We often hear clients refer to Scalp Micropigmentation or SMP as a “hair tattoo.” Now this is understandable because a) hair tattoo just rolls off the tongue a little easier and b) well that’s what it is, right? Well, wrong. While both SMP and tattooing use a machine with needles to inject ink into the skin, everything else is different; so let’s discuss the distinctions between the two.
- Training: firstly, every state in the U.S.A. has different requirements and artists of either discipline must check with their local ordinances to see what is needed. Tattoo artists tend to face stricter regulations than SMP artists do. Many will serve as apprentices to a more experienced artist for years before getting their own chair. SMP artists typically get trained and are on their own from the start no apprenticeship required. This less stringent approach means there are many unqualified SMP technicians out there, so be careful when choosing!
- Equipment: some SMP machines do look like tattoo guns. That’s because many were adapted from tattoo equipment. The machines we use at Ahead Ink SMP Clinic do not resemble tattoo guns at all. That’s because they were adapted from Permanent Make-up (PMU) equipment, and are made specifically for use on the scalp. There’s a major advantage to this, and we will discuss it further in the next point, Depth.
- Depth: Your skin is made up of layers—epidermis, dermis, subcutaneous. SMP artists should be working in the epidermis (top layer) because it’s going to shed and regenerate. This means that over time the pigment will fade and disappear which ensures the product can always be safely freshened up with touch-up procedures. Tattoo artists work into the dermis. Depositing ink into this layer means the artwork will remain permanently. Ahead Ink’s equipment has a safeguard that ensures the needle is set to work consistently at .5mm (epidermis). This means the artist doesn’t have to worry about injecting too deep which can result in the pigment blowing out/migrating and the micro dots will stay nice and small.
- Pigment/Ink: tattoo ink is designed to be permanent with vibrant colors, whereas SMP pigment should breakdown and expel over time. If we were to take tattoo ink and put it under a microscope we’d see all of the particles that make up the pigment would be 20 plus microns in size. They would also be various shapes. These two factors mean the particles will sit permanently in the dermis. If we did the same with the pigment we use at Ahead Ink you’d see something totally different. The SMP pigment would be 15 microns in size and all perfectly round in shape. This size and shape means the particles are able to slip through the cells walls and be “eaten” by the bodies defense system. They are then expelled through natural processes.
- Needles: Tattoo artists are creating something decorative. This requires specific needle types and techniques. Sometimes a tattoo artist is drawing a portrait, sometimes they are writing a name. They can utilize Round Liners, Round Shaders, Magnum Shaders, Curved Magnum Shaders, Flat Shaders and Double Stacks, to do this. By contrast, SMP artists typically use two types of needles: Single point or triple point. The former is for lighter applications (very light skinned clients or those looking for a soft result). The latter leaves a more robust microdot impression and is the more popular needle choice among the two.