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A lasting impression

"You won't feel a thing," said Penny Hiebert to her client, who was lying on the table with her eyes closed. Hiebert grabbed what looked like a gray pen with a needle at one end and a line connected to a machine at the other end. There was a slig...

Primary Art
At her home studio, Penny Hiebert tattoos permanent eyeliner on Patti Wenstad, who said she hoped to never again deal with the "raccoon look" when makeup smears.

"You won't feel a thing," said Penny Hiebert to her client, who was lying on the table with her eyes closed.

Hiebert grabbed what looked like a gray pen with a needle at one end and a line connected to a machine at the other end. There was a slight buzzing when she turned on the machine and, like a tattoo artist, began applying ink to the edge of one of her client's eyelids.

"Doing OK?" she asked.

"It kinda tickles. I wouldn't say it hurts at all," Rhonda Sundbom said.

Sundbom came to Hiebert, the owner of Penne's Touch Permanent Cosmetics in Grand Forks, because she hoped that, with permanent makeup, she'd never have to bother applying eyeliner again. For others, Hiebert's permanent makeup means they'll never have to draw on eyebrows or lip liner or apply blush again.


An X-ray technician at Altru Health System by day, Hiebert has seen a growing list of clients since she started a year and a half ago. Some are in their 80s; some in their 20s. They come from as far away as Minot and as close as her next-door neighbor.

"I thought if I did one a month I'd be tickled pink; I do one a night," she said.

Prices vary, from $350 for eyeliner to $500 for lip liner.

Permanent makeup has been around about as long as tattooing has been around. But it appears to have boomed in popularity in recent years. According to the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, the number of trained technicians has increased tenfold within the past three years and it continues to grow. But public demand outnumbers the trained technicians.

Keeping pain away

Hiebert started as a client seven years ago, when she got permanent eyeliner.

Like Sundbom, she didn't like having to put on eyeliner in the morning, she said. "And I got tired of the black stuff in the corner of my eyes."

As Hiebert worked on Sundbom, she made sure there was no pain. She appled topical anesthetic if there was any discomfort.


"I like to keep numbing them," she said. "There's no reason they should feel it."

According to the SPCP, concerns about pain are among the most frequently asked questions. Because of advances in local anesthetic, "many people feel the permanent eyeliner procedure causes some discomfort, but often not anywhere near the pain the person was anticipating." The same is true of eyebrow work. Permanent lip liner, however, is "the most painful procedure but well worth the effort."

As Hiebert applied one last bit of the dark-brown pigment to Sundbom's eye, Sundbom's lips curled a bit at the edges in anticipation.

"Oh, I love it!" Sundbom squealed when she finally looked in the mirror.

Is it safe?

Hiebert said she's done more than 100 procedures and has never had a client get an infection.

Katie Watson, who received permanent eyeliner from Hiebert a year ago, said she has had no problems.

"I love it," she said. "I can cut down the time in the mornings. And it's nice if you go swimming, or something; it's always there. I wish I would have done it a long time ago," she said. "I've had at least a dozen people say to me, 'Your eyeliner is perfect, what kind do you use?'"


The risks associated with permanent makeup are about the same as other tattoos, such as infection or allergic reactions, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has noted reports of swelling or burning when people who have permanent eyeliner undergo magnetic resonance imaging, but "this seems to occur only rarely and apparently without lasting effects," according to the FDA website.

For people with conditions that make it hard to apply makeup or those who suffer from hair loss from the eyebrows, permanent makeup can be useful.

Hiebert said her services can help those with Parkinson's disease or those who have had a stroke. She recently had a stroke survivor get the procedure with her husband at her side, Hiebert said.

At the end, the client cried, saying, "I feel beautiful," Hiebert said.

The husband, who had been applying her eyeliner up until then, added, "I could never get it straight," Hiebert said.

Hiebert loves to see her clients look in the mirror and get excited about what they see, she said. "If I can get a hug from it, I am satisfied."

Tu-Uyen Tran contributed to this report.

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