On a recent June morning in Brooklyn, Chloe Sarre nearly drifted off to sleep on a bed in a cozy room as a makeup artist used a needle dipped in semi-permanent liquid pigment to carefully poke about 20 microscopic dots across her cheeks.
Keila Cummings, the artist and co-owner of Prankstercosmetic tattoo shop, was wiping off excess ink with a baby wipe when Ali Gatie’s “Used to You” floated through her 10th-floor studio in the Dumbo neighborhood.
“Oh, that doesn’t hurt at all,” said Ms. Sarre, a 35-year-old women’s trainer who lives in Brooklyn. “Honestly, the eyebrow wax is worse.”
Before her appointment, Ms. Sarre drew freckles on herself with an eyebrow pencil to wear the latest beauty trend that thousands of people across the country are trying: freckle tattoos. Available in the shape of hearts, stars or even astrological signs, the melanin-filled skin tags, once the cause of schoolyard torment, have become TikTok’s latest obsession.
Freckle tattoos are created with the same pigment used for eyebrow microblading, another cosmetic treatment in which a semi-permanent pigment is etched into the surface of the skin. The effect of microblading is fuller and thicker eyebrows.
The procedure for these artificial sun kisses takes about an hour and is less painful and permanent than a traditional tattoo. It lasts about eight months to two years, depending on skin type, sun exposure and how often the recipient exfoliates, and the cost starts at about $200 to $500, depending on the tip, location and how many someone gets.
Freckle tattoos took off around 2018, said Krystal Cummings, Keila’s 36-year-old twin sister and co-owner of Browstress. She said she learned how to make them after being asked by a customer.
“She told me to call her when — not if — I started doing them,” said Krystal, whose nose is dotted with freckles she tattooed herself.
Krystal, a former 911 operator, opened Browstress in 2018. She was inspired to learn about microblading when her aunt was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy that made her eyebrows fall out. She watched YouTube tutorials, practiced and mastered the touch needed to make the freckled tattoos look natural.
“You want them to be light and airy,” she said, “and you want the edges to be really, really soft.”
Throughout history, freckles have long been misunderstood and seen as imperfections. But there was a noticeable shift in the mid-to-late 20th century, when a tan (and the accompanying freckles) became a status symbol of a life of leisure, said Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, a fashion historian who specializes in the early modern period. .
From the 1990s, freckles were associated with a more youthful appearance, thanks to the model Twiggy and the singer Jane Birkin, as well as the 1960s cultural movement “youth earthquake”. In the early 2000s, they became trendy on advertising campaigns and runways. Then, in 2018, Meghan Markle’s decision to go more natural for her wedding with Prince Harry caused an increase in imitation freckles.
In recent years, the rise of TikTok and the opening of influencers who are to do cosmetic work boosted procedures like freckle tattoos to a larger audience.
For Browstress, Krystal said, the majority of customers heard about the tattoos through word of mouth, web searches or social media.
Of course, not all press is positive. There are some posts of women playing sports bright red, Pipi Stocking-like dots immediately after the procedure, which some people may confuse with the final result. (Saki LeeA Brooklyn-based artist who also offers the tattoos said that’s why she mainly shared pictures of the healed, finished results on her Instagram account.)
The worst of the inflammation usually subsides within 10 minutes, Ms. Lee said, although redness can last longer for people with fair skin. For many clients, their cheeks usually look slightly sunburned immediately after the procedure.
At the end of the hour, Keila advised Ms. Sarre to stay out of the sun and not exfoliate her face for five to seven days.
Oh, Krystal interjected, one more thing: “Did Keila tell you that you can’t exercise for three days?”
“You didn’t mention that,” said Ms. Sarre, who, dressed in a sweaty navy T-shirt, black leggings and Crocs, looked like she was on her way to doing just that. “Why?”
“You’ll sweat the pigment,” Krystal said.
After agreeing to a compromise – she could work, but not too hard, and the sauna was definitely off limits – Ms Sarre posed for a few photos, admiring her new freckles.
Keila said the tattoos take about two weeks to heal and start to lighten from dark to blonde brown after the first week. Some may disappear completely.
“One or two will fall out,” Keila said, “but we can add them back.”
The sisters often err on the side of going lighter before adding more freckles or darkening them as desired.
Has anyone ever asked to remove them?
“No,” Krystal said. “In fact, people almost always want more.”