KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A warning to anyone considering microblading: make sure the person touching your eyebrows knows what they’re doing.
Jami Ledbetter was born without eyebrows, so she was excited when her daughters bought her a Groupon to have them microbladed in November. However, that excitement soon turned to horror when she looked in the mirror.
“I would never wish this on my worst enemy,” the 42-year-old said. “What it’s done to my self-confidence, it’s been hard.”
The $250 Groupon was for services by a woman who claimed she was certified in microblading, a beauty technique that involves tattooing someone’s eyebrows on with tiny needles or a small blade.
Ledbetter ended up with botched eyebrows.
“I was devastated,” Ledbetter said. “I was even dating a guy, and he stopped dating me at that point.”
The mom of three said she was so embarrassed she only went to work, the grocery and back home. She tried covering her messed up brows with makeup. That didn’t work. She went to another woman who told her she could “camouflage” her brows, but after six weeks they appeared to be getting worse.
“It was pretty painful,” Ledbetter said. “I tried to have a good attitude, but it burned a lot. It kind of felt bruised.”
Someone eventually referred her to Kara Gutierrez, a licensed and insured tattoo artist who owns Spot On Beauty in Lee’s Summit.
“It took everything in me to hold back tears because this is the worse I’ve ever seen,” Gutierrez said.
The small business owner has been in the beauty industry since 2011. She has specialized in permanent cosmetics for three of those years, including tattoo removal.
“Within 24 hours of a botched job, I can remove the bad brow,” Gutierrez said.
Her first session with Ledbetter was in February. She’s removing her fumbled eyebrows with a product known as Li-ft. She said it doesn’t involve a laser but rather is a pigment lightening solution that’s tattooed into the bad ink, which has to be removed in eight-week intervals.
“You want scabs so it will pull out that pigment,” Gutierrez said. “It’s very unpredictable to how much you can remove, but it works.”
She worries more and more women will end up in situations like Ledbetter’s because microblading isn’t regulated in the state of Missouri. The practice is considered “semi-permanent” under the law.
“Nobody’s governing this,” Gutierrez said. “No one is saying, 'This is the right way. This is the wrong way.'”
The state’s Office of Tattooing, Body Piercing & Branding has a disclaimer on its website about microblading that explains that “although the Office recognizes the potential for public safety issues, the Office has not been given specific statutory authority to regulate this practice.”
The state of Kansas does have regulations in place for permanent makeup technicians. Those seeking a license are required to have 1,200 hours of training, at least 50 completed procedures that can be verified and an apprenticeship – among other qualifications, according to the Kansas Board of Cosmetology.
“This is something that is permanent on your face,” Gutierrez said. “You have to make sure your artist knows what they’re doing.”
Missouri state Rep. Nate Tate understands the risks and, at the request of one his constituents, is sponsoring House Bill 71.
“I wanted to see what we could do to try to make the industry safer because it is becoming a very popular industry here lately,” Tate said.
It’s the same version of House Bill 877, filed in 2017, and would change the definition of a tattoo to include new cosmetic procedures like microblading to ensure more scrutiny.
“I’m not terribly in favor of more regulation when it comes to businesses, but in this particular situation whenever you’re actually punctuating the skin, we need to have some more training,” Tate said.
Currently, people wanting to practice microblading need a certificate, which can be obtained in a matter of days. Tate said some of that training doesn’t always include education regarding sanitation and blood-borne pathogens.
“The money is good [in microblading],” Tate said. “You just take the class, pay your $2,500, and you can perform it. I think as we start seeing the propagation of these microblading shops popping up, it’s going to become more of an issue."
Gutierrez is concerned that Tate’s bill hasn’t gone far in the legislative process, and there's little optimism that it will seriously be considered before the end of the session.
“Until a senator's daughter or someone who can pass a bill gets messed up, this will continue happening,” Gutierrez said.
She cautioned for people wanting to undergo microblading to do their research.
“A certification is just a fancy piece of paper saying [someone] learned how to do this,” she added. “It doesn’t necessarily mean [they’re] an expert. “Don’t just look into the person that’s doing it. Look into their instructor.”
Ledbetter shared the same attitude but hopes her story serves as a warning to those considering microblading.
“If I would have known it was going to turnout like this, I probably would’ve never done it at all,” she said.
The woman who botched Ledbetter’s brows is no longer in business.
Ledbetter will likely have to see Gutierrez two or three more times before her bad brows are completely gone. The full removal procedure will cost her at least $1,000.