Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Pigmenta Permanent Cosmetics was operating without the proper license. The Boston Public Health Commission has since clarified that they are not required to have a body art establishment license because “all body art services at this site are being offered by a licensed body art practitioner and under the supervision of a licensed medical professional.”
They were thick and they were black. One was crooked.
“I’ve got these black caterpillars on my face,” Lynne Young, a Belchertown resident, told NBC10 Boston Investigators.
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
Microblading is a relatively new, delicate technique for an old procedure to either draw missing eyebrows, or fill out thin brows.
But confusion and fly-by-night operations abound in Boston, as the city scrambles to stay ahead of a hot trend and to prevent potentially serious injury.
Odds are, if you just picked a microblading place in Boston, you would wind up in an unlicensed business. The NBC10 Boston Investigators found that more than half of the businesses that advertise microblading were not licensed by the city.
And once we started asking questions, the Boston Public Health Commission dispatched inspectors to check on licenses, ordering two unlicensed salons to stop offering the service.
One salon told NBC10 Boston it was unaware it needed an establishment license and said in a statement it would no longer offer microblading.
Young was not injured when she had lines inked on her brow. But she was referred to someone by a family member, and got the work done in a dentist’s office for a few hundred dollars, much lower than what licensed and trained professionals charge.
Young did not want to name the person or the place she went to.
She was not happy with the work, and ultimately sought out a tattoo removal specialist for several procedures to have it reversed with a laser.
“The girl is certified now,” Young said of the young woman who microbladed her brows, "But I said I am not going back to her. I don’t care if she’s licensed or not.”
Beauty blogger Christina Hernandez said her microblading session left her swollen and aching.
“I was just embarrassed...I made a huge mistake,” she said.
The work is a tattoo, even though it is often described as “semi-permanent” or just “permanent makeup.”
It is done with small blades dipped in ink that puncture the outer layer of skin to deposit pigment underneath.
State and Boston city regulators consider microblading to be tattooing, and the city requires both practitioners and the establishments where they work to be licensed.
The NBC10 Boston Investigators searched for establishments just in the city of Boston that advertise offering the service, and found 11.
We then checked those businesses against the list of establishments licensed to host body art and piercing. Of those 11, six were not licensed.
The state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations said that tattooing and body piercing are licensed and inspected at the local level, meaning each city and town is responsible for the tattoo shops within their borders.
In Boston, the Public Health Commission licenses body art establishments and practitioners.
The hurdles for practitioners to obtain a license are high: blood-borne pathogen training, waste disposal, equipment sterilization training, evidence of experience, apprenticeship, and other requirements.
Rob and Eve Harris founded Disappearing, Inc., in 2015. They specialize only in tattoo removal. They don’t do tattoos or microblading.
Rob Harris said he and his wife see one or two clients per week to fix or remove “poorly-done” microblading jobs.
“Poorly done would be where the artist or aesthetician uses too much ink, so the hair doesn’t look like hair it’s a thick line they all start to blend together,” he said. “In order to do good microblading it’s a very fine process. It’s difficult to get it to look like hair, so there are people who do it great, and there are people who do it not so great.”
The licensing also comes with inspections, meaning both practitioners and establishments are checked for sterility, cleanliness, and training.
“You want to make sure that the person is licensed so they’re using all clean needles, they’re using all clean facilities, they’re using clean everything else to make sure that the risk of infection is brought down to its lowest possible level,” Harris said. “When someone is not licensed, it means if they didn’t take the time to get a license they probably didn’t take the time to do it properly.”
A spokesperson for the city health commission said the Boston Board of Health discussed the issue at its meeting in November, which included a presentation by Paul Shoemaker, the associate director of the division of environmental and occupational health, called, “Emerging Issues in Boston Body Art Regulation.”
The public health commission also sent out a letter to salon across the city on Nov. 8, noting that “permanent makeup, microblading, and piercing are all forms of body art” and must be done according to city health and licensing regulations.
But the commission appeared to not follow up on the letter.
The NBC10 Boston Investigators asked Shoemaker on Jan. 30 how many businesses health inspectors have checked on.
“We have not gone into any,” Shoemaker said.
“We haven’t found any yet,” he replied.
NBC10 Boston Investigators presented Shoemaker with our list, complied using Google, Yelp, and Groupon. He checked several against his list of licensed establishments, including a business in Charlestown that offered microblading for $229.
“Oh, interesting!” he said.
Most licensed microblading salons charge between $750 and $850 for the work and a touchup appointment.
Subsequently, the public health commission said on Feb. 7 that it ordered two establishments to stop offering microblading. One of those businesses, neither of which were not named, met with the commission to discuss city regulations.
Indeed, when NBC10 Boston Investigators called salons early this month, one, RISE Beauty Studio on Newbury Street, said in a corporate statement it was unaware it needed an establishment license.
“We've always provided a safe and sanitary space for the certified independent contractor that provides the microblading service at our studio,” RISE said in its statement. “Once we became aware that we did not possess the appropriate license for the service, we ceased offering microblading immediately.”
The contractor, whose business is INKD by Enise, does not have a current city body art practitioner’s license, and did not return multiple emails and Facebook messages seeking comment.