Scalp Micropigmentation

“Tattoos” that rebel against hair loss

Scalp micropigmentation or SMP is a cosmetic treatment that consists of applying individual dots with the use of a needle and natural hair pigment.

It can give the appearance of denser and more voluminous hair to those whose hair is thinning or who have bald spots. Additionally, it can create the illusion of a buzz cut for those who do not have any hair.

Who is SMP for?

The treatment is for men and women. The number of dots and the location of the hairline, which determine the shape and fullness of the result, differ depending on the person’s gender, age, ethnicity, and preference.

What providers try to do is replicate the follicles of hair that one already has and aim for a natural-looking result.

SMP and hairlines

A hairline certainly isn’t a one size fits all part of someone's appearance. For example, the typical hairline of an 18-year-old is not the same as one of a 30-year-old. 

Usually, an SMP artist will begin by creating a higher hairline in the first session and will lower it in further sessions if needed.

Since the pigmentation does not fade out entirely with time, the hairline can be softened with a laser if somebody wants to make changes to it as time passes.

How to pick your new hairline?

A person in their 30s might have 800 hairs per square inch while somebody younger has 1200 hairs. Similarly, the number of points that are put in can be lower or higher depending on the person’s age, natural hair, and whether they are filling in a smaller area or covering the whole scalp.

For example, a 30-year-old can have 800 dots per square inch spread out across three sessions to create an illusion of 800 hairs per square inch.

Is SMP the same as a tattoo?

Medical professionals avoid using the word tattoo when referring to SMP as it is a medical method. Also, micropigmentation differs from getting a tattoo because of the technique, depth, pain level, number of sessions, and types of ink.

  • Technique
When it comes to technique, the SMP method is similar to pointillism, putting in individual dots to create an image. The inserted point deposits the pigments creating a cocoon that hardens up over three or four days.
This way, pigments stay individualized while they might migrate and mix when lines are used. Some tattoos are made this way, but most are done by dragging the needle over the skin.
  • Depth

The second difference is the depth of the needle. During SMP, the pigment is put into the dermis layer of the scalp (the middle layer) and the needle goes into a deeper layer when a tattoo is being done.

  • Pain

Thirdly, as a result of the needle going into more shallow depths, SMP is less painful. Most clients do not require any numbing medications or solutions, some even fall asleep or compare the treatment to a massage.

  • Number of sessions

Since tattoos are more painful, a tattoo is sometimes done in numerous sessions, but an SMP treatment always requires more than one session.

During the sessions, different shades and colors are used to create a more natural-looking result. This creates contrast and a three-dimensional effect - as some layers are darker and some are lighter.

  • Type of ink

The last way in which the two differ is in the ink that is used. In the beginning, some SMP artists used tattoo inks.

These inks had lead and mercury which could change colors to green or blue tones over a 10-year period. SMP specialists use inks that stay true to color, such as 'inku' which is made of organic carbon ink and contains neither lead nor mercury.

How to take care of your scalp after SMP?

This is where the treatment is similar to getting a tattoo as a tattoo should also be kept cool in the first week. After an SMP procedure:

  • Do not get too warm or sweat because this will lead to the colors intermixing.
  • Avoid wearing hats as they might cause this as well.
  • Also, keep in mind that you cannot wash your hair for four days after a session.
  • Lastly, you should stay out of the sun during this period.
  • Long-term care

Of course, as time goes by, you can start wearing hats. When it comes to long-term care, when you go out in the sun, you should use SPF 40 or 50. The sun protection will lessen how much the pigments fade with time.

How long does SMP last?

The pigmentation will never disappear completely, but it can fade. What happens is that the body metabolizes the ink as new layers of skin are formed which softens the color.

It is important to note that the duration of the color depends on whether and how much the client protects the scalp from the sun.

What are the risks?

SMP is non-invasive with minimum redness and swelling. Most bad results come from either the client not following poor post-treatment care, which we discussed above, or an untrained artist doing the procedure.

Training to become an SMP specialist takes time and most people are advised to work on developing their craft for a year before offering the service. Unfortunately, a lot of people try to learn this technique on the Internet and improperly treat their clients.

The content of this newsletter is for entertainment and educational purposes only. This content is not meant to provide any medical advice or treat any medical conditions. Patients must be evaluated by an appropriate healthcare provider on an individual basis and treatment must be tailored to meet that patient’s needs. Results and particular outcomes are not guaranteed.

Written by Aleksandra Božović | Edited by Dr. Gary Linkov
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