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Your Health

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

by Beth Greenberg (Globe Correspondent)

Ever wonder how Liz Taylor always manages to have perfect eye makeup? Her eyes have been permanently lined and her eyebrows filled in. The same technology can now ink five o’clock shadow onto men’s scalps to conceal baldness, help reconstructed breasts look more natural, and dye burn marks and scars so they blend in better.

“Permanent cosmetics” — basically a version of tattooing — have grown in popularity over the past decade as a substitute for applying daily makeup and to compensate for medical problems. Many referrals for the procedures are from top-flight doctors and hospitals, the permanent cosmetics are generally applied to eyebrows, eyeliner, and full lip color, as well as the scalp or breast — and they last for up to five years.

Pati Pavlik, education advisor for the Society of Permanent Cosmetics Professionals, a nonprofit advocacy group, and a tattoo artist for 20 years said many practitioners work closely with a plastic surgeon to create paramedical tattoos for breast reconstructions and face-lift scars.

Shahla Whitmore, a permanent cosmetic instructor and makeup artist based in Newton, said she finds it rewarding to be able to help people regain a sense of independence or feel better about themselves. “Part of why I’m doing this is the emotional effect it has on the patients. They get more confidence,” said Whitmore, who has performed permanent cosmetics since 2001 when it became legal in Massachusetts.

One 52-year-old North Shore resident who has battled breast cancer for seven years said she’s pleased with the areola color that made her reconstructed breast look more realistic. “If I’m looking in the mirror I’m not mourning the loss of my breast,” said the woman who asked not to be named. “It’s not perfect, but when I see myself, it’s balanced and it looks pretty good. When I’m changing in the locker room, I don’t think people even notice; they don’t stare. I think it’s a good thing.”

Dr. Victor Neel said he is concerned that, under certain circumstances, some clients are not primed for permanent cosmetics. For individuals who do choose permanent cosmetics, professionals in the field strongly encourage finding an experienced artist, viewing portfolios of her or his work, and absolutely not looking for the cheapest job.

Wellesley, MA 02481