Freckle Tattoos 101: What You Need to Know Before Getting Inked

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We’ve reached peak saturation with the freckle tattoo trend. There are faux freckle filters, freckle makeup and tools that help mimic the natural patches of small brown spots, but all are temporary ways to adopt the look. Now, semi-permanent freckle tattoos are trending big and we asked the experts to share the most important things to know if you’re considering adding them to your face.  

Are they reversable?

Makeup trends come and go, but freckle tattoos are meant to last for up to a year or more. The pigment is placed into the skin with a hand-held tool or a tattooing device. “Current freckle tattoos are semi-permanent makeup akin to microblading,” explains New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD. “Those will start fading and should disappear within a year and half.”

“However, tattooed freckles may not be easily reversible if you don’t like them and may cause scarring,” explains Rochester, NY dermatologist Lesley Loss, MD. “Filters on social media seem to be contributing to this trend, however freckle tattoos are unlikely to look like the filter on a person’s actual skin.”

You also must be careful with the type of ink used says New York dermatologist Elaine Kung, MD. While “freckle tattoos” or “permanent freckles,” are actually semi-permanent because of the use of permanent makeup pigment rather than tattoo ink, Dr. Kung says you have to make sure that’s what you’re getting tattooed on your face. “There are more concerns arising from the safety of tattoos because of the increased variety of pigments and diluents being used in tattooing. More than fifty different pigments and shades are in use, and the list continues to grow. Although color additives are approved for use in cosmetics, none are approved for injection into the skin. Many pigments used in tattoo inks are not approved for skin contact at all. Some are industrial-grade colors that are used for printing or automobile paint.”

What are the risks?

“The biggest risk is regret at having the design placed on your face,” says Santa Monica, CA dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD. “Of course there’s also the risk of infection, allergic reaction and improper application.”

Will they fade over time?

Regular body tattoos tend to change shape and color over time and our experts say the same can happen to the ones on your face, even if they are significantly smaller and aren’t meant to be permanent. “They will absolutely change,” says Dr. Shamban. “The body senses tattoo pigment as a foreign body like a splinter and works hard to eliminate it. So, the macrophages, the skin’s clean-up committee, cart off the pigment, lightening the tattoo.”

“They may also become blurry or stretch as the skin naturally ages, and depending on the type of tattoo ink used, they may fade to an unnatural color,” adds Dr. Loss.

What if they don’t fully fade?

Semi-permanent tattoo is designed to fade over time, but Dr. Loss says if tattoo removal is needed she stresses it must be done carefully and by a trained laser professional. “Some types of ink do discolor and turn white or pink, but it is unpredictable and no way to know that will happen. On permanent tattoo ink I use the Picoway laser, and often do a single test spot to ensure no adverse reaction.”

“As tattoo removal treatments are healing they are usually red and crusty, and there is a possibility of developing a discoloration or scar in the areas treated,” notes Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD

“To me, and I suspect most dermatologists, freckling represents sun damage, and I don’t find it particularly attractive,” adds Spokane, WA dermatologist Wm. Philip Werschler, MD. “Although fake freckles are pretty harmless overall.”

Are there any other options that last longer than makeup?

For a less permanent option that will last longer than drawing them on, try Mihenna’s Freckle Kit ($20) to create a freckle-faced look that can last for up to six days. “I recommend exfoliating before applying the henna freckles to clean, dry skin,” says Shalina Jaffer Collins, founder of Mihenna. “Apply dots to the bridge of your nose, cheeks, and anywhere else that needs a beauty mark. Different sizes and a random pattern will help to create a more natural appearance! How long to leave on henna freckles will depend on how dark you want them.”

Mihenna Freckle Kit ($20)

Collins says to leave the henna on for at least two hours, but for a more natural look, she says to also try varying dry times for each spot to create a spectrum of color and depth: “Then, gently scrape the henna paste off with your fingers or even the edge of a spoon. Avoid wetting your face for the first few hours as water will lighten the results,” she adds.

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