMP is an investment. But if done correctly by a qualified and trained artist, SMP can be a truly confidence-boosting procedure with no downtime.


Grace Gallagher is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her words have appeared in Brit + Co, Greatist, The Sunday Edit, and BARE Magazine. All of her work can be found at www.gracelgallagher.com.